After a long wait from the close of last season, deer season is finally here. You just let an arrow fly at the deer you’ve had on camera all summer, and the “Big Buck Down” texts and phone calls are being sent out as soon as the buck runs out of sight. However, if you didn’t see or hear the deer go down, and aren’t certain of exactly where you last saw it, you could have your work cut out for you. One could argue that this is the most crucial time of the deer recovery process. Unfortunately, there are some mistakes that are often made in this part of the hunt before ever tracking a deer.
Seeing where you hit the deer is usually a great indicator of what to expect from the trail ahead. Along with that, having an accurate recall of where the deer ran out of sight is extremely important. In an ideal situation you can see the deer fall in sight, but as hunters we all know that those “ideal” situations don’t present themselves often.
When In Doubt, Back Out
Probably the most common mistake hunters make is tracking the deer too soon. A good rule of thumb to go by is waiting at least an hour to get down and start investigating a shot on a deer. Now, this can vary depending on the situation, such as one where you see the deer go down fatally.
If you know that there is no way that you can sit in a stand for a whole hour after shooting a deer, that’s okay! You are just like me. I get it, emotions are high, and you’re ready to have your hands on that thing. If this is you, I highly recommend quietly getting out of your stand or blind, and slipping back to the vehicle WITHOUT crossing the trail that your deer left on. Most blood trackers would agree that the biggest and most common mistake hunters make is prematurely tracking a deer.
If you filmed the shot, use that hour assessing the shot placement to determine how long you need to wait to begin tracking the deer. Otherwise, wait out the sixty minutes that feel more like 60 years, and then slip back in to where you shot the deer. If you are not sure about your shot, call a blood tracker! You do not have to bring them out to track if you call, most of them are able to give you a pretty good idea of what to do based solely off of how the deer reacted post-shot, and by first blood and blood on the arrow.
How Did The Deer React?
Having a good recollection of how the deer acted after the shot can be one of the most useful things to determine shot placement. I’m going to start with the bad shots, and wrap up with the good.
A deer that is hit non-fatally can often times indicate that right away. They may duck and run for a ways and then go back to acting normal, or may run out of sight flagging their tail. A part of me believes the tail flagging is the deer’s way of saying “Too bad, so sad” mocking me as it goes on to live another day.
A gut shot deer and a liver shot deer will usually act almost identical. Upon the shot, the deer will hunker down, tail more than likely tucked, and will slowly walk out of sight. Typically, these deer will bed down in 100-200 yards if you don’t push them. These shots are lethal, so give them time, and don’t go after them too soon. At a minimum, a liver shot will take 8-9 hours for the deer to die, and a gut shot can take anywhere from 12-24 hours. I have seen liver shots take longer than 9 hours, so I typically treat them the same as a gut shot just to be safe.
Shoulder shots will send a deer running like the world is on fire, but most times does not result in a kill with a bow. Often times, hunters will get very minimal penetration, and that will show when you find the arrow. Blood is often very minimal overall, but may be prominent at the beginning of the trail. With these shots, you’ll typically find yourself saying “It was bleeding great for about 50-100 yards and then it just stopped.” Some will say to pursue a shoulder shot deer immediately to keep the blood pumping, and some think you should wait an hour or two. That all really depends on the situation, and how much penetration you get in my opinion.
Now, let’s talk about the good stuff.
A double-lung shot deer will typically only make it 100-150 yards before tipping over. They are able to run pretty quickly in most cases, but won’t make it far. An hour is an adequate amount of time for a deer to die from this shot, and if they didn’t die in sight, they more than likely did just out of it.
The heart shot is the “bullseye” of hunting shots, and deer will hunker down and run hard until they tip over, much like the double-lung. Heart shots usually take a deer down in less distance than the double-lung, but can also take just as long. Again, an hour is an adequate amount of time for this shot.
What Color Is The Blood?
A lot can be determined from the arrow, and first blood. It’s definitely never a guarantee, but most times you can get most of the information you need before ever walking past the arrow.
Getting a complete pass through is usually a good start to tracking a deer. Pass-throughs mean an entry and an exit wound, which hopefully means more blood to track. Pass-throughs are not necessary for a kill, so long as you get enough arrow penetration. If you do not pass-through the deer, you will also need to assess how far up the arrow you have blood to determine if the shot was fatal or not.
Next, observe the color of the blood on the arrow. For heart shots, you will usually see a bright red blood on the arrow. Lung shots typically result in bright pink bubbly blood. Liver hits leave behind a dark red color, and gut is usually represented by a greenish color along with a very distinct smell. If possible, always try to get a good idea of what blood is on your arrow before continuing to track your deer.
Mark The Trail
Once you start on your track, make are you are keeping markers, or GPS waypoints as you go. A great way to mark the location of the shot is by sticking your arrow straight down into the ground. This gives you a place to go back to and restart if you are having an issue finding blood. I also recommend marking where the deer ran out of sight after the shot. The more “bread crumbs” you can leave on your track, the better. Not only does this help you find the trail again if you restart, but this will also give you a good idea of how far the deer has ran since being shot.
Another important thing about trailing your deer is to try to move as quietly and slowly as possible, in case the deer does end up still being alive. This will decrease your chances of jumping the deer from its bed if that is the case. If all signs point towards a lethal hit, but you lose blood, or are unable to find your deer, you might consider calling a blood tracker.
Call Your Local Tracker
You should be able to find a list of the certified blood trackers near you online. If you are located in Missouri, head on over to www.missouribloodtrackers.org to see a detailed map of trackers near you. Most trackers offer free insight over the phone, and are very helpful in that aspect, but often times it is best to have them bring their dog out to assist you in tracking your deer. Having marked your shot site, first blood, and last blood will aid tremendously in getting the tracking dog started on the trail. Calling a tracking dog does not guarantee a recovery, as that depends on if the shot was lethal. However, your best odds of recovery are going to come from the nose of a well-trained dog.
Most hunters should agree that a quick and ethical kill is most important. I would argue that properly tracking the deer in a timely manner to avoid waste is every bit as important. So, next time you let an arrow fly, think about some of these tips, and signs to watch for before tracking a deer.