In order to be an ethically responsible hunter, after connecting on a shot, we must transition into detectives to gather all of the evidence available to make a successful harvest. Identifying the various characteristics of blood can help determine how long to wait after the shot and allows for a relatively accurate reading of the shot placement. As hunters we must utilize all of the clues available in order to piece the puzzle together.
A rich red to a vibrant pink colored blood typically indicates a heart or major artery shot. A heart shot is definitely lethal shot resulting in a relatively quick track job, sometimes even witnessing as the deer goes down. With any heart shot you may find large amounts of blood dispersed throughout the travel route of the exiting deer. However, with a major artery shot, you may find massive amounts of blood, but might not watch the deer go down right away. A hit to a major artery will cause the deer to bleed out over time, sometimes longer than initially hoping.
Bright pink blood with small bubbles, almost a pink frothy blood is a definite sign of a lung shot. Bubbles form when the air from the lungs is entrapped in the blood, causing a bright pink hue. A lung shot is lethal by any standard, but in some cases a high single lung shot may not cause the deer to expire as quickly as a double lung shot will. With lung blood you need to pay close attention to the quantity and frequency of where you observe blood while tracking the deer.
Dark red to maroon colored blood typically indicates a kidney or liver shot. A shot to the kidneys or liver is a lethal shot, but may take longer for the deer to expire. In situations with a kidney or liver shot, you may not see large amounts of blood, but rather droplets ever so often. When a deer is hit in the kidneys or liver, blood will pool up within the body cavity taking longer for the deer to expire. Large quantities of blood may not be present but stay persistent and follow any bit of blood you encounter.
A dark green/brown colored substance or blood containing stomach bile and/or stomach contents indicates a gut shot. A gut shot can make a difficult recovery due to shot placement and lack of blood available if gone about the wrong way. Typically with a gut shot deer, blood will pool up within the body cavity as they bed, as long as the deer is not pushed. Backing out and allowing the deer plenty of time to expire, at least 6-8 hours, may deem a successful harvest.
The characteristics of blood are not the only telltale sign for determining shot placement and wait times. By examining the splatter patterns of blood we can form educated guesses for how long to wait after the shot and the approximate shot placement on the deer. For example, blood located on both sides of the exit trail indicate a pass through, while blood located on only one side of the trail indicates that the projectile never exited the opposite side of the deer. Also, analyze the height and angle that the blood splatter is present along the path as this is a good indicator of which organs and arteries may have been hit.
As hunters we are ethically and morally responsible for tracking down our harvest by exhausting all reasonable efforts. Being able to decipher between the various blood characteristics will allow you to create a well thought out path forward in regards to beginning your tracking process. We advise you to give an animal at least 4 hours before tracking, weather permitting. Unless you see the animal drop and are 100% certain it has expired, back out and wait. You will recover more deer this way. By educating yourself on the various blood characteristics you are developing yourself into a more efficient and sustainable hunter.