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Round ball and blood trails

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32 Cal
Sep 27, 2022
Reaction score
New Jersey
I haven't taken my Hawken out deer hunting yet, but after speaking for a few people I have a question about blood trails. A friend who is a fanatical deer hunter in PA will only use conicals while deer hunting with his muzzleloader because of a lack of blood trails. I didn't give his opinion much thought; but after speaking with two guys who run deer retrieval dogs, one in NJ and another in NY, they both stated that they've had several retrievals where a round ball left zero to no blood trail even though it was a well placed fatal shot. Just curious about other peoples experiences.

I have never had that problem and I have shot over 30 deer with round balls from 50 caliber to 58 caliber. Of the 30 or so deer shot I have only recovered 2 flattened round balls under the hide on the far side. Blood trails were generally easy to follow due to the pass thru, but most of the deer fell within 50 yards of the shot, and many dropped in place. I can only surmise that the lack of blood trails was due to poor shot placement.
How do they hunt? Ground hunting doesn't give good trails in my experience, because the holes are even and higher on the body so the chest cavity must fill with blood before it comes out.

Conversely shooting from elevation give a high hole and a low hole, the lower hole bleeds much sooner if not immediately.
I have never lost a deer to a round ball. I always watch the direction that the buck ran, and then silently wait. I reload my rifle and then go to the spot the buck was standing when I fired. Sometimes you have to walk a bit to pick up a blood trail, which is why, especially on bare ground it is important to take note of the direction they ran. Once I spot the blood, slow goes it until recovery.

They seldom go far.
Where you hunt matters. Northern deer grow a lot more hair and a lot thicker hair that acts as a sponge. I've shot deer that left virtually no blood on the ground, with both arrows and bullets. But, I could take my hand and push down on the exit hole and just be covered in blood. To be honest? I contribute a majority of faint blood trails to thick hair. Most guys are quick to change rounds when its not the root cause.
This doe was shot with round ball threw both lungs and went about 10 yards. I turned her to pose the picture but it’s right where it dropped. To the top you can see the blood trail from where she came from and I had not touched her with a knife. This is pretty typical for my experience with round ball blood trails.
IMG_0250 by Oliver Sudden, on Flickr
Should you have a well placed shot they just don’t run very far. In the Ozark woods where the undergrowth makes an invisible wall through the woods I can generally see where deer fell from where it was.
Even without a blood trail and with thick litter on the ground it’s not to hard to see where they ran.
In a few days it’s march. Half a year to hunting season. Get out in the tall timber and find you a deer to follow.
Spook it and watch it run then go look for its trail. You’ll find it’s no great arcane knowledge to follow a deer.
By hunting season with or without a blood trail you’ll be able to follow Bambi
Blood trails are not reliable for any weapon, in my experience. Sometimes they're there. Sometimes, they're not. Entry & exit holes increase the likelihood that there will be something but it's never a guarantee.

If the idea is just that a conical is more likely to exit than a round ball, then, yes, I can see them being more reliable. But I wouldn't rely too heavily on that. A hardcast ball might be more likely to exit than a soft conical, depending on the weight.
Roundballs are very deadly. But, I’ve come to expect some things to likely be true after the shot. I treat shooting a flintlock like shooting deer with a longbow. The hit deer is going to run a bit. I figure anywhere from 35 to 125 yards before dropping. One deer last year ran probably 70 yards with a double lung shot and the other just dropped with a similar shot (rare for me). Go figure. Really depends on where the hit was made. My longest blood trails were heart shots. Unfortunately for me, they can run a long ways by the time the smoke clears in trying to follow their escape route. So I expect to have to be proficient at tracking. Phil Coffin’s blood trail picture (upper left) seems like a typical blood trail. But when that deer is gutted and you study the damage—OMG! I shoot a .54 with 80 2F Swiss and keep shots under 50 yards. In my opinion, too many muzzleloader hunters think a deer better drop stone cold dead after the shot or something is wrong with their setup.
Like other fellas have written here, there are a lot of variables to consider. I shot a butterball of a buck once that went maybe 20 yards that I double lunged from a way too low tree stand from about 50 yards. That deer had a ton of fat on him and zero blood trail but I watched drop. Heart shot a big nanny and she sprayed blood on trees 3 feet off the ground. If your rifle shoots PRB good, don't be afraid to use them. If you do your part, you will make meat.
It's 2024.. yea there's better out there bullets.

Round ball works... it's a hole.

it's not going to do the damage like a modern bow with a 4" razor hole saw tipped arrow at 20 30 yards.
I have never had that problem and I have shot over 30 deer with round balls from 50 caliber to 58 caliber. Of the 30 or so deer shot I have only recovered 2 flattened round balls under the hide on the far side. Blood trails were generally easy to follow due to the pass thru, but most of the deer fell within 50 yards of the shot, and many dropped in place. I can only surmise that the lack of blood trails was due to poor shot placement.
In my case you'd be wrong , 6 inch of fresh snow feeding quartering in head down ,later measured 83 yds (ranged) near quarter broke ranged thru to far shoulder ball under hide . This is where wrong enters ! No hair /blood and watched buck head into the neighbors woods (maybe 90 yds) with another 6 pt/4 doe , and the only sign was that front leg dragging . I went into the woods no sign what so ever (on new snow) another 50-60 yds and this 8 pt lay up against a cedar in a bath tub sized pool of blood . I heard later it was explained under 80-90 yds the ball (pure lead 530 ) has enough velocity to flatten out some but @100 yds it tends to exit over 90 gr OE3F never happen with a Great Plains conical out to a 140 yd shot with my Renegade (looked like a blood bath) not a tub !! Ed


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I've helped track a ton of deer with every imaginable caliber from ML to modern stuff and arrows. Here's what I learned a lost deer is never the fault of the hunter its "poor equipment" performance. I've seen deer bleed great with poor shots and seen them not bleed as much with great shots. I've seen high hits with very few drops of blood but chest cavity filled and deer went 75 yards. Ive seen deer shot clean through both shoulders barely leave a blood trail because the hole in chest cavity must line up with hole in shoulder to leave a solid trail. I've seen one lung hits the deer went 600 yards before being finished off, and seen liver hit deer go for almost a mile if pushed and not given time to laydown and die (note it went 3/4 of a mile before it crossed onto my property - I told them I'd help them find it and allow them to track it after 6 hours wait - they agreed and the buck was found a few hundred yards later dead bedded up on side of hill)
When I reached 35 yrs. of age, i needed glasses and wouldn't admit it. My hunting buddy and I were driving deer for our two Sons out ahead , in the late season Pa. flint only deer season. 7" fresh powder snow showed there were four deer were moving out ahead . One doe stopped broadside at about 70yds. , but her head , and butt were behind two trees , one tree in front obscuring the front legs and head , and one tree covering the back legs. With fuzzy eye sight , I picked the end of the deer's torso , that might contain the heart/lung area. WRONG.......50 cal . ball passed through the liver , instead of the boiler room. Initial minimal sign was a gob of hair , w/almost no blood , and profuse deer tracks. My hunting buddy picked up a handfull of powder snow , and blew warm air on it and amazingly , the palm of his hand was pink w/ blood , so we knew we were trailing the right deer . About an hour of trailing tracks , and jumping the deer twice , where she lay down to rest , we found her just standing awating her fate. It wasn't the 170 gr. round ball's fault the deer went a half mile to her end. It was the dope behind the trigger that needed glasses , fault. I was thankful my friend was a skillful tracker , otherwise I would have had to track the three other deer in the group , and not have been on the correct bloodless trail possibly resulting in no meat.
As stated so many variable to say a round ball doesn't leave blood trails. By saying conicals are better at leaving blood trail is like not getting a blood with a .308 and saying you need a .338 Win Mag for a good trail.

The art of tracking is a lost art. A good tracker can find a downed deer without a drop of blood. I was lucky enough to be trained in the art of tracking at a young age by an experienced tracker, who's tracking skill bordered on the supernatural .
One thing to remember too, deer aren't pushovers. They are tough, they deserve respect as they will humble you time and time again. When I was younger, I was hunting with a 30-06 unmentionable in the northern tier of New York, shot a bruiser of a 10 point. All I ever recovered from that deer was a bloody 4 inch chunk of rib bone. Our theory was he mad it to the road and maybe someone saw him go down and grabbed it? Id rather think that than he got into a thicket and was wasted.
I've been ML hunting since only 2016.
I have killed 12 so far.
2018, one with a .54
2020, two with a .62
2021 five with a .45
2022 two with a .58
2023 two with a .58.
All roudball.

I'm a traditionalist and prefer roundballs.
Most everyone I talk to agrees they don't bleed well. There are exceptions.

I had a couple with the .62 that bled like crazy.
I had them bled like crazy with the 45 as well.
But the majority of them don't.
I take my time, following tracks and typically find the deer.

I think there are a lot of people that shoot deer with ML that think they didn't hit them but did and don't recover but that can be said for archery hunters and rifle hunters too.

You gotta now how to track.

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