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Deer stalking: How to follow a blood trail

Deer stalking expert
Jon Snowdon
The cover inevitably makes our progress through the wood much more obvious because of the extra noise we make.

But not to worry, we can make the most of all those lovely new high seats and ground butts we put up in our spare time during the winter!

However, simply getting to the seat can be hard enough and we will have to move through the wood very slowly if we hope to be successful. The other problem we’re often faced with in heavy cover comes after the shot has been taken, and that’s actually finding the carcass.

A live deer always looks much bigger than a dead one and it can be nigh on impossible to find in all this new, lush, vegetation. To make the job easier there are a few simple rules to follow.

First and foremost make a detailed mental note of where you shot your deer.

This might sound obvious but it is surprising how many times we don’t take notice of exactly where the animal was standing when we shoot it. By the time you have moved a few steps from the shooting place every tree starts to look the same.

In fact the terrain can change into a totally unrecognisable mass of ground, especially on a clear fell (a newly felled area).

On seeing the deer shot take careful note of any trees, bushes or mounds that help mark the spot – this simple observation could save you hours of searching in the wrong place.

You only have to be a few metres out on where you thought the deer was hit and then move off in the wrong direction to lose the carcass for good. And in heavy cover it is so easy to walk straight past it.

Having taken notice of where you shot the animal, take a good look at where you shot it from before you move off to find it. I invariably hang a piece of clothing or tape up so that, looking back, I can easily see if I am keeping on the right track.

Leaving a marker in this way also gives you a good reference point if things don’t quite work out and you have to start again!

deer fur

If the carcass cannot be seen when you approach the point of shot then you need to start looking for any sign of paint and pins – blood and hair. It is very possible, nay likely, that even though the animal’s heart and lungs have been hit it will have run (and that could be anything from 5 yards to 200 yards… yes, I really do mean 200).

I recall a buck, shot by a guest, which ran this distance with no sign of a hit until he suddenly fell dead.

His heart had been destroyed by the shot but he still had the oxygen and adrenalin to escape. He simply had not realised he was about to wake up in the Elysian fields.

deer blood

Signs of blood at the point of shot can be a great relief to a stalker who has just seen his animal bound off into thick cover.

Bright blood, maybe with a little pink lung tissue mixed in, tells us the animal is mortally hit and is probably lying close by.

The difficulty here is that summer cover can be like a jungle and any blood trail can be very difficult to track because blood is not always on the ground.

Instead it can be spread chest high onto bracken and bushes as the animal passes through.

Again, it’s wise to mark the blood trail with tape, sticks or anything else you can see clearly in the cover.

This way, if you do lose the trail, you can easily retrace your steps to the last mark and search slowly around until you pick it up again.

Deer will always try to get into cover when hit and you will be amazed at how small a gap they can vanish into.

Without a blood trail you may as well look for a needle in a haystack. The key here is not to rush, but move very slowly, scanning everything in detail so as not to miss that vital sign.

If you still can’t find the deer then it is time to put a dog on the trail and, if you do not have one, hopefully you know someone who does.

A trained deer dog is a real bonus but most dogs will follow trails even if not trained, after all, their noses are not just meant to be used on lamp posts!

Stick yours on a lead and let it go where it wants –it has senses a zillion times better than yours, added to which you may be surprised by the pet you thought was a lazy house dog once it scents blood!

Good hunting.

To go stalking contact Jon on 01434 344067 or [email protected]