Following a blood trail to a successful conclusion can be a highly gratifying and rewarding pursuit. Many hunters become too reliant on trackers to follow blood trails for them – they do themselves a disservice. Blood trailing should be part of the skills set of every competent hunter.
A lethal wound occurs when a major vital organ such as the brain, heart, liver, spleen, or in some instances a kidney, is sufficiently damaged to result in severe haemorrhaging (blood loss). In some cases a heart/lung shot can cause the animal to collapse instantly on receiving the bullet. However, heart/lung shots can also cause the animal to run off, expiring only once enough blood has been lost to lower blood pressure to where the brain is starved of oxygenated blood, resulting in death. Rupture of a major artery or vein, in the absence of serious organ trauma, may also cause the animal to bleed out and die. A mortally wounded animal may travel for up to a kilometre or further. Bigger animals with a greater blood volume generally cover more ground before expiring. Animals that are fleet-of-foot may also travel further than slower runners.
The term non-lethal wound is misleading in that the animal might fully recover from the wound, or die later from infection or other complications. By definition a non-lethal wound is one in which no vital organ or major blood vessel has been damaged and the animal stands a good chance of full recovery. There may or may not be a blood trail to follow. If there is, it is likely to be sparse and of the venous type and will soon peter out.
Before taking the shot, make a mental note of exactly where the animal is standing – use landmarks. On firing, note the animal’s reaction on receiving the hit, as this can indicate shot placement, and carefully note the direction of flight and the last place the animal was seen before disappearing.
Start by looking for blood where the animal had been standing when shot. You may find some right there, but very often the animal will dash off at great speed, covering quite some ground before blood starts to fall. Walk slowly, on one side of (not on) its tracks if visible, or along its flight direction, carefully searching every square inch for the tiniest fleck of blood. Search not only the ground, but also the ‘aerial’spoor – when the animal runs through bushes, long grass or other vegetation, blood may be smeared or spattered on leaves or stems, often at the height of the entrance or exit wounds.
If for some reason you cannot determine where the animal was standing when shot, go to where it was last sighted and carefully search that area. If you find no blood, do not assume the animal is unwounded. There are some physiological and anatomical mechanisms which may delay bleeding or prevent blood from exiting the body. Start where the animal was last seen and walk in expanding concentric circles until you find tracks or blood. Don’t expect to see an obvious blood trail; it may begin with the tiniest speck, well separated from the next.
Read the full article in the March 2019 issue of Magnum.