AFTER THE SHOT- TRACKING WOUNDED WHITETAIL DEER

by Stuart Spitz

Check not only on the ground but look for branches like this one for signs of bloodThe first thing any good hunter knows about tracking a wounded deer is that tracking starts way before you take your shot! Make sure you know the general terrain in the area, including any particular landmarks like a fallen tree, a special type of rock formation, or a marsh. This will help you immeasurably when it's time to track your deer.

Make sure you know WHERE you hit the deer, and where the deer was standing when you shot it. Watch for a specific tree or bush in the middle of a marsh, maybe a branch - - anything that will tell you where the deer was when it took off. Notice any characteristics such as how it carries itself -- if it favors a shoulder, or leans in a particular direction. One major characteristic to note is the position of the tail. If it's "flag up" with the tail moving up and down, and wagging, you've probably missed. BUT, if it's hanging down limp, you hit the deer.

Next thing to note is where the deer runs. You must know the EXACT spot where the deer ran. That's important because, typically, whether it's a gun or an arrow, you won't get immediate blood. The deer may not start bleeding for 10 to 50 yards.

Variables that hunters look for include tracking snow. Snow plays a big factor in deer hunting. Even without a tell-tale blood sign, however, you can find deer through its track trail. With a gun shot, you may not get a lot of blood. The bullet expands inside, and there's lots of concussion. With an arrow shot, the deer will hemorrhage to death -- and there's little or no concussion. You're cutting a big hole, with a very sharp broadhead that will slice through veins and arteries. A well-hit deer won't go 30 yards.

Where you place your shot is very important to note. That will determine the TYPE of blood you see. A deer hit in the front shoulder/lung area will have pinkish, red blood with lots of bubbles from the breathing process. Wait half an hour to an hour before tracking, because even if there's a good hit, it might not have been perfect, and the deer might have meandered quite a ways.

If you hit in the haunch or stomach, there'll not be much blood. A bow-hit deer in that area will produce greenish, yellow slime from intestinal fluids, and a spattering of bright blood – here and there. In a typical stomach hit, the deer will run about 15 yards and hunch up, with a very distinct sound, like you popped a balloon -- pooofff! The deer will then walk away, real slow. If it's a front shoulder hit, the deer will bolt off, and will run until they bleed out. For a stomach hit wait overnight. Don't track until the next day, because the deer won't die right away.

If the hit is further back in the hind quarter, you may get lucky and hit the femoral artery. It's not a classic "good shot," but if it hits the artery, the deer won't get 30 yards, as it will bleed out immediately.

Find the location of the shot before you start tracking

And before you start tracking, find the location where you shot the deer. With most bow shots, the arrow passes completely through the deer, and should be lying in the vicinity where you shot it. Look for an arrow, hair, or any blood where the deer was standing. Then walk in the direction where the deer was shot, In usually 10-15 yards you'll locate some type of blood trail.

Make sure you're with other hunting buddies. Bring a drag rope. And if there's bad weather start tracking immediately. Watch for blood, broken branches, AND, very importantly -- hit deer will head toward water. If you run out of blood to track, watch the direction the deer is heading, and start making slow and ever larger circles, until you find more blood. Once deer have lost a lot of blood, they tend to veer off trail, going back and forth unsteadily. Then, once you find the deer, approach it from behind, and use common sense. Poke it with the tip of your rifle or bow, in its hindquarters. I've seen a lot of startled hunters think a deer is dead, and then suddenly face-off a head of antlers. Not fun, especially if you haven't brought along toilet paper!

Finally -- hunt smart. As you track the deer, us a GPS, or put bio-degradable tissue in trees to show you where you've been, and you'll be able to find your way out of the woods easily. It's no fun being lost in a heavy forest with night coming on.

Meet Naomi Shapiro Minimize

Outdoor writer and hunter Naomi ShapiroNaomi K. Shapiro and Stuart Spitz write about hunting, fishing, nature, outdoors and travel for a variety of media. They lived on a lake in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin for fifteen years (where the elk were reintroduced; a number of wolf packs exist; and that has the largest-per-acre black bear population in North America).