I’ve been a big fan of mapping apps like onX Hunt since they first hit the market several years ago. In fact, even before onX, I was using Google Maps to navigate to and from hunting destinations that I had previously avoided for fear of getting turned around in the dark.
The features they now pack into those apps are nothing short of incredible, and I find myself using them for much more than just navigation. I’ve scouted distant public lands, kept track of all the habitat features and deer sign I’ve found in my hunting areas, and have even used it to guide my shed hunting efforts. But this past week it came in handy for a much more important use — locating a buck I had shot hours before.
Last Monday evening found me situated in a loblolly pine tree on the edge of a small, mostly hardwood drainage on a Georgia Wildlife Management Area. Surrounding the drainage was a big, thick 8-year-old clearcut that had been replanted to longleaf pine and maintained with prescribed fire. It was great bedding cover as far as the eye could see.
My hope was that a hungry, unsuspecting deer would slip into the drainage to pick up a few of the white oak acorns that were dropping all around me. It had worked about this same time last year on a big, mature doe, so I was hoping this evening would provide similar results.
After a couple of uneventful hours, and just as the sun was setting, I heard the distinct sound of a deer walking through the dried leaves in the drainage heading my direction. By the time I finally caught movement, the deer was just 25 yards away. It quickly became evident it was a buck. I could see his legs moving back and forth as he pawed out a spot beneath the small beech tree, and I made out what looked to be a decent rack as he worked over a small licking branch above his head.
I had one narrow shooting lane to the right of the scrape, and by the grace of God, that’s exactly where he stepped as he finished up his scrape and turned to head back into the security of the clearcut. Quickly settling the pin of my HHA site on the buck’s vitals, I squeezed the trigger of my release and watched as the arrow disappear behind the crease of the shoulder. The buck jumped, bucked, and quickly disappeared into the clearcut.
Feeling good about the shot, I texted my buddy Evan to see if he was available to help me recover the buck. I then slowly gathered my gear and made my way down to the ground to see if I could find my arrow.
The arrow was lying on the ground just a few yards to the right of the fresh scrape the buck had worked. it was covered in blood, and there was a decent amount of blood on the ground at the point of impact. Feeling confident in a recovery, I marked the location on my onX app, grabbed my gear and headed back to the truck to wait for Evan.
On the Blood Trail
By the time Even arrived, it had been well over an hour since I shot the buck. I turned on the tracking feature on my onX app, and we headed into the woods to see if we could locate the deer.
If you aren’t familiar with onX or similar mapping apps, when you turn on the tracking feature, it creates a visible trail on the map of everywhere you walk. When used while blood-trailing a deer, you can see where the buck traveled, and get a feel for where he may be headed.
Blood was good right from the point of impact, and about 30 yards in, it opened up even more. It was a steady stream of good blood, and I just knew the buck had to be a short distance ahead.
Then it happened.
The blood stopped. And I don’t mean, it dwindled down to a trickle. I mean, it went from a steady stream, to not so much as a drop. Immediately. So we did what most anyone blood-trailing a deer does, we started looking beyond the last blood.
onX provided a great visual of his direction of travel, so we first continued our search in that direction. When that didn’t pan out, we began to fan out in other directions, making small loops through the heavy cover and in the swamp bottom just beyond.
I called a friend who has a deer tracking dog, but he wasn’t available until the next morning. I went ahead and arranged to meet him back out there, but wasn’t quite ready to give up on the search. I knew by morning some of the meat would be spoiled and coyotes would likely get to him. Unfortunately, continued loops out in front of our track wasn’t yielding any sign of the deer.
I had just mentioned to Evan that I would have to come back in the morning with the dog, when I decided to give the onX Hunt app one last look. Our track from the last hour or so of walking circles was evident on the app, but there was one small block in the midst of all those greenish-blue dashed lines that we had overlooked — or probably just avoided because it was mostly blackberry brambles.
I started pushing my way into the briars while Evan skirted the outside of them (he had showed up in shorts!). Minutes later, while I was carefully searching the thick cover of the briar patch, I hear Evan shout, “Here’s your buck right here!”
Man, was that music to my ears!
Busting back through the briars, I quickly made my way over to where Evan stood with the buck. It was a 5½-year-old (according to its tooth wear) 8-pointer that I was proud to put my tag on.
A quick glance at onX revealed the buck had actually backtracked about 20 yards from that last blood we had found. We had literally walked within 10 yards of the dead buck when we were blood-trailing, but never saw him due to the thick cover.
It was crazy to me to think if I hadn’t looked at my phone that last time, we would have likely walked right past that buck again on our way back to the truck. Would I have found him the next day? Probably. But in all likelihood, I would have lost some, if not all, the meat, which would have completely ruined what should always be an exciting and rewarding moment.
We owe it to the deer we pursue to do everything within our power to retrieve and utilize the animal. Mapping apps like onX Hunt can help you do just that. Next time you set out on a blood trail, be sure to turn on your tracking feature, and use these six practical tips to help you with the recovery.
- Drop a pin where you were standing/sitting when you shot
- Drop a pin at the point of impact
- Turn on the tracking feature while you blood-trail the deer
- Drop pins along the blood trail, especially if you reach a point where you’re having trouble finding the next spot of blood.
- As you continue to look for the deer, look at your track to determine where to search next, making sure you don’t leave any big gaps of unsearched ground.
- Mark the recover spot for future reference!
In the end, that handy app that helped you navigate to your stand may also be the difference between a lost deer and a filled deer tag.