Your heart is still pounding uncontrollably as the overdose of adrenaline rushes through your veins. Only seconds have passed since you squeezed the trigger on the biggest buck you've ever seen. Everything happened so fast that it almost seemed like a dream.

But what you do now may determine whether you recover your trophy.

The initial impulse of most hunters is to bail out of their stand and immediately look for the deer they just shot. Depending upon where the animal is hit, this could be a terrible mistake. Attempting to blood trail a deer prematurely will more often than not result in a spooked deer and make recovery of the animal much more difficult, if not impossible.

Blood trailing is a skill that combines two characteristics possessed by all successful deer hunters - woodsmanship and stewardship. We owe it to the game we hunt, as well as to the sport we love, to master the skill of blood trailing. Being good stewards of the resource means following up as best we can on the shots we take. Anything less reveals a lack of respect for the game.

Although blood trailing a wounded deer is more an art than a science, anyone can become proficient at it. It simply takes a little careful planning before, during and after the shot. Establishing a basic routine can make the task of tracking and trailing whitetails much easier.

Successful blood trailing doesn't call for complicated strategies; however, it does require that the hunter pay close attention to the smallest details. Think of yourself as the "CSI" of the whitetail woods.

Finding a wounded deer can be a simple walk in the woods or a real chore, depending not only on how well-placed your shot was, but on how you approach the task of focusing on specks and splatters of blood on leaves, grass and brush. Taking this job seriously can mean the difference in finding that buck of a lifetime and going home frustrated and empty-handed.

According to two Magnolia State outfitters, the first step in blood trailing a mortally wounded deer is a giant one, and should be taken before you ever climb down from your stand.

Robert Clay of Edwards, who manages Messinger Creek Lodge along the banks of the Big Black River in Hinds County, instructs his hunters to stay put and take careful inventory of the events that unfold following the shot.

"The first thing we tell our hunters is to remain in the stand immediately after the shot," said Clay. "It is important that they pinpoint the exact spot the deer left the field and pay close attention to what it did. After making these mental notes, they can then get down and go mark the spot with flagging ribbon so we know exactly where to start."

Jimmy Riley, manager and head guide for Giles Island Hunting Club in Natchez, has blood trailed more than his fair share of whitetails. He wants his clients to pay close attention to how the deer reacts to the shot. Does it hump up in the back? Does it kick out its hind legs? Does it leap into the air or drop down on all fours before leaving?

"The first thing I do is debrief my hunters," Riley said. "I want to know everything that happened. I will question them about where the deer was standing, what angle the deer's body was in relation to the stand, how the deer reacted to the shot, and anything else that might give me a clue about the best way to go about recovering the animal.

"The kind of blood I find helps me fill in the blanks when it comes to shot placement. Red, frothy blood indicates a well-placed shot through the heart or lungs and a deer that won't go very far. Dark blood is good if it's a liver shot, but most of the time it is indicative of a gut shot or a shot in one of the deer's extremities.

"Fortunately, most of our hunters opt to have a guide sit alongside them in the stand and film their hunt. By reviewing the footage, we can quickly tell exactly where the deer was hit and what approach we need to take in blood-trailing the wounded animal."

Both guides agree that patience is critical in recovering a wounded deer. Hunters need to wait a certain period of time to allow the animal to bed down, stiffen up and die. Rushing in too quickly may result in rousing a wounded deer from its hiding place and unnecessarily extending the search.

"I prefer to wait at least an hour," Clay said. "If there are indications of a poorly placed shot, I may even wait until the next day to begin blood-trailing the deer. Even if the deer expires soon after the shot, it will be just as dead the next morning. I would rather be safe than sorry."

When the blood-trailing begins, both Clay and Riley prefer to keep the number of trackers to a minimum. Three's a crowd when it comes to blood trailing. In most cases, their blood-trailing team consists of two members - a tracker and a spotter. The tracker actually does the blood trailing, while the spotter marks the last spot of blood found by the tracker.

If the tracker loses the trail, he can go back to the spotter's location and start searching for new sign all over again.

The only time a third person comes into the picture is when the blood trail completely plays out. At that point, the tracker and the third person can begin searching a zigzag pattern projecting outward from the last sign of blood and in the general direction the deer was headed.

If all else fails, the two guides suggest waiting until the next day and starting a grid pattern search of the area. This is when you want to call out the troops. Utilizing several trackers will make for a more thorough search.

In a grid-pattern search, trackers line up at 10- to 20-yard intervals at the site where the last blood was found. The trackers then begin searching for the downed animal by walking in parallel lines to one another and in the direction the deer was last headed. Any brushtop, briar patch, ditch or thicket should receive additional scrutiny, since these are the havens a wounded deer is likely to seek as refuge.

Since the vast majority of blood trailing is done at night, a good light is a necessity. However, more factors than brightness should be taken into account. Much like the children's bedtime story Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want a light that illuminates "just right." A dim light has obvious limitations, while an overly bright light tends to bleach everything out, making it hard to see small specks of blood.

Then there are the lights designed specifically for blood trailing, like the Primos Bloodhunter blood-trailing lights. These lights use technology that filters red and green lights together to enhance the color red, making the blood trail much easier to follow.

"I prefer a soft white light when blood trailing a wounded deer," said Clay. "The light given off by a Coleman lantern is perfect for following a blood trail. However, a bulky gas lantern lacks the compactness and convenience of some of the modern Xenon lights that provide good lighting and can burn an hour or more on a single charge."

Riley suggests getting lower to the ground when blood trailing at night, even if it means getting down on your hands and knees. From this angle, you can shine the light in the direction the deer is traveling and often see blood that does not show up when you're standing over it.

"If your back ain't hurting, you're not blood trailing hard enough," Riley added.

Another factor often overlooked by inexperienced blood trailers is sex. Actually, it has more to do with body size than gender, even though they are interrelated. The average mature whitetail buck weighs from 2 to 2 ½ times that of a mature doe. Because of this, a much slower approach should be used when blood trailing a mature buck when compared to blood trailing a doe.

"I am much more cautious when blood trailing a mature buck," Clay said. "Because of its size, it takes a lot longer for a buck to bleed out. Having blood trailed hundreds of whitetails in my career as a guide, I have noticed that mature bucks with lethal heart or lung shots tend to travel farther distances than does with similar wounds."

The final tip that both of these experts stress is to keep a positive attitude, even when things aren't going very well. When you're discouraged, it's easier to overlook clues. Never give up on a blood trail if there is the slightest chance that the animal may be down.

Or as an old woodsman once said, "It's not always the blood trail that will lead you to the deer, for it is so often the effort you put forth."