The noise of a gunshot and shock of a bullet or slug has an understandable effect on any big game animal.
It has been my experience in bear hunting that a bear shot with a gun will bail out of a tree, but a bear hit with an arrow will climb higher. If a follow-up shot is necessary, take it quickly.
A well-hit bear generally drops quicker than a well-hit whitetail, but a poorly hit bear seemingly can go forever, right into the worst jungle or swamp you’ve ever struggled through.
A wounded black bear is one of the most difficult animals to track, for several reasons:
• Fat thickness can minimize blood loss. Fat can cover most or all of the bullet or broadhead entry hole, requiring considerable blood loss before there’s enough to drop to the ground.
This can happen with deer, too, but not as often. A wounded bear can go a long way before that happens.
• Loose-fitting hide also moves the entry hole through the skin off the entry hole through everything under the skin, minimizing or completely blocking external blood loss.
When an animal puts its near front leg forward, which is what you want, that loose hide is stretched. Once the animal is hit and runs, that loose hide slips over entrance and exit holes, preventing a blood trail.
• Hair on a bear’s coat generally is four inches long. This, and the thick under-fur, will absorb great amounts of escaping blood before there is enough to allow some to drop to the ground.
There are different ways to trail bear and deer that have been shot with different types of equipment. I have seen hard-hit animals not lose a drop of blood from where they were hit to the recovery.
With this in mind, it is very important to pay attention to everything the animal does after being hit.
• Which direction did it run?
• Was it running with an odd gait?
• Where did it go out of sight exactly, not “over there.”
• Did you hear anything unusual after it was out of sight?
This information is important when making a plan to track the animal, especially a bear.
Fewer trackers are better than many; it’s even better if they are experienced. A group of three seems to work best, with one on the trail and one to each side. Many times, because of the lack of sign, too many people will do more damage than good by accidentally wiping out sign.
Slow, deliberate movement is the rule on all game, especially on bears. Bear trails are often invisible in swamps. Open water and moss disperse or absorb blood.
Search carefully for every bit of sign. Tracks, broken brush, crushed grass, and hair may take you to the next sign of blood. Water on reddish fallen leaves often looks like blood.
As a general rule, once you hit an animal with an arrow, give it plenty of time before beginning tracking. The exception, of course, is when the animal falls within sight or you hear the bear’s death moan.
That moan is the bear’s last few exhalations with vocal cords involved. It is a sound that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand right up. Not every bear does this, but once you hear it, you won’t forget it.
Most outfitters I have hunted with wait until morning to track a bear. Bears generally are black, and at night a black bear can present a problem. Outfitters normally carry a gun for backup.
You do not need to be moving around in the dark while someone with a gun is simultaneously looking for an animal that can be almost impossible to see and may not be where you hope it is and may still be strong enough to run away… or toward you.
Normally, when you shoot a bear or deer through the shoulders it will drop in its tracks. However, if the animal runs off, especially a bear, no matter where it was hit wait a couple of hours then proceed cautiously, searching slowly, carefully and patiently.
There may be little blood even when the bear is shot through the vitals.
Dogs… the best tracking aid
A trained dog is the best tool for tracking wounded bear and deer, but only where use of a dog is legal. A trained dog will not get the handler or itself in trouble when confronting a wounded bear.
A good dog serving its owner well shows everyone that person’s commitment to the recovery of a downed animal.
Other tracking aids
• There is a commercially available light that illuminates blood. This light can point out specks of blood in hard-to-see places, such as moss and grass.
• Hydrogen peroxide makes blood foam. I carry a small bottle of it and squirt a small shot on any spot that looks like blood.
• Pieces of reflective tape are used to mark last blood. They are easy to see in daylight and with a flashlight on night trailing. If you lose blood you can look back at the tape to determine the path the animal took.
When the blood trail dries up, go back to last blood and work in circles, starting small and gradually increasing the size. Also, at times a bear or deer will abruptly change directions. You need to find that directional turn.
• An older way that works well is to put aluminum foil in a Coleman lantern, with shiny side forward and foil tight against the glass on the back half of the glass.
The shiny foil reflects light forward. Carry the lantern ahead of you, so you are behind the light and won’t be blinded by it.
By Bill “Bearcrazy” Wiesner