Skip to main content

How to Track a Wounded Deer Through Water in Florida

In Florida, ubiquitous water can complicate the trailing process. Here's how to track a wounded deer in water.

florida buck in woods looking at a river
Tracking a blood trail in watery environments like Florida can present complications, but we'll help you get that buck home.

Achieving a good shot at a game animal is an applaudable accomplishment and very likely the result of a great deal of time and effort invested in both scouting and hunting. However, unless the animal drops on the spot, more work is required. Typically, the animal must still be tracked.

florida doe walking in swamp and water
Deer are often found in or near water.

In Florida, ubiquitous water can complicate the trailing process. Water quickly dilutes and dissolves blood sign and hides hoof prints as well. What is a hunter to do?

Examine Your Surroundings

florida whitetail deer in woods
Tempting targets for Florida hunters.

This difficulty has no simple, ‘magic bullet' style answer, but a few practices may prove helpful. First, where the trail enters the water, the tracker should stop and make note of a few things. Does any vegetation extend above the surface of the pond, creek or other watery environment? Can a landmark be picked in the direction the last hoof prints pointed, especially one on the emergent shoreline? In the absence of true landmarks, a compass bearing can suffice. From the place the animal entered the water, which route looks the easiest and less impeded? Are there bubbles dotting the surface or that have drifted downwind or down current of the spot? Any one of these observations may turn out to be crucial in the recovery so it is best to develop a habit of assessing all from the very start.

bubbles on top of water with leaves under the surface
Bubbles left behind by an animal's passage – the water is not flowing and the bubbles endure for hours.

Once the tracker enters the water, he or she may introduce water splashes on tree trunks or vegetation and bubbles to the surface.

If bubbles are present, watch for a minute and take note of the speed and direction of their drift. In stagnant water, there may be no drift. In moving water, the bubbles' position, in concert with an estimate of the time the animal passed, should allow a calculation of the course taken. In pooled, non-flowing water, the bubbles may last a long time, even hours. Bubbles from the splashes themselves are mixed in size with some as large in diameter as a quarter. In shallow, stagnant water, rather than big bubbles, the tracker may see clusters of tiny ones.

tiny bubbles in standing water that show an animal has passed through it
A close-up look at the tiny bubbles that float up in an animal's wake.

Apparently, the weight of the animal squeezes these from broken-down debris on the bottom and even more so from submerged living plants. You'll also want to look for bubbles along the downstream bank of flowing streams. The current carries them in and a few persist. When they are present, bubbles manifest the game's trail. Extending the trail by careful inspection (even with binoculars if available) is best before the tracker wades in and creates more bubbles.

trail of bubbles in water used to track deer
A trail of a slowly moving deer through shallow water. The tiny bubbles released from the submerged vegetation show the course.

Where plant stems and leaves extend above the surface of the water, a trail marked by blood on land should continue to do so on the emergent vegetation. For some reason, blood is often not especially visible on grasses and rushes.

dried blood on palm fronds half submerged in water
Blood sign on a palm frond above the water's surface.

On the other hand, some aquatic plants like swamp lilies and lizard tails show blood sign readily. However, if the water has washed the animal's wounds, less blood may be leaked or the blood sign may be less red and more watery. Drooping and dangling branches and fronds also should be inspected for sign.

flowering lizard tail plant
Lizard tail – a plant of the swamps that shows blood sign readily.

Wet vegetation, cypress knees and tree trunks offer clues to where the fleeing animal splashed water. Rapid movement through water causes a disturbance and anything above the surface is subjected to waves, splashes, or drips. The slower the rate of travel, the less exaggerated the sign will be, but droplets falling from lifted legs or saturated coats may still point the way. Mud splatters or smears are also often present.




dried blood on palmetto bush leaves
Mud and water on overhanging vegetation splashed by the animal's flight.

When no evidence from bubbles or wet or bloody emergent vegetation is found, the next option is to extrapolate the animal's course through the water and examine possible exit points. Obviously, the number of places to check increases dramatically with longer expanses of water. Two routes show up often enough to bear recognition — a continuation of straight forward from the last footprint and the least obstructed way. Keep in mind that animals are individuals and will not all act the same so these are definitely not the only possibilities. Even so, a tracker is well advised to check the banks corresponding to those two courses initially. When choosing the least obstructed way, do so from the animal's perspective in regard to height, width and length of legs.

Each possible exit point is examined for any sign of use. Signs include splashed or dripped water, mud, blood, disturbed vegetation or hoof prints.

Again, with the wounds freshly washed, blood to confirm the trail may not show up for a distance. Water and mud are the most common indications. This painstaking procedure continues until the animal's exit route is discovered. Meanwhile, the tracker should avoid introducing any splashes, mud, or prints of his or her own that could obfuscate the true trail.

Recommended


dried blood drops on brush and leaves
Mud and blood confirm where the game left the water.

One more possibility must be born in mind. Not all that infrequently, the animal succumbs in the water. Florida waters in the woods are often dark. In these waters, the brown coats of deer, the black coats of hogs and even the feathers of turkeys show little contrast. Fallen animals typically float, but at a nearly submerged level and are not all that easily spotted. When no exit trail can be located, a thorough search of the water is worthwhile. Carcasses may show up as humps near the surface or even with heads wedged between trees.

All Florida trackers eventually face the challenges of following a wounded animal through watery terrain. As daunting as the task initially appears, the above suggestions may help the tracker puzzle out the trail.

Florida Sportsman Online Digital Exclusive Article


More Digital Exclusive Articles:

10 Most Unique Deep-Sea Fishing Catches
See what strange life forms — from frightening to exquisite — may come up on baited lines dropped into the abyss.

rare gorgeous swallowtail fish

Top 5 Biggest Fish Species Ever Caught on a Kayak
Are there limits to what a skilled angler can catch from a kayak? These jaw-dropping catches push that envelope.

adam fish with a 156 pound halibut on his kayak

10 Tips for Public Land Turkey Hunting
Make the most of spring wild turkey season with these tips for public land turkey hunting.

florida turkey hunting

7 Best World Record Snook Catches of All Time
These seven snook comprise the IGFA current world records exceeding 50 pounds — let's count them down.

guys holding one of the biggest snook ever caught in the world

8 Best Flounder Baits & Rigs
Here are eight of the best flounder baits, in no particular order, and when and where you need to fish them.

woman with large flounder caught on white Fishbites Dirty Boxer jig

Massive Burmese Python Found in Florida
The largest Burmese python by weight has been caught in Florida and you won't believe what she had inside her.

largest python caught in florida in science lab

10 Best Redfish Baits & Lures Right Now
A plethora of delicious entrees a redfish can't resist.

scented soft plastic gulp swimbait on jighead

Best Florida Duck Hunting Locations
If you can't find a place to duck hunt in Florida, you're simply not trying.

florida duck hunters holding up stringers of blue-winged teal after a duck hunt

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

Refurbished 1987 Alumacraft Jon Boat | One Man's Dreamboat

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Learn

New Berkley Finisher: The All-Around Live Sonar Lure

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

New Berkley Power Switch: Powerhouse Lure Designed for Foward-Facing Sonar

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

New Berkley Krej: A Reversed Lip Jerkbait?

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

How to Install New Fuel Tanks in an Old Boat

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Videos

Testing Out the Latest from Old Town in the Marquesas

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

How to Powder Coat: Benefits of Powder Coating Metal Fuel Tanks

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

Father & Son Customize a 20' Center Console | One Man's Dreamboat

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

Best Features of the Shallow Sport X3

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Learn

How to Fix an Outboard Motor that was Submerged in Saltwater

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

Analyzing a Hurricane Damaged Boat for Restoration

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

How to Design & Build a Custom Dash Panel for a Boat

Florida Sportsman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now