I also hang my second orange vest at my shooting location so I can find it easy. Once I have a sight and/or at least a landmark, I make my best estimation on the point of impact location from that land mark. I also note the angle of the shot and distance (I can use my laser to tell if I am pretty close to the elevation). Armed with this information I set out for the point of impact.
With a range finder and some landmarks you can keep from ending up at the blue circle location thinking you're at the red, it seems simple but distance and terrain change perceptions
Once I have located the area of the point of impact I start looking for any sign at all good or bad. There is almost always some hair, usually some blood splatter. Pay particular attention to the splatter pattern as it can give valuable clues as to the location of the hit if you weren’t able to spot your own shot. Is the splatter from the impact side of the animal only? Is it on both sides? Does the exit side have a circular splatter pattern or is it V shaped? Is the splatter low to the ground or high? Are there bone fragments in it? What color is it? Are there any fluids in it other than blood? This info can mold how I will work the tracking process.
The first 20-30 feet of blood trail, or lack of, will tell you a lot about the hit. Is there blood on both side of the trail? Is there blood in the center of the trail? Is there blood on brush on the sides of the trail? How high up? Can I see tracks and scuff marks? Most often with a good hit there will be enough of a combo of the items to lead you right to your animal. What if I get to the POI and there is nothing except a scuff mark, no hair, no blood or other fluid, nothing? Well that is a real kick in the groin recovery but not impossible.
This is where thinking like a mortally hit animal comes into play. From the point of impact face the direction the animal was pointed when you shot or the direction you saw it go. If you have a point beyond the POI where you last saw it, do not skip this step. Follow the trail, tracks, scuff marks etc. until you reach the point where you last saw the animal. Stop and think about the direction of travel, the trail or path it took, was it random? Was it heading some where? Did it follow the contour? Did it take the path of least resistance? Seldom will mortally hit animals go uphill. Most will take off the direction they are pointed and follow the contour of the land or turn downhill or follow the contour and at some point turn downhill.
A huge key to this type of tracking is not to get into a big hurry, you only get one shot at a fresh tracking trail. If I run out of any kind of sign what so ever, I usually go back to the POI and do it again to see if I missed something. If I get to a point I am just sure it did not get past I start looking for trails or broken limbs etc. that go downhill if an animal starts to go down gets off the trail and then rolls they can go some distance sometimes especially bears. Following this kind of trail can be exhausting and time consuming but I believe that it is our responsibility to exhaust every possibility first.
A dozen people won’t make a recovery here any easier but a spotter will keep it from being impossible
I have recovered a couple of “bloodless” animals (most have left a well defined trail) using these techniques by myself. That doesn’t mean that going solo is a great idea, long range hunting is kind of like being in a gunfight, your chances of success are much better if you have a solid partner.Join the discussion of this article with the author HERE at the Article Discussion Forum.Shawn Carlock is a veteran law enforcement sniper and the current USPSA national precision rifle champion. He runs his business building custom rifles and conducting precision rifle training for civilian and law enforcement interests.