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Tips for Blood Trailing and Recovering Game: What to Do Before and After the Shot

Red Deer Stag Silhoutte  in Dawn Mist

Few things in hunting are more frustrating than losing an injured animal. For most, an animal is “lost” when the blood trail dries up and they are left to search in vain for the next clue to the animal’s direction of travel. In reality, losing the blood trail marks the end of a long series of events that can include a bad shot, improper bullet or broadhead performance, flushing injured game from its bed, overlooking clues regarding the type of injury, and so forth. Quite often it is only at the end of an empty blood trail that we recognize the mistakes that were made, and at that point it’s too late to fix the problem.

In many cases, hunters can prevent the loss of injured game from happening through preparation and knowledge. You can’t guarantee that every shot you take will result in a quick, clean kill, but you can stack the odds in your favor by focusing on these key elements before, during, and after you take the shot.

Before the Shot
Practice proper shot placement: This seems axiomatic, but too many hunters spend too little time at the range prior to the season. You must build the confidence required to make a lethal shot when the opportunity presents itself. It’s fine to sight-in your firearm or bow on a bull’s-eye target, but the bulk of your practice should be on targets that resemble your quarry.

Know your bullet or broadhead: Caliber or draw weight is not the only factor that affects the lethality of your implement. You need to know how it will perform on game. When you find what works, stick with it. Today’s crop of new bullets and broadheads are better than ever, but take the time to ensure that they will work properly for you.

Know the range: Most hunters practice at very specific ranges and know how their weapon will perform at that distance. It is important, therefore, to know exactly how far away your game is when you plan to make the shot. A rangefinder is essential, but in many cases (particularly for bowhunters), you might not have time to range your quarry in the seconds before a shot. Spend time ranging various things from your stand or hide and use those visual keys to know how far away the game is when it appears. Be prepared to make a quick shot, but know your limits. If the quarry is outside that range, it’s off-limits.

Pack the essentials: ­Reflective tape is inexpensive and a great aid in marking a trail, so you need to have some in your pack. It allows you to visualize the animal’s flight path and serves as a reference on the trail, plus it’s a much better method than dropping gloves and gear along the track. If you do need to call in extra help, you’ll be able to get back on the trail immediately once the cavalry arrives.

Clear the debris: When you select your stand location, take the time to clear shooting lanes properly, both while you’re on the ground and after climbing into the stand. Many wounded animals are lost because an undetected obstacle causes the bullet or arrow to veer off course. Walk down your shooting lanes and clear out anything that could potentially cause a miss.

At the Shot
Breathe properly: During an intense encounter, physical reactions to stress can limit your ability to respond appropriately. One element to maintaining composure is controlled breathing. Heightened anxiety causes rapid, shallow breathing, which will compromise your ability to make a clean shot. Learn to control your breathing when you shoot. Take deep, slow breaths and focus on your target. This small step often means the difference between an accurate shot and a wounded animal.

Gather intel: When you shoot at game, you might only have a second or two to gather information about the shot and the animal’s direction of travel. If it runs, take time to identify landmarks along its route and commit them to memory. I once nearly lost a deer at the edge of an open hayfield because I couldn’t identify exactly where the animal had been standing when it was hit or the path it took when it bolted after the shot. This should be your first priority. Don’t let the excitement of the moment overwhelm you. The terrain will look different when you are on the ground versus in your stand, so look for fixed points of reference.

Pay attention to angle: Broadside shots are best, of course, but oftentimes that’s not how the animal presents itself. Even a slight angle can send your bullet or arrow off course, so don’t take a shot if the animal is quartering toward you or away from you. This takes great patience, but it’s vital to making a clean shot.

After the Shot
Don’t rush: This is one of the most common mistakes hunters make, even those with a great deal of experience. It can take anywhere from seconds to hours for an animal to expire, so don’t be in a rush. Spooking wounded game will extend the search and may cost you in the long run.

Use a scientific approach: Your first goal is to identify where the trail starts. Every few feet, mark the trail with tape and take time to examine the blood. If it’s frothy and contains pink tissue and air bubbles, it’s likely lung blood, which is great. Red muscular blood can indicate a heart shot or a marginal hit in the shoulder. Bits of fodder and green material mean you’re likely looking at a gut shot. Track slowly, marking locations where you find blood. Don’t proceed unless you have clear evidence that the animal went in that direction.

Stay off the trail: Work from either side of the blood so that you don’t obliterate the trail. You might need to come back and reexamine areas where you’ve already searched, and that minute drop of blood that would have shown you the animal’s course could be lost if you walk through its path. Avoid massive search parties—one or two experienced trackers will often be more successful.

Look for hidden clues: Many hunters focus solely on the ground, and this means missing blood on standing brush and tall grass. These traces will also help you identify how high the shot was relative to the animal’s body. Aside from blood, look for broken branches and grass, tracks, and any other sign that could be easy to miss.

Get high-tech: There are a number of new products that could help you find a lost animal. Blood trailing lights like the Primos Bloodhunter HD amplify blood and make it much easier to see in low-light conditions. Thermal imaging cameras like the FLIR Scout display “hot” points where blood has dropped in the grass, making it easier to identify the animal’s path of travel. A few squirts of luminol mixed with water from a spray bottle can help reveal blood in the dark.

Understand forensics: Crime scene investigators learn to read blood patterns, and you should too. When blood drops fall, the shape of the mark they leave is relative to the direction of the animal’s travel, and these subtle clues can point you in the right direction. Round blood drops have fallen straight down from above—a sign the animal was standing still. As a wounded animal runs, blood drops will splatter and elongate with the speed and direction of travel. The “tail” of a blood drop indicates the direction the animal was traveling, so use these tails as arrows to point you toward your lost game.

Call in the dogs: Where ­legal, blood-trailing dogs are a beneficial aid for finding lost game. But as time passes and as human trackers compromise the scent trail by walking back and forth over the track, the trail becomes harder and harder for a dog to follow. If the trail can’t be easily identified, call in the dogs while there’s still a chance of finding your game.

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8 Things to Know About Natural Navigation


There’s never a good reason for a modern outdoor fanatic to run off into the wild without a GPS navigation device, or at least a good old map and compass. But it still happens anyway. Or maybe you started out with navigation gear, but became separated from these pathfinding tools. Our ancestors found their way in the world without an electronic box telling them when to turn right, and we can too. Natural navigation is a dying art form, but a very valuable skillset, especially for those who wander far off the beaten path. Here’s how you can find your way, using only the clues that nature provides.

1. Greet Sunrise and Sunset
To someone who just spent a long cold night lost in the dark woods, the rising sun is a thing of beauty. It’s also a great sign of an easterly direction. As almost every outdoor enthusiast knows, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Depending on the time of year and your latitude, the sun may rise closer or further from True East. The actual position of sunset will vary like this also. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun rises north of True East, sweeps through the sky in a southerly arc, and sets north of True West.

2. Set Up Shadow Sticks
Can’t figure out your directions, but you know its mid-day? The sun still gives us enough movement at midday to find our directions, if you stick a few twigs in the ground to make a sun compass. It’s easy to make and easy to use a sun compass (aka “shadow stick”).

Just stick a twig into soft ground in an open area that is receiving direct sun light. Then stick a smaller twig into the ground or set a small stone at the point where the first stick’s shadow ends on the ground. The sun moves east to west at about 15 degrees per hour. Wait 2-3 hours, give or take a few minutes if you are away on a survival project, and make another mark to record the tip of the shadow from the shadow stick. Lay a stick on the ground or draw a line between the marks from the shadow tips; and you have established a rough East-West line. Add small stones or more twigs each hour of the day and you’ll have a sun dial to tell time (and you still have your compass).

3. Watch the Moon
As the sun moves from east to west, so does the moon. Due to the moon running on a different schedule than the sun, it may not be rising or setting at a convenient time to assist your navigational needs, but at least it follows a similar path as the sun.

4. Watch the Horns
The crescent moon is a shape recognized around the world, but few people realize when the “horns” of the moon are telling us. When the crescent moon is in the sky, use a straight stick (or just your imagination) to make a line that touches each tip of the “horns” and extends down to the horizon. This spot on the horizon will be roughly south, when this trick is done in the northern hemisphere. If you’re trying this below the equator, the line passing by the horns and extending to the ground will show a rough northerly position. This trick also works when the moon is in any other phase, except full moon.

5. Find the North Star
Most folks can find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) in the night sky. And if that was all you could find, it would give you a general idea of north. But for more precise way finding, follow the two stars on the side edge of the dipper’s cup until you hit the dim star “next door”. This is Polaris, the North Star. It gives you a very accurate bearing toward True North. If the Big Dipper doesn’t happen to be visible at your location or time of year, the “W” shaped constellation of Cassiopeia can help. It is on the other side of Polaris from the Big Dipper. It’s also possible to find Polaris by finding the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). Polaris is the final star in the dipper’s handle.

6. Big Dipper
Most folks can find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) in the night sky. And if that was all you could find, it would give you a general idea of north. But for more precise way finding, follow the two stars on the side edge of the dipper’s cup until you hit the dim star “next door”. This is Polaris, the North Star. It gives you a very accurate bearing toward True North. If the Big Dipper doesn’t happen to be visible at your location or time of year, the “W” shaped constellation of Cassiopeia can help. It is on the other side of Polaris from the Big Dipper. It’s also possible to find Polaris by finding the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). Polaris is the final star in the dipper’s handle. See an illustration here.

Study the Storms
Prevailing winds and storm patterns can tell us a lot as we try to navigate. Even though the wind can blow from any direction it likes, the storms and most of the wind tend to blow from the west toward the east in the northern hemisphere. When I see black storm clouds churning on the horizon in my area, it’s always to my west. And wind swept areas often have trees, shrubs and other vegetation leaning away from the storms – giving you a permanent indicator of storm patterns.

7. Ask the Animals
We all know how the geese fly south for the winter and north for the summer. The natural navigation skills of these birds are truly remarkable. But geese aren’t the only animals that can tell direction. Some spider species build their webs on the leeward side of trees. Since the wind normally blows from the same direction, this can help you establish your cardinal points.

8. Look to the Moss?
Does the moss always grow on the north side of the tree? I’m sure this might be accurate once in a while, but also remember that a broken clock is still right twice each day. Depending on the climate, latitude, moss species and a host of other factors – that moss can grow anywhere it likes. In fact, I often find more moss growing on the south side of the trees here in the mid-Atlantic. It’s sunny on the south side of the trees, and the local moss species prefer more light, especially in thicker forests.

But in that same patch of woods, I also find plenty of cases where the moss is on other sides – like east, north, and west. So if I believed the tree moss was telling me which way to go, I could be heading completely in the wrong direction in my area. If you find, however, that the moss is uniformly growing on the north (or south) side of the trees in your neck of the woods, then it could help you navigate in your locale. Just remember that most plants grow towards the light, and it can be usually seen in the growth of trees, crops, flowers and yes, even moss.

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Deer Hunting: 8 Rut Myths Busted

Whitetail Deer Buck standing in a woods.

When it comes to hunting the rut, sportsmen far and wide hang their hats on a lot of old information. But recent whitetail research allows us to reevaluate some of these misconceptions, and the new knowledge will help us hunt smarter.

1. Small Bucks Don’t Get to Breed Does
The myth stating that only big bucks breed does has been debunked in the pages of Outdoor Life before. Because of their size and age, younger bucks are at a disadvantage when battling older bucks for does. However, there are a number of young bucks that breed does every year.

New research indicates that subordinate bucks bred does in 5 out of 6 trials. In general, the research available indicated that social dominance did not have a major impact on breeding frequency.

2. Bucks Will Cover Miles in Search of Does
It’s easy to understand how this myth came to be. For years, hunters have scouted and hunted hard until the rut, only to have that one big buck seemingly vanish forever. In reality, you’re hunting within the confines of a buck’s home range, which varies widely based on deer density and habitat. But most properties are smaller than a single buck’s range. For the rest of the year, that buck may be in hiding, but the rut causes him to drop his defenses and lose his affinity for traveling under the cover of darkness.

Bucks may travel slightly outside their home range, says Dr. Stephen Webb of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, but it’s a myth that they range miles and miles from home. Each buck is an individual, and movement patterns vary from one deer to the next.

3. The Moon Affects the Rut
In a journal article that appeared in The Wildlife Society Bulletin in 2012, researchers reported that does came into estrus over a period of 30 to 40 days, with a standard deviation of 12 to 13 days, and that moon phase had no appreciable affect on the timing of this.

4. Bucks Stop Eating During the Rut
With the level of caloric output expended during breeding, bucks would actually die if they stopped eating. According to David G. Hewitt of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, bucks eat protein-rich foods in the fall in anticipation of the rut, and they continue to feed during the rut. You shouldn’t assume that all a buck is doing is chasing does.

5. Rattling Works Best During the Pre-rut
In research conducted by Dr. Charles DeYoung of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, the greatest response rate to rattling was during the rut and the lowest was during the pre-rut.

Bucks estimated to be 2 ½ years old or younger responded most to rattling during the pre-rut, 3 ½- to 4 ½-year-old bucks responded most often during the peak rut, and mature bucks of 5 ½ years and older responded to rattling most frequently during the post-rut. Most of the bucks in the test responded during the first 10 minutes of rattling.

6. The Phases of the Rut Occur in Order and Last About a Week Each
Rutting and estrous cycles are far more fluid than once thought. It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact times of pre- and peak rut. The key is to be in the woods when the does are in estrus, which is when bucks will be on the move.

But, as the research indicates, there is a wide variation in estrous periods. The rutting activity in one area will change depending upon the number of does that happen to be in heat.

7. The “Second Rut” is When Young Does are Coming Into Estrus
The study mentioned previously indicated that does had a wide range of estrous periods. The data also showed that while 2 ½-year-old does came into estrus earlier than 1 ½-year-olds, 3 ½-year-old does seemed to come into heat later than 2 ½-year-olds.

In short, there’s no evidence in this study suggesting that younger does always come into estrus after older ones.

8. It’s a Good Idea to Hunt Over Scrapes
The notion that hunting over a scrape will put you in position to kill a big buck has been debated for years. Like tracks and rubs, scrapes can serve as an indicator of the presence of deer—but only if they’re fresh. If you are in an area with a lot of scrapes, and at least one of them has been tended recently, this is a sign that you are hunting on the home turf of a buck.

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How to Teach Your Child Gun Safety

Father and Daughter

September is Baby Safety Month and we thought it fitting to share some ways to teach your children gun safety.

As an overprotective modern parent who gets nervous when my kids ride bicycles to a friend’s house, I would not teach my children to hunt if I thought it were dangerous. Better they have a gun in their hands, than, say, a skateboard. Hunting and shooting have low accident rates precisely because we place so much emphasis on gun safety. Although hunting should be fun, teaching kids to be safe shooters doesn’t call for much sense of humor. Treat the topic seriously, and children will respond to the gravity in your voice.


Young boys, especially, find guns fascinating. Keeping guns forbidden and mysterious only increases their allure. Let your kids handle your guns with your permission and under your supervision. Show them how to check whether the chamber and magazine are empty. Let them point the gun in a safe direction. Teach them now that the only time they are ever to touch a trigger is when they want the gun to go off.

Take them to the gun club, where they will see targets smashed to bits. Show them the bloody holes your guns put into the animals you bring home. A friend likes to impress new shooters with the power of firearms by shooting a cantaloupe at 10 paces with a 12-gauge. The distinction between real and toy guns will be as clear as the difference between real and toy cars.


Owning a BB gun can teach children good safety habits or bad ones. Kids of my generation roamed the woods with Red Ryders and no parental supervision. There’s a better way. Give a child a BB gun a year or so before he or she is ready to start shooting .22s and 20-gauges. Store it with your guns and make a point of treating it like a real gun—which it is. Let your young hunter bring it along, unloaded, on short hunts with you. Insist that he carry it with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Pack a few BBs along for some safe target shooting at the end of the day.


The more often you take your children shooting, the more practiced they’ll become in handling guns safely. At the range, insist that muzzles point up, down, or downrange—always. Keep control of the ammunition yourself, and dole out shells one at a time. Kids will be scrupulously careful about muzzle control until they fire a shot. In the excitement of hearing the gun go off, they will turn to you, swinging the gun, or drop it down so it points at their toes. If the gun is empty, it’s a teachable moment, not a potential tragedy. Insist on eye and ear protection, and emphasize its importance by always wearing it yourself.


Your first real hunts should be for squirrels, waterfowl, deer, turkeys, or doves, sedentary hunts where the game comes to you. Leave your own gun at home. Sit right with your hunter, whispering advice and giving the go-ahead to take the safety off and shoot. Save upland hunting for last. It requires walking with a loaded gun for long periods as well as split-second shoot-or-don’t-shoot decisions.


You’re trying to instill lifelong safety habits, and nothing you say speaks as loudly as your own actions when you and your child hunt together. Handle your own guns with extra emphasis on safety. While we’re at it, boats, ATVs, tree stands, and motor vehicles can be just as deadly as guns if used carelessly. Your young hunter will learn all about them by watching you.
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Autumn Hunting May Fight Summer Lyme Disease


(Inside Science) — Classic summertime scenes of little league games, family hikes and rough and tumble boys exploring the vast continent of their own backyards are all fun and games until someone comes in from their adventure with an unwanted stowaway: the dreaded deer tick. Most of the time, these ticks are a disgusting but minor annoyance. Other times, there is a more serious consequence: Lyme disease.

A little bit of background

About 24,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the U.S. each year, and 95 percent of Lyme disease cases in 2012 came from 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Why these states? Because lurking in the trees of the northeast and upper Midwest is a great abundance of deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis for the eastern black-legged tick, and Ixodes pacificus for the western black-legged tick), which can carry Borrelia burgdorferi – the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

By and large, the prevalence of Lyme disease in the U.S. has held steady across the last 10 years or so, but public health officials, especially in the Midwest and northeast, are constantly looking for strategies to lessen the public’s risk of contracting Lyme disease – especially among children.

One solution may lie in a popular pastime during the autumn months.

Johnny, get your gun

A study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that the number of reported cases of Lyme disease was strongly related to the white-tailed deer population in the immediate area. After hunting initiatives during the autumn deer hunting season thinned out the white-tailed deer population, the cases of Lyme disease in that area also decreased pretty dramatically.

The 13-year-long study looked specifically at the community of Mumford Cove in Connecticut – one of the states plagued with the most cases of Lyme disease in the country.

In 2000, the community voted to allow controlled deer hunts to trim the deer population in the area, after a ban that lasted many years.

With the introduction of hunting in the community, the deer population began to wane.

Between 1995 and 2008, the researchers asked 90 percent of all permanent residents in the community if they had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, and the number of deer they had spotted in their neighborhood.

An 87 percent reduction in deer density in the area meant a nearly 50 percent reduction in tick infection rates and an 80 percent reduction in resident-reported cases of Lyme disease.

The equation was simple: fewer deer = fewer deer ticks = fewer cases of Lyme disease.

Of course, hunting is not the only way to curtail the deer and thus the deer tick population. The Humane Society of the United States, for example, is looking into a strategy called immunocontraception, which is a birth control method for animals that uses the animal’s immune response to control animal populations.

Why ticks?

But, why are only deer ticks to blame for the spread of Lyme disease? Why don’t mosquitoes that also feast on human blood spread Lyme disease?

It is not so much the blood sucking that causes the disease as it is the bacteria carried by the insect. Deer ticks are known to carry Borrelia burgdorferi in the U.S., so they are the ones that can transmit Lyme disease to humans. It’s important to note, however, that not all deer ticks are infected with the bacteria, so not all tick bites will result in infection.

Lyme disease can be difficult to spot right away, especially if the person does not develop a rash at the tick bite site or does not present with symptoms. But when symptoms do occur, they usually present as flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue and body aches. If the disease disease progresses untreated it can cause joint pain and neurological problems like Bell’s palsy.

In most cases, an infected tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease-causing bacteria is transmitted.

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