Tracking Wounded Deer

tracking wounded deer
Deer hunters need to learn deer anatomy in order to know what to do after the shot.

Whitetail deer are some of the most amazing animals a hunter will ever challenge them self to take. Capable of losing up to 2 ½ pints of their blood before going into shock, wounded deer can cover a mile or more before bedding down in their final resting place. That is why it is so important for a deer hunter to get to know the anatomy of this resilient creature and what to do immediately following the shot. It could help you make the most important decision of your deer hunt; when to go after him?

A Pennsylvania deer hunter that has been hunting for over 30 years and is a grizzled veteran of the tracking game on whitetail in his home state testifies that his deer hunting partners and he have not lost an animal that has died or that they have not seen another day in a substantial number of years. Several of those recoveries were because they waited for the right moment to trail the animal, rather than based on the initial deer shot placement. This 43 year old bowhunter believes that what you do or don’t do immediately after the shot could make or break your recovery of that animal.

“I feel, one of the biggest reasons why many animals are not recovered after being shot with an arrow is that all too often bowhunters take up the trail too soon, simply bumping the animal away, never to be found again”, states the verteran deer hunter. “When mortally wounded, the majority of deer will bed within 250 yards of the shot. If an animal dies beyond this distance, most likely some sort of outside factor pushed the animal. Think about all of the animals you've taken, found or lost. You've probably found at least one if not multiple beds within this distance.”

“I'll give you an example of an animal that I made a poor shot on back in November of 2001. I neglected to stop the animal and took the shot while he was still walking. At 25 yards I placed my arrow too far back on the buck. As soon as I saw the arrow hit further back than I wanted, I knew immediately not to take up the track until at least 6 hours later. I shot this animal at 7:30 am and got out of my tree at 11:00 and left the woods. At 3:30 I returned to the woods and found my buck not 50 yards inside a wood line from the last point at which I saw him. Had I not waited, there is a very good chance that I wouldn't have found him due to all the standing cornfields surrounding the woodlot he was bedded in.”

“In the case of this particular animal I glassed him immediately with my binoculars following the shot to verify the hit. I feel binoculars are an invaluable tool for archers not only to glass an animal pre-shot, but also to watch for deer movement once he walks or runs off. Quite often we as deer hunters get caught up in the heat of the moment and become unsure or even wrong about our arrow's point of impact. A good set of binoculars and some quick thinking can help you verify your shot placement and help you formulate the proper game plan for recovering your animal. Binoculars also allow us to see past foliage and a good pair will gather light our eyes cannot. A deer can easily move just out of eye shot and bed where you may not catch its movement without the aid of binoculars.”

Over the years, this deer hunter and some of his companions have compiled a short, yet very valuable, list of tips for any deer hunter to use when deciding what to do both before and after the shot. This list not only compiles his own experiences but also the experiences of countless other deer hunters He has spoken with other hunters over the years in the woods or on message boards. This deer hunter's only wish is that hopefully one of the deer hunting tips below will aid you in a speedy recovery this hunting season.

Make it easier on you!

1. Use Brightly Colored Arrow Fletching

You need to be able to see your arrow in flight, as it goes into the animal and on the ground afterward. Dark arrows will not do you any good if you yourself can’t see them. If bright arrow fletching isn’t enough, try using lighted arrow nocks for better visibility in low light conditions, but please check that they are legal in your state or province first. Finding your arrow is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle you may have.

2. Binoculars

Not only are binoculars they useful in first locating a target deer but you can use binoculars after the shot too. They may very well be one of the most important tools you have after the shot, allowing you to stay in your tree stand and study not only the impact site but perhaps locate your arrow, find blood, or even follow the deer out of eye sight. Because many deer are shot in low-light conditions, a good pair of binoculars are invaluable in helping you watch wounded deer making their way through the forest foliage.

What You Need To Know After The Shot

1. Watch The Animal After The Shot

Quite often an deer's body language will help indicate to you what type of shot you made. A deer that jumps straight in the air and bounds off out of sight is most likely mortally wounded and will not travel far. However, if the deer hunches up and walks off or moves off slowly there may be a good chance the hit was too far back or perhaps forward and you may need to wait the appropriate amount of time before taking up the trail or even getting out of your tree stand. Exercise caution after these shots.

2. Let The Deer Go

Unless you witness a double lung pass through, you should let an deer go for a couple hours rather than the common misconception of only a half hour wait. Many times a half hour isn't enough. The only shots that put a deer down quickly are double lung shots and heart shots. If you don't see your deer fall within sight, your best bet is to wait it out. Again, use your binoculars to aid in this determination if possible.

 3. If You Are Not 100% Sure... WAIT!

The deer isn't going to go anywhere; he's dead, so why hurry? Sit back, collect your thoughts, and replay the shot, the hit, and where the deer ran. Take this moment to listen, relax and use your binoculars. If your arrow was a pass through, get down, get the arrow, study it and continue to wait. Mark the direction but don’t pursue, if you wait, he'll simply be there or live another day.

4. Single Lung Shot

If you think it’s a single lung shot because of the angle, a good rule of thumb is to wait at least 4 hours. This includes shots that are just under the spine where the angle might have caused your shot to catch the second lung but miss the first. Wait it out and let him expire. Many people believe in "the void" an area between a deer's lungs and spine where no vital organs reside. This is a myth - if you place an arrow under the spine, you will catch the upper lobes of at least one lung.

5. Let The Deer Bleed Out

If you think you caught the liver, wait and the deer will bleed out. Like a single lung shot, wait at least 4 hours to take up the trail. Gun hunters can move on an animal quicker because of the damage involved, however, with archery equipment it's recommended to wait at least 4 hours. The deer will not go anywhere if given the chance to expire. Jump him and he may go a mile.

6. Catch The Guts

If you catch the guts only, you're in for at least a 6-hour minimum wait with 8 hours being more preferable and overnight being a worst case. It's recommended that a deer be recovered as quickly as possible but if they are not expired, you’re not going to recover them. Waiting overnight could be detrimental to the meat, making them inedible. A quicker recovery means better tasting and safer meat. If you hit a deer in the guts at 6 pm, you need to recover the animal around 2 am to ensure the best quality meat. This should be considered when shooting at later evening times. In case of rain or snow you should get down, find your arrow, find the blood trail, mark them and wait for the next morning. If you know your property, you'll likely find him nearby.

7. When To Move On A Deer Quickly

There are few hits that force you to move on a deer quickly to bleed them out. These hits are the most difficult to determine and more times than not you will make the wrong decision and push a deer that might otherwise lay down to expire. A mature whitetail carries roughly 8 pints or 1 gallon of blood in their circulatory system. They need to lose roughly 2.4 pints of blood to go into shock and not recover. Think about this, when donating our own blood we give just 1 pint and that does not affect us. One pint of blood is a lot of blood on the ground when spread over a couple hundred yards.

8. Tracking Dogs

Many states now allow the use of tracking dogs, leashed or unleashed. Utilize their

9. Many Wounded Deer Seek Water

If there is water on your property and you can't find a blood trail or your deer, look toward your water sources.

10. Where To Look For Blood

Looking for blood doesn't necessarily mean just on the ground, many times a higher hit will leave blood 2' or 3' off the ground on brush or overhanging vegetation as well as under plant leaves. Be diligent!

11. Coyotes

Coyotes can and will give the location of your deer, if you’re worried about them, get down, listen for them and move on them if you know they are on or nearby your deer. Don’t be afraid to follow them if they haven’t found it yet.

12. Turkey Vultures

In some instances turkey vultures can also give you an added edge when seeking out expired game when the blood trail dries up. Turkey vultures have a very keen sense of smell and have been known to locate carcasses of dead animals up to (3) miles away. It is not uncommon to find these birds of prey circling overhead above your animal a day or two later.



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