While most of the deer that I have harvested have fallen very close to where they were shot, there have been a few that have made a mad dash out of sight . In fact, when bow hunting this is often the case. When this happens you will need to track the deer.
When a deer is shot through both lungs or the heart they usually will drop where they stand or they may go 30-50 yards before the adrenalin that carries them runs out. However, a deer that is shot too far forward and at an angle may only have a single lung shot, a high shot may penetrate both lungs but takes more time for the deer to succumb to their injury. And a shot that is slightly far back may end up being a liver shot or the dreaded gut shot.
Whether a deer goes 30 yards or a mile tracking skills will be required. The first part of tracking is what you take with you to track. Always tell someone where you will be parking your truck and hunting. It is important to figure that you are going to be tracking for a mile and be pleasantly surprised when you walk right up to the deer just past where you last saw them. I take basic survival items on every track:
- Fire starting implements (magnesium sticks are great for this due there ability to start a fire even if wet)
- Sharp knife (multi-tool is great for obvious reasons)
- Compass and GPS (compass is a must even if you have a GPS… if the batteries go dead you will need to have some idea the direction that you truck is parked to get back to it)
- Flashlight (with extra batteries)
- Canteen of water (metal ones are best because they can be easily put on the fire to boil water)
- Water proof coat if you will not be wearing one while tracking
- Side arm and ammo if legal (check your local laws)
- Medications that you need on a daily basis.
- Basic first aid kit
- Cell phone if you get service where you hunt
- Beef jerky and/or peanut butter and crackers
- Toilet paper (while tracking small pieces can be placed every so many feet to quickly remind you where you have been)
- Deer drag
- Length of rope or twine (this is to tie your tag to the deer, however it is very nice to have plenty as it can be used for many purposes in survival situations)
Accuracy is extremely important while hunting. Most of us know this… we practice most of the year long to keep up our skills. However, after sitting in a tree stand or ground blind for months at a time without seeing a deer a hunter will be justifiably nervous when a deer finally makes an appearance. Some things to keep in mind when preparing and taking that shot are:
- Don’t stare at the horns too long, but instead focus on the task at hand.
- Make slow moves preparing for the shot. Try to move only when the deer is looking away from you or while the deer is moving. Moving at approximately the same speed and direction as the deer will completely disguise your movements to the deer. This is because their eyes are on the side of their head and as they move their surroundings seem to move too.
- Use a steady rest for any shots that you can… consider this before the shot
- Follow through on all shots. In other words hold your aim until the animal moves.
Second, listen closely to the direction that the deer went. Additionally, pay attention to crashing sounds followed by relative silence. This often indicates a downed deer. The direction of which is important.
Third, I wait at least a half hour to crawl out of my stand and track a deer. The exception to this rule is if it is raining or snowing. Blood trails will disappear very quickly in either of these too situations so I will get down and track them immediately. Lastly, when I get out of my stand I will be as quiet as I was coming in so that I don’t kick up or scare the deer that may be bedding down nearby.
After I get to the last area that I saw the deer I look at the evidence that is there. Look for obvious blood and hair. If you don’t find any blood sign look at the ground for any tracks or disturbances. If you find some follow them a short way. Do you see any blood? Pay close attention to leaves, branches and grasses that are about three feet high. Many times there may be a lack of consistent blood on the ground especially if the deer is running. But, if a deer is wounded it will likely brush against foliage as they run through the woods.
If, after careful inspection, I don’t find any blood or tracks I will place some toilet paper or some other marker where the deer was standing when I shot it and then walk in the direction that I believe the deer went. After walking between 20 and 30 yards if I still don’t see any sign then I will turn left and walk in a circle with the center of the circle being the last place that you saw the deer. I will eventually return to the center (area that I marked off with toilet paper) and increase the size of the circle until I get to about 100 yards. If no sign is found. It is probable that you completely missed the deer.
Usually, you will easily find a blood trail beginning from the place that the deer was standing. If you heard a crashing noise follow the blood trail to where you remember hearing it. If you don’t find the deer there back out and get some help tracking the deer. Most often a deer is shot just before dark which, of course, means that you will be tracking the deer in the dark.
Extra eyes on any tracking job can only help. Place toilet paper on tree limbs and the ground as you go. This will make it easier to back track if the trail goes cold. As you go through the woods following sign remember the deer often circle their trail when afraid. Also, if undisturbed a deer will often bed down at their first opportunity. So, if you find an area that looks like a big puddle of blood and the deer is not there, back out immediately. This is an indication that the deer is responding to your tracking efforts. Instead, come back at first light. If you choose to track the deer further you take the risk of loosing the deer completely.
When you return the next day you should go to where your last blood sign was. Follow the blood trail as before. As you move along pay attention to areas where the deer bedded down. If the blood starts to look fresh and the deer is bedding down frequently along the trail, that may be gut shot. Be sure that you have your weapon with you in case you get an opportunity to take a finishing shot. Often a deer that beds frequently knows that you are on their trail, but lack the strength to go very far. You will likely catch up to them and be able to finish what you started.
Gut shots are not cool for the deer. Practice using your weapon often through out the year to insure proper shot placement. Don’t take risky shots through brush. Remember there is no such thing as a brush gun. So, don’t take a shot thinking that the brush won’t affect your slow moving bullet. It just doesn’t work that way. Don’t take a bow shot at a deer who is alerted to your general position… they can and will jump the string. Use only secure broad heads. Improperly adjusted broadheads that require a wrench to tighten and spin independently of the arrow shaft can plane completely off course and cause gut shots.
Once you have found your deer immediately tag the deer and then field dress it. Place your deer drag around it’s neck and follow your toilet paper trail to your truck. Get help to put the deer into the truck bed if necessary.
Hunting deer is one of my greatest passions. I take the entire experience in and take the responsibility of making a clean kill very seriously. Still as careful as I am, occasionally I need to track an animal that I have shot. The skills listed above have helped me find every deer that I have ever shot except two. Those two deer haunt me from time to time. I know that if I would have known the advise that I have given here I would have recovered the deer.