Tracking Wounded Deer
You have scouted the property, stalked your trophy, waited endless hours in a treestand for the right moment, and shot true for a quick, humane kill. Now you have waited to make sure he is down and it is time to see your deer up close. Your breath comes in short spurts as you move closer to the place where last you saw him. But, there is nothing there except some ground that was disturbed by his leaving the area. What now?
The first thing to do is “don’t do anything.” Look around. Wait for at least a half hour. This gives the animal time to bleed, stiffen up and to die. Is there blood on the ground? If not, it is time to reconstruct your shot. You owe it to your quarry to make every effort to recover any wounded animal.
Relive that fateful moment when you first shot. Where was the animal standing? Use makers of trees and bushes to be precise as to location. Remember that the land looks different at ground level than it does from a treestand. That is why it is important to use marking points such as trees, rocks, and shrubs to pinpoint locations. What did the animal do when you shot? When you last saw it, which way was it going? As you listened after it disappeared from sight, did you hear it crash? If so in what direction did the sound seem to come from?
As you rerun the incident in your mind, remember how the deer reacted. If it jumped straight up or fell and then ran off low to the ground with its tail tucked down, the hit was good. It will probably expire immediately and is lying close at hand. It is a good idea to wait about a half hour before following up just to be safe.
If the deer hunched its back and ran or walked away, it is probably gut shot. If left alone the deer will usually remain where it first beds down and will expire there. However, if disturbed before it expires, the deer may run off and you stand a chance of losing it. You might even have to follow it for miles. It is better that you leave it alone for several hours before following up the trail.
The third scenario is one where the deer runs a few yards and looks around. It might even continue feeding. You probably missed. If there is no blood on the ground or bushes, you missed.
Once you decide that there is blood or hair on the ground in the area where you last saw the deer, it is time to analyze the hit. Following a wounded deer is a slow and deliberative process. If it is night time, a gas lantern is best as it highlights the blood spots on the ground. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the side of the lantern toward you. It helps direct the light toward the trail and out of your eyes.
In the case of hair, it is important to decide where the hair came from on the animal. White hair usually means a chest or belly hit. Darker hair means a vital or muscle area hit.
If there is blood on the ground, examine it. If there is the unmistakable odor of feces in the blood, then you have gut shot the animal. The result is that you should wait several hours before proceeding to follow the trail.
If you find blood that is thin and pale, it probably came from a superficial or flesh wound.
Blood that is bright red with bubbles means that you have lung hit the animal. Look for tracks and stirred up leaves. Your deer is probably nearby.
As you follow the trail, mark each place where you find blood or tracks. Blaze orange surveyor’s tape or toilet paper comes in handy for marking. At some point you may lose the trail or the blood might just quit leaking out of the animal. You will be able to go back to the tape or paper trail and start again using the trail to steer you in the right general direction.
Large pools of blood on the trail usually mean that the deer stopped or even lay down at that spot before moving along. Often the animal may change directions. It is important to look in all directions from the pool of blood for a trail to follow.
Another factor that might cause the deer to change directions is a steep hill, roadway, fence line, or open field. They will usually follow where the land is flat or downhill and with cover. Often they will lie down in that cover.
If you cannot find the blood trail, try working in circles from the last spots. Begin with small circles and work into ever enlarging ones.
All of the above supposes that the weather does not change radically and snow, rain or heavy wind conditions move in to conceal the trail. Other hunters, dogs, coyotes can also stumble upon the animal and it will run off when it would otherwise lay down and die.
Animals such as crows, magpies, and jays can alert the hunter to a downed animal. They are attracted to the carcass and make a lot of noise.
Making a clean humane kill is the goal of all hunters. Sometimes things go wrong and you might have to follow up on a wounded animal. It is a challenging experience but a rewarding one when you are able to find the deer and bring it out of the woods and home to your family table.
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