Many hunters are unable to recognize the signs that a deer has been hit. Many more are unable to, or don’t know how to follow a wounded deer. Worst yet still more give up to soon thinking they hit the deer but not with a killing shot, thinking the deer will recover. Far too much game is left in the field this way. It’s a shame, and in my eyes it’s a waste.
Once you made the shot, TRY to remain calm, be alert, listen and watch the animal. Did you hear a thump to indicate a hit? Where a deer has been hit will likely determine how it will react. Deer shot with a bow will sometimes jump or react to the hit but then immediately look around not knowing what happened and then go back to doing whatever they where doing. This happens because a Brodhead can cut cleanly enough that no pain is felt. This is not normally the case but it does happen. Gut shot deer will often jump with an arched body into the air when hit. And will sometimes run hunched up as they make their escape. Lung shot deer sometimes do this also so it’s not written in stone. If its front half drops toward the ground, you probably just missed hitting the heart, hitting him somewhere else in the front portion of the body. If it jumps and charges forward, though, you probably hit its heart.
One of the first things to look for, or at is the tail. A large percentage of the time if the tail goes up and he takes off like a bullet it’s probably a miss. A good indication in most cases of a good solid hit is the tail being down as the deer runs off. Mentally mark where the deer was standing when you hit him. Also in what direction he ran. Pick out a few good landmarks of booth spots. Now go to the spot where the deer was and look for the tracks he made when he ran off. Look for any signs of blood, hair, bone splinters. Now wait, don’t rush it, it will only make it harder later.
While you wait examine any signs you find. A deer’s hair can tell you a lot about where he was hit. Each part of the hide has its own distinct hair. If you find long coarse hair that’s hollow, dark with black tip’s, comes from along the spine.
The area of the heart has long, dark guard hairs.
The brisket area has curly, coarse hair that is stiff and dark to black.
Long coarse wavy hair comes from around the tail.
Coarse hollow hair brownish gray with light tips is from the area of the stomach.
Blood will tell you a lot about the hit. Blood from the lungs will be foamy or have tiny bubbles in it and will be pink. A flesh wound is light red about the same color as if you cut yourself shaving. Light colored blood that’s greenish will have bile mixed in and indicate a gut shot. Blood from the Liver, heart or arteries will be the darkest of all and look to be the color of a dark maroon.
By combing the way the deer reacted with the blood, hair and other signs most hunters can determine where they hit the deer, if they hit it and what chance they have in recovering it.
Here are some guidelines on the different recovery methods for each type of shot.
Lungs – Wait a half-hour to an hour before going after the game. There may be no blood at first, but after the lungs fill, the deer will begin to leave a good trail. Blood should appear around 20 or 30 yards but you may not find any within the first 100 yds. The blood trail will become stronger and more apparent the closer to the animal you get. The higher up the animal was hit, the farther it will travel before collapsing. (They have been known to travel over 500 yds.)
Heart – Wait a half-hour to an hour before going after the game. The blood trail may be non-existent initially, but it should appear after 20 or 30 yards and become easier to fallow the closer to the animal you get. Usually the deer collapses and be found dead with-in a 100 yds.
Liver – Wait an hour before attempting to trail. The animal will probably run a short distance, usually no more than a quarter mile, before lying down for good. There will be a blood trail, but it won’t be that strong due to the high amount of internal bleeding.
Stomach or Gut – Wait anywhere from four to ten hours before trailing. If it feels pressure from being tailed, the buck will go farther away before lying down, so lay back for most of the day, or even overnight. The blood trail will be very scarce and mixed with stomach or intestinal matter.
Back – If you hit the spine the deer should drop in its tracks. If not, wait half an hour before following the animal. Unless a main artery was severed or a kidney was hit there will be very little blood. If you did hit a artery or kidney you should find the animal within 100 yds. If you didn’t and unless you made a solid hit to the loin, odds are you won’t recover this deer. It will rest a few days and will most likely be good as new.
Hindquarters – Unless your bullet or arrow hit the femoral artery you will be tracking this deer a long time. I personally go after this type of wound immediately. Others tell you to wait up to 4 hours. The advantage of going immediately is that if you didn’t hit the femoral artery keeping steady, moderate pressure on the buck will keep it walking instead of lying down or running. If it does and you jump it, it will run away and leave a fine mist for a blood trail you may not be able to or is almost impossible to follow. (If you hit the femoral artery you will in all likely hood find him with-in 100 yds.)
Neck – If you hit the deer here below the spine, odds are your arrow or bullet will have severed the windpipe or some major veins or arteries, most probably the jugular. If so, the blood trail will be exceptionally strong and the deer will usually drop in less than 50 to 100 yds. If your hit is above the spine, though, the wound is merely superficial, not fatal, but it will leave a misleading amount of blood behind.
Brisket – Unless the deer was facing you when shot, he will most likely live. If he was moving toward you, the path of the bullet or arrow should have passed through the lung or heart. The blood will tell you.