How to Read a Track
One trick is to step beside the track and compare how your track looks next to the deer’s. Watch how the snow crumbles in your track and how it is crumbled in the deer’s track. Try to compare that to the temperature in recent hours.
Check the edges of the track to see if they are sharp and crisp. The longer a track has been around, the less sharp it is. Even on a cold day the sun can melt the edges of a track in mud or snow. Rain will break down the track quickly.
Look to see if the wind has blown snow or debris into the track. Depending on the conditions, this can indicate a track that is days old or a few hours old.
If you find a track that is slowly filling with water or one that is muddy when the water around is not, that buck is close.
How to Track Wounded Game.
Always walk to the side of the trail so that you are not stepping on the tracks or blood. You never know when it may be important to return to that sign.
If you lose the blood trail, mark the last blood with something bright and biodegradable. Walk on the obvious path, looking for more blood. But if you don’t find it, return to the last blood and try again. Don’t waste a lot of time walking around blindly looking for blood or other sign.
Try to get inside the wounded animal’s head and think about what it’s going to do next. If you lose the trail, clear your mind and walk along the line it’s been following while trying to think like a wounded animal.
Often a wounded animal will change directions for no apparent reason. If you suddenly lose the trail, go back to the last sign and start checking to the sides.
Don’t get caught up in the old wives’ tale of a wounded animal always going to water. That might occur later, but initially and for some time, it is going to focus on escape. Safety means distance and cover.
The animal will not think about water until it feels it is safe. If you leave a track at night and resume in the morning, then water may be a factor.
Don’t get too focused on the blood trail. Keep your eyes on the big picture as well. Always be scanning out as far as you can see as well as watching for the blood trail.
Often you can get low to the ground and see the tracks in the ground litter, making a clear trail.
If you have two people, have one follow the blood trail while the other walks off to the side, ready for a fast shot. That person should always be scanning the terrain ahead and not looking at the blood trail.
With two or three people, have one circle ahead in the direction the trail has been following. Often that person will pick up the blood trail well ahead of the partner following the trail. This cuts time and distance.
If you are tracking at night or in low light conditions, try a flashlight with a xenon incandescent bulb. The wide spectrum of light produced by this flashlight will make the blood appear to glow. Often, it will reveal blood that is deep in the grass or ground litter that you would not otherwise see.
If it’s a gut shot, do not follow for at least four hours. Overnight is best. A deer that is gut shot will lie down quickly and usually will die in that bed. If you follow and jump it out of that first bed, it may go a long distance before bedding again. With the skimpy blood trail often associated with a gut shot, it will be hard to follow.
Be quiet on the track. If you are noisy you will alert the animal well before you can see it. Follow a wounded animal with all the stealth you would use when still hunting.
Remove the skin to expose the meat.
Remove the shoulders by pulling the leg away from the body. Use the knife to cut under the leg and shoulder where it meets the body until the shoulder comes free from the body. Now, do the same with the other front shoulder.
Remove the backstraps by using the knife to follow the backbone as you cut the meat free from the spine.
Remove the “tenderloins” inside the backbone using the same method.
Remove the hind quarters by cutting along the bone in the pelvis to free the muscle. As you pull and cut you will eventually reach the large hip socket. Pull the leg as you work the knife into the socket to cut the ligaments and tendons. This will free the ball on the end of the leg bone from the hip socket. Then cut through the remaining meat to free the hindquarter.
Remove all the legs by cutting through the knee joint.
If you wish to save the neck, free it by cutting between the vertebrae in the spine.
If you are going to use the meat in the ribs, use a knife to cut it all free.
How to Care for Game Meat.
When quartering an animal in the field, lay the quarters on something clean. A space blanket works great for this. The small, single use type is inexpensive and light enough to allow having a couple in your backpack. Use these space blankets to wrap the quarters for transportation as well.
When gutting a game animal, be careful not to spill urine or the contents of the stomach or intestines on the meat. If that happens, wash the meat as soon as possible in a stream or with a hose.
Always cool the meat as fast as possible. That often means removing the hide, as hair is a good insulator. Hanging the animal cools it much faster than leaving it on the ground.
If you can control the conditions and temperature it is fine to hang the meat to age. A refrigerator is a good way to age deer quarters, but a walk-in cooler might be needed for elk or moose. If you cannot control the temperature it’s better to process the meat as soon as possible and get it into a freezer.