By Cole Daniels
You’ve been putting in long hours at the range. You set stands, scouted, and somehow snuck in without being detected by the buck standing just 15 yards from your stand. You know he’s 15 yards away because you have tirelessly checked yardage to just about every point around your stand. After coming to full draw you put your pin behind his elbow, exhale, and squeeze your trigger release. The arrow hits true and the buck sprints away. You watch him run down a valley until he disappears. Ten seconds later you hear the crash of a deer hitting the forest floor. You’re already well on your way to recovering this deer.
The truth is the recovery process begins on the practice range. Being a consistent archer or shooter will make recovering a deer much easier. Once the shot is taken or the arrow is released, look for the point of impact. If the shot is outside the heart and lung area, you’re going to have to give the deer some time. The Hour Glass Rule is a good start to gauging how much time is necessary. How the deer reacts to the shot is another detail that can help you decide how much time is needed. A deer that takes off like his hair is on fire is likely well hit. A slow retreat is a good indication of a paunch shot deer. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule.
No matter where you hit the deer, the first thing you should do is nothing. Don’t move or talk. Watch the deer run away and listen for the telltale sound of a crash. Hearing a crash isn’t a guarantee. But it is a good sign. When deer are gut shot, they will often walk a short distance before laying down. I arrowed a deer a few years back that bedded down about 25 yards from where it was hit. If they are not pressured, these deer will expire where they lay. The biggest mistake you can make is being loud or getting out of the stand too soon.
Once the deer has hit the ground or left the area, mark the last place you saw it. Take your time and find something unmistakable. Remember, the landscape looks different from the ground than it does from an elevated tree stand. After you climb down, find your landmark and then the arrow. Look for blood, tracks, or kicked up leaves. If it is still legal to shoot, nock an arrow or load your gun. I can’t tell you how many people I know that have successfully tracked an animal only to have it jump up and run away never to be seen again because the hunter wasn’t ready for a follow up shot.
Some hunters like to use a GPS to document the trail as they search for blood. This is a good idea. Sometimes the blood trail disappears and finding it again often takes time. Marking the point on a GPS can save time. However, I’m kind of an old school guy. I would spend more time fumbling with the GPS than tracking deer if I used one. I prefer using surveyors tape. I’ll tie a little to a piece of brush near the blood trail for reference.
Hopefully, this never happens to you but if you still haven’t found the deer, there is one last tactic. I call it The Bullseye Technique. Start at the last place you saw the deer or blood and walk in concentric circles out from that point. I’ve seen some people walk in circles 200 yards out before finding their deer. If the circle is two hundred yards away from the center, that’s a lot of miles on the boots. It’s been a long time since I’ve studied geometry, but I’m pretty sure figuring out exactly how big the perimeter would be involves pi. Speaking of pie, it helps to have a few friends along when tracking and having some food to reward them with is always a good idea.