Tracking a Deer Blood Trail 101

Bow Hunting 101 | Deer Blood Trail Tracking

If you’ve shot a deer before while bow hunting, you’re probably familiar with the general sequence of events. Going from shot to recovery can take mere minutes or days, depending on several factors. It’s always a possibility that we could lose sight of a deer blood trail, which is guaranteed to result in sleepless nights. Here are some tips for blood trailing deer so you can improve your recovery rates and become a better hunter! 

Stages of Tracking a Deer   

Hopefully, for your sake, you are reading this blog before you make the shot. Ensuring that you know and follow each step of the blood trail tracking process is extremely important. With that said, this blog will take you through each step of the deer blood trail tracking method from directly after the shot, to the point where you recover your deer.  

Replay the Shot 

The moments directly after you release an arrow are some of the most critical seconds of a hunt that can influence the end result.  Assess the shot and replay it in your mind several times. After that, you should be able to answer each of these questions:

  • Which way was the deer facing? 
  • Was there any quartering that could have affected what organs were hit?  
  • How did the deer react when the arrow made contact?  
  • Is there a noticeable landmark (dead snag tree, spruce tree, etc.) in the area you shot it?  
  • Which direction did the deer run? 
  • What is the last landmark you remember the deer running by?  
  • Did you hear a crash?  

Burn these details into your mind before you even think about packing up to start blood trailing deer. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least 15 minutes while you replay everything unless you watched the deer drop within view. 

Many times, you can learn the most useful information by watching how the deer reacted and where your lighted nock disappeared. One of the benefits of using lighted nocks is that you can pinpoint exactly where the arrow strikes a deer. Regardless of which color nock you prefer, you can literally watch the LED light trail from the Nock Out Contender nocks and see precisely where it blinks out as it enters a deer’s chest cavity. Pay attention to how the deer behaves at this stage. If it jumps into the air and kicks its hind legs (oftentimes almost losing its footing), it’s very likely a heart, lung, or liver shot. If it hunches up its back and runs for a short distance before slowing down and walking away, you may have shot them in the paunch area in another place considered “no man’s land”. 

Stage 2: Look for Evidence 

After replaying all of these details in your mind, climb down and navigate to the landmark where you believe you shot the deer. This is where many hunters go wrong with tracking deer. Many hunters mistakenly just take up the trail immediately. Even if there is obvious blood, this action can ruin your recovery efforts quickly in the wrong situation. You’ll obviously be looking for blood, but also pay attention to hair, disturbed leaves, and broken branches. Lots of white hair means either your shot was low on the stomach or it exited the deer low.

Looking at the arrow

Hunting arrows can tell you a lot too. Examine the blood on it and give it a sniff. You may even have an indicator section or white wrap that can clearly show the blood. We’ll look at the blood types below for different shots, but if it smells rotten, it’s likely you made a paunch hit. 

Stage 3: Deciding on the Type of Deer Blood  

Knowing when to track deer after shooting is very important. Now for the real investigative part of the deer recovery process: the blood. Deer blood sign will be different depending on where you hit them. Look for this kind of blood evidence in the immediate vicinity of the shot location before proceeding with blood trailing deer.


Blood from a heart and/or lung shot will be very distinctive. It will usually be bright red and frothy (lots of small bubbles) because blood in these organs is full of oxygen. Depending on the entry and exit wounds, you may also notice spurts of blood on the ground and even on the tree trunks and shrubs periodically, as the heart pumps it out. 


Whitetail livers are tucked behind the lungs and higher up from the heart. Blood from these shots will usually be darker red or purplish, and may be thicker in consistency. It also may only drip from the deer after a while, producing a harder blood trail to follow. 

Paunch (Stomach/Intestines)

The dreaded paunch or gut shot is something no hunter wants to make, but it does occasionally happen for a number of reasons. Blood from these hits will usually be thin and watery-looking, and may even contain green/yellow bits of undigested food in it. The blood will also smell foul, like stomach contents ought to.

Stage 4: Blood Trailing Deer 

Knowing how to track a wounded deer is a critical skill you need to have. Depending on what you find at the arrow site, you’ll have a few different choices to make. Obviously, the sooner you recover your deer, the fresher and safer the venison meat will be. You may also be contending with coyotes and other hungry scavengers who would happily steal your kill. So knowing how long to wait and ultimately how far a deer will travel will help you know when you can start tracking a deer.

Tracking Heart/Lung Hit Deer 

Unsurprisingly, the heart and lungs are vital organs, so a deer shot in either of them won’t last long or travel far. If you find frothy bright red blood at the shot site (and assuming you waited at least 15 minutes before getting down), you should be able to take up the trail immediately. It’s unlikely for a heart/lung-shot deer to travel more than 100 yards unless you only clipped one lung.  

Tracking Liver Hit Deer 

While a liver shot is always fatal, it will take longer for a deer to expire. If you find the thicker, dark red blood, wait at least four hours if possible before you start tracking. Liver shot deer will usually bed down within 200 yards to rest. If unpressured, they will usually bleed out and expire in these first beds. But if you rush in, you may jump the bedded deer. Since they may only produce droplets for a blood trail, every further inch you push them makes your tracking job much harder. 

Tracking Paunch or Stomach Hit Deer 

A paunch shot is usually also a death sentence for a deer, but it could take days to happen. The blood trail may also be sparse enough for you to lose the trail before you find the deer itself. If you notice a foul smell on your arrow or thin watery blood, quietly back out of the area. If there is no rain forecasted and if it’s a cool night, you can leave a deer overnight to track it in the morning. If it’s going to be hot in the early season, rainy, or you’ve got lots of predators on the property, try to give it at least four hours before blood trailing. Similar to the liver discussion, you don’t want to jump them from their beds. A gut-shot deer can run for miles before expiring, which could potentially push them off your property. 

Stage 5. Employing Helpful Blood Trailing Tips and Tactics 

Slow Down! – When blood trailing deer, you need to move slowly and pay attention to everything simultaneously. You’ll need to move three to five times slower than normal so you can scan the ground and trees for blood and glance ahead to look for the deer. Stop often to listen and scan ahead with binoculars.  

Walk to the Side – As you walk along, make sure you don’t destroy the blood trail by walking on it – walk to the side of the trail. When you lose track of the blood, leave signs at the last spot you saw it. You can use flagging tape, toilet paper, or even your Nock Out lighted nocks! Start by walking in small circles around the last spot, and you’ll usually find where the blood trail picks up again. If you can’t find more blood, as mentioned above, pay attention to upturned leaves, rushed deer tracks, and broken branches, as this indicates a deer moving through the area at a fast pace.  

Keep One Nocked – Keep your bow nocked with another arrow in the off-chance you can make a follow-up shot, if needed. This is harder for archery than it would be with a firearm, but sometimes you might spot a bedded deer and get a shot before it bolts again.

Hopefully, you’ll have an opportunity this fall to put these blood tracking tips to good use. If you haven’t already check out the NEW Contender Lighted Nocks from Nock Out®.


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