In Part One we discussed the importance of shot selection and ways to analyze the shot to decide how and when to trail an animal. Now let’s look at gear that makes night trailing easier, plus a few tricks for making low-light shooting easier.
Tools for Night Trailing
When the signs suggest a deer should be trailed after dark, the job will require some basic tools and a lot of patience.
You will need dependable light…and lots of it.
Typical D cell flashlights equipped with two batteries are not up to the task. At the very minimum, game trailing after dark requires a light with four or more alkaline D cell batteries or a six-volt lantern-style battery. The light should be waterproof, durable, and equipped with extra bright krypton bulbs.
Varmint hunters are the experts when it comes to serious battery-powered lights. A number of lights designed for varmint hunting are available that feature a rechargeable 12-volt gel battery, belt-pack, hand-held spotlight, and a four- to six-foot cord. Some of these lights are designed to attach to a hat and function like the headlight of a car.
Gasoline lanterns, like the famous Coleman version, produce an enormous amount of useful light and cost pennies to operate. These lanterns are especially helpful when a reflector is used to direct the light in one direction. The problem with gasoline lanterns is they require a delicate mantle that’s easily damaged if the light is bumped or dropped.
Have Patience and Perseverance
In addition to serious light, game trailing after dark requires considerable patience. Progress is often very slow and the temptation to walk ahead can be overwhelming.
Moving too fast is an open invitation to disturb what little blood or other sign is available. Move from one drop of blood to the next, taking care not to step on or otherwise destroy sign in case it becomes necessary to backtrack.
Snap off twigs along the blood trail or mark the trail with pieces of tissue paper. When the trail gets tough to follow, look back over the route you’ve covered to get a suggestion of the general direction the animal is moving.
When blood sign is scarce, making an educated guess as to the direction a deer traveled becomes the only option. Fortunately, wounded deer usually stick to familiar surroundings such as frequently used trails. Move slowly forward on likely trails, watching closely for blood and being careful not to trample any sign.
It’s not uncommon for blood drops to be found several yards apart, even from a mortally wounded deer. This is especially true if the wound is a little high on the animal. A deer that’s struck above the centerline of the chest will not bleed as freely as one hit low in the chest. If the arrow didn’t pass through and create an exit wound, expect the blood sign to be spotty.
Most important, don’t get discouraged. Persistence and determination is the best insurance against losing an animal. On especially tough trailing jobs, it helps to add another set of eyes to the search. Two or three hunters with lights have a much greater chance of staying on the trail than a single hunter.1862
As the trailing job unfolds, keep a sense for the type of terrain the animal is moving in or towards and how far the animal has traveled. A seriously wounded deer will rarely travel uphill. Instead, mortally wounded deer tend to move downhill or toward low-lying areas. A wounded deer that moves steadily uphill isn’t likely to die quickly. The trailing job should be postponed until daylight.
Deer shot through the lungs or heart rarely travel more than 60 to 100 yards. If the trailing job goes much beyond this on a deer believed to be solidly hit, chances are the arrow took out only one lung.
If after trailing a deer for 100 yards the animal appears to be going strong, it’s probably best to call off the search until daylight to prevent pushing the deer and making the trailing job even more difficult.
In summary, here are some commonsense guidelines for trailing deer:
A mortally hit deer rarely travels beyond 100 yards.
- The blood sign on lung or heart shot animals is usually easy to follow.
- Any wounded animal that bleeds sparingly or travels more than 100 yards may not be hit as hard as originally believed.
- Any time the arrow doesn’t pass through the animal, the trailing job should be delayed for a few hours.
- If an animal is believed to be shot behind the diaphragm, postpone the trailing job until the next morning.
It would be great if every trailing job was short and easy, but not all of them are. Bow shots happen fast, but with the right preparation, equipment, patience, and determination even a poorly shot animal can be recovered.
Tricks for Shooting Accurately in Low Light
Not all sighting systems function well in low-light conditions. A sighting system of sight pins and a peep becomes a serious handicap in low-light conditions. Even if the pin features a light or glows in the dark, the peep itself will block available light to the eye. Also a peep sight is used with one eye closed, making it even more restricting to low-light conditions.
A single lighted pin mounted on a sight bracket is a good system for shooting in low light. Keep both eyes open while sighting to take advantage of every ray of available light.
Red dot scopes are another excellent tool for low-light shooting conditions. When shooting a red dot scope, keep both eyes open and concentrate on the target. When the anchor point and grip are lined up properly, the red dot appears directly in the center of the scope.
When using a red dot scope, it’s important to turn the dot intensity down to a minimum level so the light doesn’t become distracting.