Tips for Tracking a Deer after the Shot
- 21 Feb, 2017
As hunters, we must assume great responsibility in the pursuit of game. It is our duty to hone our shooting skills and to understand the anatomy and behaviors of our prey. Countless hours of target practicing, visualizing different shots, and perfecting the process is something every serious whitetail hunter does for the anticipation of making that perfect shot when the opportunity presents itself.
When that moment finally arrives and the shot attempt is made, there is a moment of adrenaline that runs through your body. All of that hard work in the off-season has finally just paid off. In that moment it is crucial not to let your nerves get the best of you but to continue to be mentally sharp. It is time to think about tracking the deer you just shot. Wounding a whitetail is truly one of the toughest things any dedicated bowhunter faces in their career. So how can you avoid this? First off before you ever shoot understand your shooting lanes, know what your capabilities are and never deviate from them. This will help reduce “buck fever” and make you confident about exactly where you need the deer to be to ensure an effective shot.
The next most important step to take after the shot is to follow the deer with your eyes until he is out of viewing distance. In these precious moments you can learn a lot about the shot you just made. There are several lethal shots a hunter can make on a deer, so watching their behavior after the shot can tell you a lot about the placement.To help illustrate the different reactions and behaviors a whitetail makes after it has been shot it is important to understand the anatomy of the deer.
Many bow hunters will aim for the heart and or lungs, and rightfully so as these are the primary organs for an effective expiration of the animal. A deer that is shot in the abdominal (liver, stomach, or intestines) can also be an effective kill shot if tracked properly. A shot placement that hits the femoral, aortic, jugular, or carotid arteries often leads to a great deal of blood loss and in most cases an extremely quick kill as well.
2. Understanding the reaction
Many experienced hunters will tell you that every track job is different, and a deer’s reaction may be different from the last even when it was shot in the same area. This can definitely be the case so it is important to always go deeper into your investigation then just watching the reaction of the deer after the shot. However in most cases a deer that is shot in the heart will typically kick out its hind legs and run erratically through the woods in a dazed like state of mind. A deer that is shot in both lungs (a double lung shot) typically runs hard and fast, a deer that is shot in one lung can act entirely differently. A deer that is shot in the abdominal area almost always hunches at the back and may slowly move away from the scene with their head down. This shot often produces a deer that will bed down within a reasonable distance. A deer that is shot in the shoulder will typically limp away with visible signs to a dragging motion, in which many cases is never a fatal shot.
After accessing the deer’s reaction it is important to be patient and mark a tree, stump, or some other visual cue of where you last seen the deer. This helps put distance into perspective and gives you a landmark to reference. Next is to not rush anything, time is your friend when it comes to tracking a deer. Never jump down from your stand and immediately begin tracking. Wait twenty-five to thirty minutes before you get out of your stand, and then slowly approach the area where you shot the deer. Here you should examine the ground looking for blood, hair, tracks, and even your arrow if you got a clean pass through.
4. Blood color & what it indicates
While evaluating the scene of the shot use your senses to the fullest. If you have found your arrow or even some leaves with blood or other matter on it examine the colors and even smell it. A rotten like odor or lumps of green matter or food will indicate a gut shot deer which must be given adequate time before proceeding with tracking. Blood that is bright red and contains bubbles indicates a lung shot. A lot of bright red blood will usually indicate a heart shot, as the organ cycles blood throughout the deer. Therefore a severed heart shot will produce a lot of blood. Both lung and heart shots typically have a steady blood trail that you can track continuously. With a liver shot a hunter will often find dark red blood, and very little of it. This type of shot does not produce a lot of blood but rather pin drops.
4. Proper tracking & time
The blood sign should give you your first clue as to how long you should wait before pursuing the deer. Bright red blood indicates a fatal shot in most cases and you can begin tracking. Dark red blood indicating a liver shot should be left alone anywhere from 8-18 hours. A deer that is shot in the guts should be given even more time anywhere from 18-24 hours. One of the biggest reasons hunters do not recover whitetails that have been shot in the abdomen area is because they push the deer; meaning they begin tracking to soon and when they find the deer bedded it jumps up and goes for extremely long distances. In cases where you cannot find blood right away remember that last landmark you marked in your head, try to pick up on hair, out of place leaves or the hoof and go until you come across blood. This past muzzleloader season I shot a deer at close range to only go down and find zero blood. I thought I had made a perfect shot, but there was no blood to be found. I began to track the hoof and I went nearly fifty yards before finding a consistent blood trail that lead to a single shot lung kill. The moral of the story being every shot can produce different results and no matter what the circumstances are you should always give the animal your best effort whether there is blood or not. If there is blood examine if it is coming out both sides of the deer or just one side, also try to determine if the deer is spitting up blood through the nose as all of these can help you better understand the tracking scenario. Something I always try to keep in mind as well is the actual terrain the deer is taking. Is the deer thinking and staying on trails and going up and down hills or does it seem like the deer is running over everything in its path? This can indicate the severity of the shot placement.
As far as tracking gear goes, it is important to remove clothing to ensure that you do not become fatigued during the tracking process. Always bring your bow or gun as well in case there is a follow up shot needed. I will typically always bring a roll of toilet paper or reflective strips to hang in the trees especially between long distances of last blood. This helps give you an idea of the path the deer is taking. If tracking in the dark I recommend using a lantern as it provides a lot better light then a flashlight. Also have a sharp knife to properly gut the deer upon recovery. Last but not least always try to have a partner with you while tracking. It is easy to get distracted as the person who just shot the deer as emotions are running high things can easily be overlooked. Having a partner can add to your chances of recovery. Happy tracking and remember to never give up on a deer until you have exhausted all possible options; as we owe it to ourselves, this sport, and the animal we cherish.
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