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What does dark blood mean after shooting a deer?


When hunting deer, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs that indicate where your shot landed and how effective it was. One of the key indicators is the color of the blood trail left by the deer after it’s been shot. Dark blood is often an ominous sign when tracking a deer. Here’s a quick overview of what dark blood may mean if you see it after shooting a deer:

– Dark red or brown blood typically indicates a muscle or gut shot. These shots often lead to slower deaths that may require tracking the deer. The dark color comes from digested food or internal organs in the bloodstream.

– Very dark, almost black, blood suggests a heavy lung shot. The dark color comes from blood mixed with lung tissue. Deer mortally hit in the lungs rarely go far.

– Small specks of dark blood could hint at a liver shot. Shots to the liver cause dark blood due to high iron content. Liver shots are also often fatal.

– Dark blood with entrails or stomach matter points to a paunch shot into the deer’s intestines. Paunch shots are usually not fatal but require tracking.

– Old, dried blood from a previous day’s injury will look very dark or black. Don’t assume it’s from your current shot.

So in summary, dark blood isn’t ideal and means you have likely hit muscle/gut or the paunch instead of the lungs or heart. However, dark blood also doesn’t guarantee you missed the vital organs, as shots to the liver will also cause darker blood trails. Use all evidence from the shot scene and trail to determine where your arrow or bullet likely hit.

Where are you most likely to see dark blood when tracking a deer?

When you begin trailing a deer, the first sign of blood will give you an indication of where your shot landed. Here’s what to look for:

– Muscle shots will start showing dark blood quickly as the arrow or bullet passes through muscle tissue. Expect to find splatters, tissue or meat chunks mixed with dark blood early in the trail.

– Gut-shot deer may take 50-100 yards before blood appears. You’ll then see intestines, stomach matter and digested food mixed with dark blood.

– Lung shots result in bright red blood at first, then blood gets darker and more foamy as you track further due to lung tissue mixing with blood.

– Liver shots lead to small specks of dark blood from the start that gradually increase in volume.

– If you hit the deer’s paunch (stomach), dark partially-digested blood will start showing up after 100+ yards.

– Neck and head shots lead to immediate bright red blood which eventually turns darker in color.

Deer don’t fully bleed out right away, so expect the blood trail to become darker and moreinternal as you follow it. Use the early signs of blood to pinpoint your hit location.

What’s the difference between dark red blood and dark brown blood when tracking a deer?

The exact shade of dark blood can provide more clues about your shot placement:

– Dark red blood indicates you likely hit muscle tissue. The dark color comes from myoglobin in muscle fibers breaking down. This blood is still relatively oxygenated.

– Dark brown or black blood means a gut, paunch or liver shot. This blood is mixed with stomach contents, digested food or iron-rich liver tissue which turns it very dark. It has also lost oxygen which turns it darker.

– Maroon colored blood suggests a heavy lung shot as it’s mixed with lung tissue. This blood has some oxygen from the lungs but is also very dark.

The key is that dark brown or black blood is more indicative of a paunch/gut shot versus dark red blood which typically points to muscle tissue damage. However considerable muscle damage plus time can also lead to very dark blood, so use other evidence as well.

How can you tell if dark blood is a good or bad sign when tracking a deer?

The impact of seeing dark blood depends on when and where you find it:

– Dark blood early in the trail suggests you did not hit vitals and will need to track further. This is a bad sign.

– Dark blood that starts bright red but gradually gets darker can indicate a lung shot. This is a good sign.

– Spotting dark blood 200+ yards from your shot is likely intestinal matter and a bad sign.

– Large amounts of dark blood within 100 yards normally means you hit muscle tissue. This is not ideal but not always fatal depending on how much damage occurred.

– Small, steady specks of dark blood from the start hint at a liver hit. This is a great sign.

– If you find entrails and stomach parts mixed with dark blood, expect a slow death. However, paunch shots can still be fatal.

The key is not to panic if you spot dark blood right away. Instead, look at the entire context – distance from shot, quantity of blood, what’s mixed in, etc. This will give you a better idea of how your shot impacted the deer. Onset of dark blood doesn’t guarantee you missed vitals.

How can you differentiate dark blood from a muscle hit versus a paunch shot?

Telling dark blood from a muscle shot apart from a paunch shot requires looking at a few factors:

– Quantity – muscle shots tend to lead to more dark blood. Paunch shots produce less blood initially.

– Color – musle hits cause dark red blood while paunch shots lead to very dark maroon or brown blood.

– Contents – you’ll see tissue, meat chunks, and clots from muscle shots. With paunch hits, digested food, stomach matter, or intestines confirm a gut shot.

– Trail patterns – muscle wounds often drizzle steady blood whereas gut shots are more intermittent.

– Distance from impact – you’ll see dark blood right away from a muscle hit versus delayed dark blood if you hit the paunch.

The most definitive way to tell is looking for food matter and stomach contents in the blood trail. Presence of these internal parts means you hit the deer’s paunch or intestines and not just muscle.

What should you do if you see dark blood when tracking a deer?

Seeing dark blood doesn’t automatically mean a non-fatal hit. However, here are some tips for responding:

1. Mark the location where you first see dark blood. This will help identify how far the deer was hit from your shot and provide perspective on tracking distance.

2. Analyze the color of blood – is it dark red or nearly black? Black blood likely means a paunch shot.

3. Inspect blood closely – are there specks of leaves, dirt, hair, bone fragments or any other matter that provides more context?

4. Look for additional signs confirming shot placement such as stomach matter, entrails, etc.

5. Give time for the deer to bed down and expire – don’t rush tracking and cause the deer to run further.

6. Maintain a steady, systematic search pattern. Resist the urge to run or take shortcuts.

7. Be prepared to track over a long distance and time period if blood is from a muscle hit or if you jumped the deer by tracking too soon. Stay with the trail.

The most important thing is avoiding assumptions until you’ve gathered all evidence about your shot and the deer’s trail. Don’t give up based on blood color alone.

How can you determine if dark blood means a lethal versus non-lethal hit?

It’s difficult to definitively conclude lethal vs non-lethal from just the blood when tracking deer. However, here are some indicators:

– Non-lethal hits often lead to muscle damage which produces lots of steady, dripping, dark red blood. If you find a consistent blood trail, expect non-fatal without other confirming signs.

– Low blood volume with specks of dark blood may mean a glancing shot that did not cause major damage. Deer can likely survive these hits.

– A blood trail that stops after a short distance (What should you do if you lose the blood trail and it’s getting dark?

Losing a blood trail as daylight is fading is a difficult scenario. Here are some tips if this occurs:

– Immediately mark your last visible blood sign so you can return to the same spot at first light.

– Try sweeping wider arcs in the direction of travel to rediscover the trail. Look for reflective blood droplets.

– Use a high power flashlight or spotlight to scan for blood once the sun sets. The light may pick up blood you can’t see otherwise.

– If you have tracking dogs available, use them to help pick up the trail with their superior scent tracking ability.

– Avoid wasting time randomly searching in low visibility conditions. Pick up the trail again at first light when blood is easier to see.

– Be prepared to come back and spend hours combing the area in concentric circles from your last blood spot to rediscover the trail.

– Consider using forensic techniques like luminol or chemical agents to react with blood you can’t see at night. These can sometimes make the trail visible again.

Stay calm, don’t force the track in poor visibility, and be ready to methodically restart the search at daylight. Losing blood doesn’t have to end the recovery if you use smart tracking strategies.


Seeing dark blood when tracking a deer shot is often an uneasy feeling for hunters. However, dark blood alone does not definitively indicate a lethal versus non-lethal hit. By analyzing the full context – including blood trail patterns, volume, contents and distance from the shot – you can make educated guesses on where your shot landed and its potential lethality. Avoid snap judgements and stay focused on the evidence at hand. With patience and a systematic approach, dark blood doesn’t have to ruin your hunt. Proper tracking can still lead to successful recovery even with ominous looking blood trails.