The scenario comes into play just like you had imagined. You crawled out of bed, made it to your stand unnoticed and now the sun is peaking its head over the horizon. Minutes later, deer silhouette themselves among the trees and are walking toward your stand. Perfect!
Seconds seem like hours as they slowly trickle in your direction. Then it happens; an opportunity presents itself and the arrow flies. You watch the deer jump and flinch, so you know your arrow connected. Now comes decision time; to wait or not to wait, when to pursue, how long is too long, etc? Unfortunately, not all hunters are aware that deciphering and identifying the injury is crucial to receiving the correct answer to those questions.
A successful recovery begins at the point of injury. Before the victory-like emotions radiate from your mind, it’s important to note where the arrow hit the deer. Identifying where the injury occurred is paramount to a solid recovery. Ignoring such vital information will just turn your tracking procedure into a guessing game. Nothing can turn an elated feeling of success south, faster than a lost game animal! Don’t get caught in that trap.
Immediately after the shot, it’s really important to identify where the arrow hit. Lighted nocks are excellent for shot placement identification and I recommend them highly for this very reason! A few inches, either way in the vital areas of a deer, can mean hours or only minutes in your recovery effort. Watch the arrow!
Let’s face it, not all shots are always perfect. We practice and practice but when the time comes, we transition from a foam target to a live and moving animal. It’s really hard to mimic the perfect scenario in your backyard! Animals flinch and targets don’t! Even if we do make that perfect shot, what dictates the amount of time needed before pursing the injured deer?
When I connect an arrow on a deer, I purposely watch the arrow and ignore everything around me. In that spilt second that elapses between the arrow being released and the arrow hitting the deer, my eyes shift from the location of the hit, to the direction the deer is traveling. From that point, science and biology kick-in. It’s now time to become a detective!
What it all means
By knowing the anatomy of a whitetail, you’ll know what to expect when attempting to recover your deer. Only from that knowledge, will you be able to make a determination on when to start looking, how far to expect the injured deer to travel and what kind of evidence to expect when the tracking procedure begins.
Here’s what I recommend:
Stomach shot. Yes, nobody likes to admit it but it does happen. If and when it does, don’t pursue the animal for at least 10-12 hours. Stomach or “gut” shot deer won’t usually travel very far when shot but will easily get pushed when they hear you coming! Don’t go anywhere near the direction they traveled after the shot but plan on returning later.
Heart. If you’re sure you hit the heart, you’ll know soon! If you don’ t see your deer fall within your sight, wait at least 30 minutes before tracking.
Lungs. Even if the hit doesn’t connect with both lungs, expect the deer to bed quickly.
A 30-minute wait usually does the trick.
Neck. Almost always fatal! Even if the deer doesn’t fall immediately, don’t plan on a long trail. In the most extreme cases, wait for about 30 minutes before pursuing a neck-shot deer.
Hindquarters. These wounds bleed a lot but deer with this kind of injury will usually bed down rather quickly. Never push a deer with a wound in the hindquarter! Wait about 3-4 hours before tracking. If the femur artery is hit, plan on finding them less than 100 yards.
Spine. Usually collapses the deer instantly but always do an immediate follow-up shot!
Brisket. If shot placement is dead center, tracking will not be needed. It’s a very difficult shot from a tree stand though, so most attempts miss the vitals. Many times this shot will never kill the deer from a tree stand. Your choice will be either to pursue the deer with the intention to re-shoot it or, or to just let it be. Better yet, don’t take the shot from an elevated position.
Heading this information, you the hunter, can make the difference between a successful hunt and a miserable one. It’s all how you control the sequence of events that will ultimately affect the outcome. Self-discipline and practice are the key ingredients to a clean kill and a resourceful recovery. If you’re like me, I just can’t stand the thought of crippling a deer, let alone losing one. Take the time needed after the shot to lock-in on the arrow and your tracking efforts will be focused!
With regard to trailing wounded deer by identifying the type of blood trail your deer leaves behind; I’ll save that for another article as that is an art all of its own!