Here he comes, a buck of a lifetime. You draw your bow, hold over his vitals, and release! Off he runs out of sight. Did I get him? Is he hit good? These are the questions that should immediately run through your mind after you take the shot. If you can answer these two questions you will make your tracking job that much easier. Ideally you answer ‘Yes” to both and you follow a blood trail like the red carpet at the Oscars to your animal. But what if you aren’t so lucky? What do you do now?
Anyone who hunts long enough will eventually run into the issue of a questionable hit on a deer. Things happen, bow strings catch bulky clothing and branches seem to jump at the chance to deflect an arrow from its target. But whatever the cause, as hunters you have a responsibility to the animal to make every effort possible for recovery. Here are a few steps that I take to determine the quality of shot made.
Regardless of my confidence in the shot placement and execution, I remain in the stand for a minimum of 30 min. I try to remain quiet and take this time to calm my nerves and replay the shot over and over in my mind to remember shot angles, place of impact, guesstimate what organs of the deer that I may have hit, and how the animal reacted as it ran away. Arrows can do strange things when they hit a deer that is often reacting to the shot and may be jumping, dropping, turning, etc. If I am convinced that the shot had the opportunity to connect with either the heart or the lungs, I will climb down and look for my arrow and blood. If I feel the shot is farther back, I wait another 30 min before checking my arrow.
Finding your arrow is very important in tracking a deer as it will hold the information as to what the broadhead actually encountered on its way through the animal. The blood on the arrow should be a bright red and abundant if a fatal lung or heart shot was made. The blood from these organs is highly oxygenated and therefore brighter than that from say a liver shot where the blood is dark red to almost purple or black. Remnants of gut content will often remain on the arrow shaft as well which can be observed or smelled if this area was hit. This is an immediate red flag and merits backing out and extending the waiting period.
What if I am hunting with a rifle or the arrow remained in the animal? The reaction of the animal immediately after impact and as it runs off is crucial in determining the quality of the shot. A heart shot deer from a bow will often cause a high rear leg kick and a wobbly tail. A rifle shot to the chest that doesn’t drop the animal in its tracks, will cause the front end to “fall out,” meaning the deer’s chest drops lower to the ground. A shoulder shot should be recognizable as the deer will lose function of either front leg. If the deer runs off and does not appear to be hit at all or is showing minimal signs of wounding, the shot was most likely not in an ideal area.
Pay attention to the sound the impact of the bullet or arrow makes. A bullet hitting the shoulder or chest will have a more “solid” sound whereas a shot to the abdomen will be more “hollow” sounding. The same holds true to with bow shots. A “whack” sound from a bow shot usually indicates that the arrow struck bone such as the shoulder blade.
Now that you know what to look, listen, and even smell for, you need to determine the next course of action. If the hit is in the lungs, my eyes are wide open and I would begin to follow the blood trail. A liver shot will have me reluctantly returning to home, to camp, or maybe to Burger King to grab a whopper before returning a minimum of 6 hours later to begin trailing. A gut shot deer can live for an extended period time. The key to recovery is minimizing the need for the deer to travel any farther than necessary. Therefore, I will not return until the next day or a minimum of 12 hours after the shot.
Interpretation goes only so far. Now you have to get out there and find him. For tips on tracking wounded deer, keep an eye out for future articles on the subject.