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Recovery and Tracking Wounded Whitetail Deer

Recovery and Tracking Wounded Whitetail Deer

As a whitetail deer outfitter for 13 years we have shooting ranges for both gun and archery at all our lodge sites. As hunters arrive the day before their whitetail deer hunt begins they practice shooting. Itís the archery hunters that ďtickleĒ me the most when shooting at our archery ranges. They group arrows within an inch or two of each other and some of them can do this at distances exceeding 30 yards. Iíve literally watched guys stand on our archery ranges and bet money in regard to who will shoot the best. Itís a ďkickĒ to watch. Problem is when you put these expert whitetail hunters on big whitetail deer from an elevated tree stand location and offer them a shot at a record book whitetail buck usually one of two things happen. They either shoot the whitetail deer in the heart or lungs with an immediately recovering or miss the entire whitetail deer all together. Very few of our hunters wound whitetail deer simply because they either get buck fever and miss or they donít and harvest a monster whitetail buck. However, occasionally a whitetail hunter will wound a whitetail deer that requires intense tracking.

Tracking a whitetail deer that hasnít been shot well is nothing short of art. My intention with this article is to provide data to assist whitetail hunters in the recovery of animals they have shot that didnít ďgo downĒ immediately.

Donít begin tracking too soon due to impatience.

When whitetail deer hunters come to our camps they are told that if they shoot a whitetail deer they are not to get down unless they see the animal lay lifeless for 10 minutes. The reason for this is because every hunter that shoots a whitetail deer wants to believe they made a perfect shot and that they heard the whitetail deer crash in the brush 50 yards away. Many times this isnít the case. The sooner a whitetail hunter gets down to track a deer they have shot the more apt the whitetail deer hunter is to ďkickĒ the deer up and never retrieve it. Remember, you can begin tracking too soon but you canít wait too long to go after it. Usually a wounded whitetail deer will only go a 100 or 200 yards or so if it has been shot, and sometimes a lot less then that. By giving the animal a chance to lay down, without the fear of being chased, it will stiffen up. Then when you go to find the deer, you will have a much better chance of finishing it off.
The same thing applies to an animal that has been shot by a rifle or shotgun. Give it a bit of time if you think that it was a bad shot. The animal should be in shock so it shouldn't suffer to much.

Collect Equipment Information

Initially information needs to be collected regarding the equipment used to shoot the whitetail deer and recreate the scene of the shot on the whitetail deer. For example when a whitetail deer hunter shoots a whitetail deer with us the first two questions I ask him are, #1. Are you shooting open upon impact broadheads or fixed position bladed broadheads. If they are shooting open upon impact broadheads and the broadhead is not a Rage Broadhead I try not to frown as I know with the exception of Rage Broadheads, that open upon impact are most of the time less destructive. The #2 Question I ask is if the hunter is shooting carbon arrows or aluminum. If they say carbon I once again try not to frown. Carbon arrows literally attempt to defy the laws of enertia. Iíve seen many a whitetail deer that was shot with carbon arrows which while fast are lightweight. With a lightweight arrow you have far less of a chance at a pass through shot on a whitetail deer.

Examine the arrow if its an archery shot
Thoroughly examine the arrow. Look at what debris and the color of blood is on the arrow. Arrows that have purple blood usually indicate liver shots. A liver shot whitetail deer can take 3 to 4 hours to die. Thus donít track a liver shot whitetail deer right away. Give him time. If temperatures permit wait until morning on evening hunts. If the blood on the arrow is red then your into major arteries or heart. Good red steady blood is usually a great sign you will recover the whitetail deer. Of course a heart shot whitetail deer will leave tons of blood on the forest floor. Pink blood with bubbles indicates a definite lung shot, which will most often times result in immediate recovery. An arrow that has slime and stinks like excrement indicates a gut shot whitetail deer. This is the worst shot you can possibly make on a whitetail deer as most gut shot whitetail deer can take up to 24 hours to die. Gut shot whitetail deer donít always die, nor can they be pushed or tracked soon after the shot. We here at IMB Outfitter usually let gut shot whitetail deer lay up the longest.

Reenact the shot with the whitetail deer hunter from the stand site as it occurs.

When a hunter shots a whitetail deer with us we have him crawl back into the stand and point out from the stand site just where he shot the whitetail deer, as well as where the whitetail deer was last seen. Things simply look different from the ground, thus after you shoot your whitetail deer begin to memorize what occurred, how the whitetail deer reacted, and the last place you saw him. Pick out a landmark of the last place you saw the whitetail deer. For example: By the big rock, by that big oak tree, by the old creek bed, etc. etc.

When reenacting the shot made by the whitetail deer hunter you will want to intensely question yourself or the hunter on the animalís reaction to the shot. Body language upon commencement of the shot often times is a dead give away regarding were the whitetail deer was hit.

Gear you will need to track a wounded whitetail deer will include a very good flashlight with backup batteries as you never know how long the tracking of a whitetail deer will take. You will also need some orange tape and a new product that has hit the hunt industry which I believe is one of the most ingenious of all. Trail Starz is a product that is a flashing beacon orange light that is attached to a bright orange string. This devise once activated lasts for over 60 hours of battery life. Located at you can plainly view and purchase them. You simply hang a trail starz at the last drop of blood and turn on the flashing orange beacon. Then you move onto the next drop of blood and hang another beacon and activate it to flash. After the placement of several beacons you can determine the direction the animal is traveling as well as never lose blood dispersed in certain areas. Better yet the Trail Starz are hunter orange so if you donít recover the animal that evening you can return to where you have hunt the Trail Starzs the next day and quickly begin the tracking of your wounded deer again to maximize recovery efforts.

Deer that are shot in the lungs or heart will go on what I call a ďdeath runĒ. This means a whitetail deer that is hit fatally through the lungs or heart will run as hard as he can with his tail between his legs. If the whitetail deer runs hard heís hit hard. Deer hit through the lungs or heart will often kick their heels like a mule. I've seen it, and I'll swear to it. heart-shot whitetail deer will sometimes jump wildly when hit. The blood trail may be sparse for the first 20 yards or so. A heart shot whitetail deer may track as much as a quarter of a mile, depending on what part of the heart is damaged. The usual is less than 125 yards. The hair from this shot will be long brown or grayish guard hairs. Again, a 30 minute wait is advised. But, if while trailing you find where he has bedded back off and wait an hour before taking up the trail again.
Lung-shot whitetail deer won't always kick their heels, but in my experience they will always run before they die, and they may even run away "flag up" (see below). They usually don't travel far before dying quickly, and can usually be recovered within the hour. A lung-shot whitetail deer will run hard 50 to 65 yards. After that he will usually walk until he falls. The blood will sometimes have tiny bubbles in it. This blood trail usually gets better as you track the whitetail deer. However, if the deer is hit high in the lungs, the blood trail may sometimes become light and even disappear completely. The whitetail deer could be "filling up" inside with blood, showing very little external bleeding. The hair from the lung area is coarse and brown with black tips. The whitetail deer will usually go down in less than 125 yards.
On the opposite extreme a deer that has been missed will normally bolt a few yards and then look around and begin feeding again or carelessly doing whatever it was he was doing before he was shot. Why? He doesnít know what happened. I once shot a whitetail doe broadside with a good heart/lung shot, and she turned and ran away, turning to the left as she went. I found no blood within the first 20 yards or so, but I eventually found a good blood trail and recovered her without much trouble. So be sure to always follow up and look for blood, no matter what the whitetail deer did when you fired.
I suggest whether you are alone or not, carry a roll of ribbon tape, florescent orange in color with you. First, tie a piece of ribbon tape on a branch or around a tree, at eye level, and as close to the spot that you were standing in, when you shot.
Now, proceed to the area that you shot at the whitetail deer from.
Look for evidence of a hit. Look for blood, look for hair, look for any evidence of a hit, in surrounding trees. Look for clipped off branches. Your bullet will snip off branches, that are in its' tragectory path, if it is a pass through. Look for the deers tracks.
Gut shot deer paunch shot, won't leave much evidence of a hit. A heart shot, if a high powered rifle is used, will often explode the heart, therefore the animal won't leave much of a blood trail, as there is no heart left, to pump the blood.
If you find any evidence of a hit, whether it be blood, hair or paunch, place a piece of ribbon, again at eye level. {By the way, a paunch shot, is identified by the green color, that spills from the animals paunch or belly, it resembles grass that is usually digested}.
A paunch shot can also be identified by a very raunchy smell. So take notice of any strong smell in the air. A gut shot whitetail deer often holds it's tail down and hunches it's back as it leaves the scene. A whitetail deer that has been shot in the gut or paunch is usually the most difficult to recover. Wait 2-3 hours before trailing a whitetail deer you believe was gut shot. Always follow up on any whitetail deer you take a shot at. Never make the assumption that you missed completely. When a deer is shot in the stomach area, he will usually take several short jumps and commence walking or running. His back will usually hunch up and his legs will be spread wide. The hair from this wound is brownish gray and short. The lower the shot is on the animal, the lighter colored the hair will be. The blood trail is usually poor with small pieces of ingested material (stomach contents). If the intestines are punctured there will be green slimy material or feces Take your bow with you because a second shot might be required.
Liver Shot Deer that are shot in the liver or liver/gut usually have a lot of blood, with the amount of blood determined by the arteries that are hit. This will also determine the time it will take for the whitetail deer to bleed out. Wait 4 hours before pursuing these whitetail deer. If they are not pushed, they usually bed down within a hundred yards. Blood from a liver shot is usually almost purple and not a bright or true red color. A liver-shot deer. The liver lies against the diaphragm in the approximate center of the deer. It is a definite killing shot. The blood trail will be decent to follow and the deer should bed down and die within 200 yards, if not pushed. A one-hour wait is best. The hair from the liver area is brownish gray and much shorter than the hair from the lung area.
A spine-shot deer will usually drop in his tracks or hobble off. Either way, a second shot will probably be required to finish off the whitetail deer. If a spine-shot whitetail deer hobbles off, wait a half-hour and track slowly and quietly. Look for the deer bedded down.
A neck-shot deer will either die in 100 yards or he will recover from the wound. The lower portion of the neck contains the windpipe, neck bone (spine), and carotid (jugular) arteries. If the arteries are hit, the whitetail deer will run hard and drop in less than 100 yards. The blood trail will be easy to follow. A shot above the neck bone will give you a good blood trail for about 150 to 200 yards before quitting. The whitetail deer will more than likely recover to be hunted again
A hip-shot deer. A large artery (femoral) runs down the inside of each deer leg. This artery is protected from the side by the leg bones. The femoral artery is most often severed from the rear or at an angle. If this artery is cut, the bleeding will be profuse and the whitetail deer will usually be found in less than 100 yards. The ham of a whitetail deer is also rich in veins with a lot of blood. A hip-shot whitetail deer should be tracked immediately. Track him slowly and quietly to keep him moving (walking). If you jump him and he runs, back off for a few minutes then continue trailing. You want him to walk, not run. A walking whitetail deer is easier to trail.
An artery-shot deer will almost always go down in less than 100 yards. The aortic artery runs just under the backbone from heart to hips, where it branches to become the femoral arteries. The heart also pumps blood to the brain through the carotid (jugular) arteries.

Sever any of these arteries and you've got yourself a whitetail deer. There is one catch, these arteries are tough. It takes a sharp broadhead to cut through them. A dull broadhead will just push them aside. Keep your broadheads sharp! Give the whitetail deer half an hour before tracking.
Hair color at the shot site of the whitetail deer can also give away where the deer was hit so one can determine what strategy one needs to employ to track the whitetail deer. If there is mostly brown hair the shot was high, mostly white, the shot was low.
Thus in broad review:
* After shooting the whitetail deer, stay in your stand and be quiet for the
recommended time. A noise might push your whitetail deer away. He could be bedded down less than 100 yards away.

* I have found it very helpful to use orange tape and trail starz to ribbon around my stand tree at eye level from where I shot. After noting several terrain features near where the deer was standing and where it ran too, I tie on the ribbon or trail starz before coming down. From the ground looking back up to the ribbon, I can get a better visual for locating exactly where the deer was and went.

* Before beginning the tracking, mark where you shot the deer with ribbon or trail starz on a branch.

* Mark the trail periodically with more ribbon or trail starz as you track. This will give you a line on the deer's travel.

* When you find the arrow, check for hair, tallow, blood, etc. This will give you a good clue on how to track. Example: Tallow and slime means you should wait 4 hours.

* Check for blood carefully, walking off to the side of the run.

* Look for blood on trees, saplings, and leaves that are about the same height as the wound. Blood will sometimes rub off the body.

* If tracking as a group, spread out a little. Keep noise to a minimum. In tracking, sometimes "too many cooks can spoil the stew." It would be better if only 2 or 3 people tracked the deer. If the blood trail runs out, you can always get more help to search for the deer

* While tracking a deer that you have shot and you jump a deer and it flags its tail, it's probably not your deer. A wounded deer will very seldom "flag." BUT - check it out anyway.

* Gut-shot deer have a habit of going to water. If you lose a gut-shot deer's trail, check out the water holes in the area. He could be down by one.

* Tracking at night presents special problems with visibility. The blood and the deer will both be hard to see. A Coleman gas lantern will help a lot in both cases. If the deer is not hit well, and no rain is forecast, wait until morning. If he is dead in 10 minutes or 4 hours, he will still be dead in the morning.

* Take a compass bearing to where you last saw the deer, and another one to where you last heard any noise from it's flight. It might prove very helpful.

* It helps to have someone who did not shoot the deer to help with the blood trial. Many an experienced hunter in his excitement misses things.

* Stay off of the blood trail, and use a small piece of ribbon or trail starz to mark each spot

* Get down on your hands and knees when a blood trail is hard to see it helps. From this angle while night tracking you can shine the light in the direction of travel and often see blood that does not show when standing over it.

* Look at the bottom of leaves on branches at deer body height. Sometimes as the branch slides along the body of a deer it is the under side of the leaf that picks up the blood.

* You will often find a gut shot deer or liver shot deer dead in the water not just beside it. so look for an ear or the side of the deer in deeper water too.

* Some shots that look good may be one lung or a poor liver hit because of the angle. These deer can take several hours to die. Be careful about pushing them to soon, since they will rarely leave much blood sign if they are jumped when bedded.

* Look ahead as you blood trail for deer parts and movement. Your deer may still be alive and you might be able to get a second shot or back off with out spooking it.

* Look for disturbed leaves and broken twigs as well as for the blood sign on hard to follow blood trails.

* It is often hard to follow a blood trail in grass. It seems that the blood can fall all the way to the ground without hitting a single blade of grass.

* Look for clusters of ants, flies and daddy longlegs. You can find small drops of blood because these bugs are feeding on it.

* Often times when the blood trail seems to end you will find the animal off to one side and not in the same direction of travel for he has ďbled outĒ.

* Listen for birds like magpies, jays, and crows. Sometimes they make a ruckus where the animal lies dead.

* Be persistent!

* A dog can often prove very useful if legal. Even your house pet. They can see with their nose what we can not see with our eyes.

* Use your nose. sometimes you can smell a deer you can't see. A gut shot is even more likely to have a smell.

Darrin Bradley

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