by Cole Daniels
“Thwack!” My arrow blasted into the side of a dandy doe on this crisp Saturday morning. She kicked her hind legs high in the air and ran off with her tail down. She made it about half way up the opposite ridge before crashing into the dark autumn leaves. Her escape didn’t account for more than forty or fifty yards before it ended. This is a blessing for a bow hunter. No tracking is due to an effective, clean kill and the end result is a clear conscious and fresh venison.
All hunters want fast, humane deaths for their quarry. We’re not out there to inflict suffering on game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Obviously, preseason preparation is a great way to prevent wounding deer. Practice how you hunt and fire a bunch of arrows at a variety of distances and angles. Simple deer anatomy and woodsmanship is also important. But there are times that no matter how many things you do right, things go wrong. The biggest factor in finding wounded deer is time. Knowing how much time to leave an animal is usually the difference between recovering a deer and supplying food to the resident predator population.
The first thing to do after the shot is determine where the deer is hit. If you hit the deer in the front third of the body, in most cases, even if it runs out of sight, time is short for this deer. If I see a deer go down, I still wait about a half hour to approach it. Sometimes, they just don’t know where the arrow came from and think it’s safe to lay down. But most of the time they will die in a minute or two. I use this time to reflect on the hunt, take a few deep breaths, and collect my gear. Take your time and truly enjoy the moment. Even when approaching a deer like this I will have an arrow ready just in case they get up.
Deer that travel out of sight typically don’t go very far. In most instances, not more than 100 yards. If I’m confident in the shot, I’ll give that deer two hours. Even with today’s mechanical broadheads it’s amazing how little blood there can be. With this in mind, before I leave the tree, I make a detailed mental note of where I last saw the deer and where it was headed. Stand at the base of your tree and get a good mark. Then go have lunch.
Two hours after the shot, head to your mark and start looking for blood. Stay in hunter mode and walk quietly. This not only conceals your presence, but it allows you to listen for deer getting up. If at some point the blood trail disappears, start making circles around the last splatter of blood until you relocate it. I’ve often found the deer itself while doing this. Again, the key is time. Be sure to actually clock the time table, don’t just guess.
A well placed shot will lead to swift kill of any deer. But what about a poorly placed shot? A gut shot deer will, in most cases, die close to where it was arrowed if given time. How much time? Give a gut shot deer at least 12 hours. If you released the arrow in the morning, start looking at night or maybe even the next morning. Usually, these deer will lay down unbelievably close to where they were hit and if left undisturbed, bleed to death internally. If you push them too soon, they will leave the area completely before laying down again. In this case, they become coyote kibble.
An important note about gut shot deer: they usually leave sparse blood trails. However, with today’s broadheads, they will have massive internal bleeding. This is why it’s so important to give them time. If the deer bedded down and died near where the shot was taken, your odds of recovering it are exponentially better.
Obviously, there is more to trailing wounded deer than a stop watch. However, by simply using these guidelines,