How to Track a Wounded Deer

The key to a successful recovery may call on skills of how to track a wounded deer following squeezing the trigger or releasing the arrow!

Tracking a deer too soon can push that deer off the property you are hunting on, especially if the area you are hunting is small, and onto another hunter’s or landowner’s property, who may not let you to pursue it any farther.

Once the shot has been fired (having a bright fletch helps see the arrow), watch the reaction of the animal.
  • If the deer drops straight away, it is probably a brain or spinal column shot
  • If the deer jumps a bit in the air, it is usually a heart or lung shot. Sometimes the deer simply run off, but usually don’t get much further than 200 yards
  • If the deer hunches up with its tail down as runs away, it is usually a gut shot
  • If the deer receives a shot to the legs, it often jumps or stumbles a bit and then runs
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Mentally note the location where you shot the animal, and continue watching it with binoculars and note where you lose sight of it, and keep listening in case you can hear it moving/crash.

Unless you can see the deer lying on the ground, STAY where you are for a while. If you were using a firearm, wait up to half an hour. If using a bow, wait at least a couple of hours. If you think it was a gut shot, wait 6-8 hours before tracking the deer.

When you get to the place where the deer was hit, mark the spot so you can come back to it if you lose the trail, and look very carefully for:
  • Hair – lots of hair tends to indicate a grazing shot [brown hair indicates a high shot, white indicates a low shot], and a small amount can indicate a hit to the body
  • Bone fragments – usually indicates a leg has been hit
  • Blood – be careful not to stand on blood on the ground. Fresh blood is bright red, however once it has dried, it is much harder to distinguish from the surrounding vegetation. Look on surrounding brush and leaves up to chest height for blood left as the deer has brushed past the vegetation
  • Fine drops of blood, sometimes up to a metre off the ground indicates a shot to the heart, lungs or large blood vessels in that area. It may also contain small bubbles of air. The deer has been fatally hit, and won’t be going too far. If only one lung has been hit however, the deer can travel further before dropping
  • If there are patches of blood that are regular for 100-200 yards, and then start to diminish – it indicates a hit to the body muscles in the neck, back or legs. These blood trails can dry up as bleeding slows. These deer can travel a long way if they feel they are being pursued. If you see this type of blood, wait a couple of hours before tracking
  • A blood trail of small drops, sometimes green or brownish coloured with food particles and a strong smell will indicate a gut shot. As these deer run off the blood is diverted away from the gut to the muscles, so the blood trail diminishes. When the deer stop and rest for a while, blood returns to the gut and moves away from the muscles. The deer then finds it harder to get up, and can bleed to death in the bedding area if not pursued
  • Tracks, kicked up leaves, and dirt marks indicating the deer has walked/run in that direction. This may be the only sign once the bleeding stops or you lose the blood marks
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When hunting with a bow, there are several points to note:
  • The ideal shot is a double lung shot. The ground where the deer was standing when hit should contain blood, and with a pass through shot, there should be plenty of blood. The animal should be found within a hundred yard radius. If the angle of the shot is steep, it is likely only one lung will be pierced. If no other major organs are damaged, some deer can survive with only one lung. These deer should be left for 2-3 hours before pursuing
  • If a major artery was hit, there should be plenty of blood to follow, however there are situations where a high shot with no exit hole allows the blood to pool in the chest cavity, leaving a poor blood trail to follow. The key is knowing where your arrow probably hit, and what damage it has done
  • A muscle hit is unlikely to kill the animal, but that is no excuse for not tracking it. If there is snow on the ground, you can start tracking it straight away. If there is no snow, wait 2-4 hours before tracking the deer
  • Gut shot deer can survive a long time so it is important not to pursue them straight away. Leave them 6-8 hours. The deer often seek heavy cover or water, so bear that in mind when tracking. Because they can be so hard to track, it is helpful to get some help from your friends
  • 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 deer to bleed out. Wait 4 hours before pursuing these deer. If they are not pushed, they usually bed down within a hundred yards
If you lose the blood trail, you can use a product called Starlight Bloodhound to see blood in the dark.
  • It can only be used in the dark.
  • It is sprayed on the ground or vegetation and glows bright blue on contact with blood. It actually works best when the blood has been washed away after a rain.
  • It can highlight blood that is not visible to the naked eye. It is a tool however, and doesn’t take away the need for the skills of tracking.

REMEMBER:  If you are not sure whether to search straight away for a deer you have shot – WAIT! Your chances of a successful recovery depend on it.

You owe it to the deer to find it after you have shot it!

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