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Lessons Learned From Trailing a Deer at Night

This past weekend I did a lot of work in the woods and it felt good. I’m just now getting around to doing the work that I wished I could have done in the summer so yes I’m a little behind. After making a lot of noise in the woods I hunt in and spreading my scent everywhere I figured it wouldn't be a good idea to hunt there and since Derrick & JD Outen helped me do the work I told JD that I’d come video him hunting in the evening. JD’s still after his first buck of the season for this year so we hoped to get one on camera.  We had a good time sitting it the stand, but luck just wasn't in our favor tonight. Though, while we were sitting in the stand we heard a loud boom not too far away. This meant that JD’s dad, Derrick had made a shot. Derrick took a shot right at dark and he text messaged us and said he was on the way. And so it began.

Derrick picked us up and told us that he shot a deer at about 235 yards out in one of his shooting lanes. We went to the lane and starting walking. You have to kind of know Derrick to be able to fully appreciate the mode he gets in during situations like this. This was serious business and Derrick was like a CSI detective on a crime scene. Derrick showed us the spot where he said the deer was standing when he shot. I know Derrick is getting old and his eyes probably weren't working up to par right at dark so I went beyond where the said he shot the deer. Derrick, JD, & I searched for blood for nearly 15-20 minutes. I kept telling him that he missed to his response of “Outen’s don’t miss”. I was just about at the point of telling him that we should give up when I looked down and low and behold I saw a drop of blood. I was nearly 30 yards ahead of where Derrick & JD were by then. I yelled out “I've got blood” and I could tell Derrick’s hairs on the back of his neck were starting to stand up. The CSI deer detective had upped the tracker mode one notch because he knew there was a challenge at hand. From that point on Derrick was methodical in how he proceeded.

The drop of blood I found was in the shooting lane and we were trying to figure out which way the deer took off in, but the problem was that we couldn't find any more blood. Derrick told us to not be straying off into the brush because if a deer had traveled down a specific path we needed to be able to see it and if we went into the brush we would create a path and make it more difficult to keep up with. I told the guys that I was going to drop my hat on top of the blood so we would know where our origination marker was. We searched and searched through the edge of the lane on both sides and couldn't find anything. We even got desperate enough to start walking through the brush looking for anything that would give us hope. We had strayed the course and broken our own rules. We were about 30 minutes in at this point and yes my sweat was attracting mosquitoes which made it “fun”. 

Derrick pulled us back to the drop of blood and said “Let’s get side by side and walk down this lane one more time” and to my surprise JD found another drop of blood about 20 yards from the first one. This small drop of blood was a glimmer of hope that reignited the troops. We moved the hat to mark the new, most recent drop of blood. And we continued stalking, crouching, slow-walking down the lane looking for more sign. I think Derrick may have put a new dip in to denote the new level of seriousness now that drop of blood number two had been found.

The blood drops continued about every 10 yards and were slightly leaning toward the left hand side of the lane. Derrick saw a drop of blood enter the brush and you would have thought somebody gave him $20 as pumped up as he got. He proceeded step by step through the brush finding random drops of blood smaller than a penny to trail this deer. It was indeed impressive to watch is controlled focus through the brush. We were about 40 minutes in at this point.

The deer cut across some thick brush and then into some open hard woods. Derrick commented “See if we don’t pay attention this is where we’ll lose this deer right now. Ya’ll don’t be in a hurry and look with every step you take to make sure you’re not stepping on blood”.  We were getting deeper in the woods toward the creek. We got found  more broken brush and some larger drops of blood which was a good sign. We were getting pumped up and gaining energy and then all of a sudden the trail completely stopped. I couldn't believe it. We searched in every direction and couldn't find anything. Derrick was even picking up on the existence of spider webs crossing trails and letting them still crossing the path denote that the deer didn't go in that direction. I got so frustrated I walked ahead another 30 yards to the trail by the creek just hoping to find a white belly somewhere, but nothing. I was swatting mosquitoes when I heard Derrick say “I don’t see any blood, but it looks like something ran through here… see how these limbs are broken.” Derrick keyed in on some brush lying over oddly and some broken twigs and kept following them. By the time he worked his way to the end of the trail he and JD were arriving to the road I was standing on. Derrick told me to look for blood and sure enough I saw a small drop about the size of a pencil eraser on a leaf. I couldn't believe it. I was standing right next to the creek and Derrick again got in the zone and proceeded toward the creek. We all stood on the edge of the creek (and it was a sizable creek) and saw blood on the edge. The deer had crossed the creek. I knew Derrick was going to tell us to go swimming when I looked to the right and saw the deer lying dead in the creek. We were about an hour in at this point. 

We all couldn't believe what had just occurred. We literally went from thinking Derrick completely missed to having moments of hope to being let down to be back up then back down again to ultimately finding this deer in the creek. It was definitely a challenging process in which many would have abandoned a couple of times along the way.  JD and I pulled the deer out of the creek and hauled it back up the road while Derrick went to get the truck. It was a gnarly antlered spike… what some would call a “cull buck”. 

It was a hunt and night of tracking that I’ll never forget. I, like many of you, don’t like giving Derrick too much credit, but the boy can flat track a deer… I will give him that. Using a computer is a whole different ball game, but I don’t know if a blood hound would have done us much better than Derrick tonight. I guess here would be the best place to also say that if he wouldn't have gut-shot the deer all this tracking wouldn't have been necessary :-) 

Ultimately the hunt was successful and from tonight’s experience I've learned some more about tracking a deer. I wanted to share some pieces of info that I've learned about tracking a deer and I welcome you to add more in the comments field.

  • First & foremost don’t be in a rush to trail the deer or you might push/bump the deer making your job of trailing the deer ever tougher
  • The more eyes you have helping look, the better
  • Tracking a deer at night is more difficult, having lights with good batteries is critical
  • Don’t initially go tearing off in brush looking for the deer because you may affect your ability to later read the way the brush is laying and cause further confusion for yourself
  • Take some kind of marker that you can leave at the last spot of blood that you find
  • Deer can travel a good distance without any sign of bleeding
  • As the length of time trailing the deer grows the urge to hurry escalates, don’t let this urge get the best of you and stay focused on the next drop of blood
  • If you follow the trail for a good bit of time and then it just seems to stop don’t get frustrated because this kind of thing just happens
  • If there are spider webs crossing paths where you think the deer went, but yet those spider webs are not broken, the deer didn't go that way
  • If you get completely off trail go back to the marker of the last spot of blood and start over making small circles out from the last drop
  • When a deer is wounded the path they take will be erratic and won’t make much sense at all, don’t let the zig-zagging bother you 
  • Deer generally look for a cool area to lie down and try to heal so if you completely lose the trail search near the lowest point of your property and/or near a water source
  • Any others you can think that should go here? Please add your thoughts to the comments below

So while sweating through briars and tracking a deer for an hour may not seem too fun, it’s definitely rewarding when you find the deer. The story doesn't always end that way, but tracking is challenging and that challenge is what makes it rewarding. What’s your toughest tracking story?



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