Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Skill Builder: Where Did It Go?

Follow the signs to successfully recover downed game.

By Monica Bickerstaff

Responsible hunters spend time at the range preparing for the moment when game steps within their effective range. Hunters pick the spot, release the arrow or pull the trigger and then watch closely. Ideally, the game drops where it stands. However, this is not always the case. In such instances, hunters must draw on learned tracking skills to locate downed game. Here are a few clues to look for and tips to use when trailing a wounded animal.

First, observe the animal’s direction of travel. A pair of binoculars will aid in observing the hit and the animal’s behavior as it moves away.

Always remember to stop, look and listen.

Deer tracks

The animal’s trail can be followed by looking for tracks or drops of blood.

» Stop. Wait at least 30 minutes before looking for evidence of the hit. In an attempt to determine where on its body the animal was hit, firearm hunters rely on the animal’s reaction to the hit and blood or lost body fluid signs left at the animal’s location when the shot was taken. Bow hunters rely on the same clues, plus those left on their arrow shafts. Ideally, the archer’s arrow passes completely through the animal and is easily found where the animal was shot. If the arrow did not pass through, the bow hunter will likely find the arrow, or a portion of it, along the path taken by the fleeing animal. Pink, frothy fluid on the arrow’s shaft indicates lung damage. Dark red fluid indicates damage to vital organs such as liver and/or heart. Green or clear fluid indicates a hit to the intestines or stomach. The bow hunter seeing green fluid should wait six to eight hours before attempting to track the animal. Tracking it sooner may result in an animal fleeing, rather than traveling a shorter distance and eventually dying from the shot. Once the necessary time has passed, and evidence of the hit has been found, you can begin following the animal’s trail.

» Look up. Look for small, overhanging limbs that may have snapped as the animal ran past. Look for blood sprayed on leaves or branches. The pattern of the spray will help to determine the animal’s direction of travel.

» Look down. Look along the trail for deep foot impressions left by the fleeing animal. Look for overturned rocks or disturbed leaves. Look for drops of blood on the top and underside of leaves or on logs. Mark the drops with toilet paper, brightly colored surveyor’s tape or trail markers. (Remember to pick up nonbiodegradable materials after locating the downed animal.) Lightly mist questionable spots of red with hydrogen peroxide. Blood will foam up when misted; naturally occurring spots of red will not. If other hunters assist in tracking, have one person stand at the spot of the last blood while others attempt to pick up the trail ahead. Make sure to keep off to the trail’s side to avoid destroying signs not yet discovered.

» Look all around. Looking up and ahead down the trail may result in spotting the downed animal. Should the blood trail be lost, return to the last blood. Begin searching in ever-widening circles looking for new blood signs with each pass. After dark, use a headlamp or flashlight specifically designed for blood trailing.

» Listen. From the moment the trigger is pulled or the arrow released, listen for sounds of the animal snapping limbs or breaking brush as it runs away. Make occasional stops while on the animal’s trail. Listen for possible sounds of its movement ahead.


Some, but not all, areas of the state allow the use of trained dogs in trailing wounded game. Before the hunt, consult a local game warden or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Depart­ment’s Outdoor Annual (txoutdoorannual.com) to learn whether or not the use of dogs is permitted in the area being hunted.

Hopefully, following the signs will pay off, and you’ll locate the downed game. Avoid being run over or charged by an injured animal by approaching it from the rear.

Look for signs of breathing, such as the rising and falling of its chest. If none are seen, try poking the animal’s carcass and open eye using a long stick. If there is no reaction, the animal has died.

Successful hunters must correctly and legibly complete the tag from the proper hunting license, cut out the month and date of the kill and attach the tag to the carcass so that the tag is not damaged, defaced or lost in transport or handling.

Follow these simple tips and you will decrease the chance of experiencing the worst outcome of a hunting excursion — wounding your prey and never finding it.

Related stories

The Lost Art of Hunting

Preparing Venison, From Field to Plate


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