The buck you have been eagerly anticipating arrives. Your adrenaline dumps. You know the distance of the area where he is standing. The highest percentage shot presents itself. You draw back and settle in. Aim. Breathe. Aim. Release. What you do next can lead to triumph or agony. The good news is, you are in complete control of your actions after an arrow is released.
That last sentence is so crucial, it is worth repeating: You are in complete control of your actions after an arrow is released.
USING YOUR SENSES TO MAKE SENSE
What you see and hear after the shot are the most critical components. Everything below is based on taking the most ethical shot possible and my successes and failures.
- Did you hear the arrow impact? What did it sound like?
- If your arrow entered the chest cavity, you should hear a thump. Think of a rubber mallet impacting the ground when it is wet.
- Where did the arrow go in?
- Settle your pin on the chest cavity about two inches behind the front shoulder.
- If you are in an elevated position, remember your downward trajectory. Your arrow enters high, but will exit low.
- A lighted nock or fluorescent colored vanes aids in following an arrow’s flight. In addition, light or white colored vanes help identify the type of blood.
- Did the arrow pass through? 18” is the average width of a whitetail deer.
- A broadside pass through the chest is usually a fatal shot.
- An arrow broken off with less than 3” of penetration and no blood present typically indicates a front shoulder hit.
- An arrow broken off with 15” of penetration and blood on it tells you an angled shot through the chest cavity with the broadhead lodged in the opposite shoulder.
- If you can see the arrow, use your binoculars to establish what the arrow looks like.
- How did the deer react?
- Did the deer’s rear legs kick back and then run off? This indicates a heart or lung shot.
- Did the deer run a short distance, stop, and appear to have trouble walking away with its head down? This indicates a liver or gut shot.
- Did you see the deer go down?
- If you see the deer topple, there is an incredibly high probability the deer is dead.
- If you see the deer bed down with its head up, this indicates a liver shot deer. Leave the area as quietly as possible and come back at least 4 hours later. There is a very good chance you will find your deer where you last saw it.
- If you see the deer slowly walk away with its head down, this indicates a gut shot deer. While fatal, a minimum of 8 hours should be given before beginning your recovery.
- Did you hear the deer go down?
- Hearing brush or limbs breaking in thick cover is a good indication that the deer just toppled there and is dead. If you only hear this, give at least 60 minutes before beginning your recovery.
WHEN IN DOUBT, BACK OUT
A hunter’s nature says begin blood trailing a deer immediately. Slow down. After I shoot, I call my wife, my parents, and one of my best hunting buddies. I call my wife and parents because I want them to be excited with me. I call my hunting buddy last because I begin second guessing what I saw and heard. After explaining to someone who is familiar with a deer’s anatomy and post shot reaction, an initial decision can be made on how to proceed. Approximately 20 minutes will have passed before I begin to climb down.
Find the point of impact. Seeing if there is immediate blood. Determine what the blood tells you.
- Bright pink blood with bubbles indicates a shot through the heart or lung(s). Begin tracking in about an hour.
- Dark red blood indicates a liver shot. Begin tracking in about 4 hours.
- Brown tinted blood indicates a stomach shot. Your arrow should have digestive matter on it with a pungent odor. Begin tracking in about 8 hours.
- Very bright red blood indicates a muscle shot deer with no organ damage. This is a good topic for old and new school hunters to discuss. Old school says wait overnight before beginning your recovery. New school says to begin tracking right away in hopes of the deer bleeding out or a getting a second shot opportunity.
DOING EVERYTHING LEGALLY AND ETHICALLY TO MAKE A RECOVERY
Using the most current information helps determine your best course of action. Unfortunately, you really do not know where your arrow entered until you recover the deer. The information changes when you find an area where the deer stopped and there is bright blood with bubbles on top. That information changes when 30 yards later you find where the deer bedded and got bumped. A deer, fatally shot in the heart, can run for 200 yards. I once tracked a gut shot deer nearly 1.1 miles before recovering him. Deer are incredibly tough and resilient animals.
Know your land boundaries and your neighbors. I am not aware of a state that allows a hunter to track a deer on private land without permission from the landowner.
Get some friends together and grid search or do it by yourself.
Find water as a mortally wounded deer will often go there.
Have a dog tracker saved in your phone. https://www.unitedbloodtrackers.org/find-a-tracker/
A few days later, look for scavengers circling an area.
Most bowhunters know when their shot is true or a problem likely exists. Blood trailing a deer is not rocket science: find blood, follow blood, find deer. Even when doing everything right, you might not make a recovery. Hunt long enough and this will inevitably happen to you. I have firsthand knowledge (several times over) and it really, really sucks. Going back out to hunt again can be difficult, but speaks to your level of commitment and tenacity.
Even when you do everything right leading up to the shot, you can make mistakes afterwards. Conduct mental repetitions of post shot scenarios to achieve your optimal mindset. Follow these simple blood tracking rules and you will experience more grips and grins:
- You are in complete control of your actions after an arrow is released
- Use the most current information to determine your best course of action
- When in doubt, back out
After an opportunity presents itself, always be prepared for what is next. Being attentive to details and waiting to get it right is what leads to constant improvement.
Author: Exodus Black Hat Team Member Geoff Guzinski
Images courtesy of Afflictor Broadheads