Its the end of October and you’re out hunting your best property. The buck you’ve been chasing for the past 2 seasons has been showing up on trail camera recently and the wind is right. At the end of a long sit in your treestand, you hear a rustle of leaves. Without warning the buck busts out into the clearing. You raise your bow. There’s no time to check your rangefinder…the buck is moving too sporadically. He could be gone in seconds. “Is it 25 or 40 yards?” you think to yourself. “It must be 40,” you decide. Raising your bow you draw it back and fire. You hear the loud thwack of the arrow hitting flesh. You’re shaking from the adrenaline. “I got him!” you think to yourself. The giant buck staggers and wavers like he’s about to go down. Then he rears back and sprints away. He runs further than you can see through the trees. The unthinkable has happened. You have shot a deer that doesn’t go down.
What To Do Next
First don’t panic. There’s a good chance the animal is down. You see even with a heart shot from a bow, the deer can often run for 60 seconds or so before it falls dead. When a rifle or shotgun hits a deer it can cause hydrostatic shock due to the impact of the projectile on the animal’s soft tissue. This can cause an animal to drop dead almost instantly upon the impact of the bullet. However, when hunting with archery equipment the animal typically dies as a result of blood loss. Rather than expecting an animal to drop dead instantly, your goal with an arrow is to kill the animal via massive blood loss. This can take between several minutes and hours depending on the location of the hit. A good shot to the heart or lungs can kill the animal in a matter of minutes, while a liver shot can take 6 hours for the deer to die.
So If the deer doesn’t go down right away, don’t panic. If you can shoot the deer again and have a clean shot, you may want to do so if it appears relatively unfazed by the first shot. Overall though, your best bet here is to be patient. Don’t even think about making noise, moving, or getting down from the tree. You should stay put for 30 minutes before you do anything. First, this allows the adrenaline to run its course in your body so that when you climb down from the tree you are careful and don’t fall. Many accidents have happened from over-excited hunters climbing down to inspect a kill. Second, the deer may be close by. You don’t want to do anything to spook the animal and potentially cause it to run away if it is hiding nearby.
Stay in the tree. Take note of where you hit the animal. Make a note of what part of the deer you think the arrow hit. Also, record your best guess as to where the deer was standing when it was shot.
After 30 Minutes
After you have waited at least 30 minutes, carefully get down from the tree. Your first move on the ground should be to examine the spot where the deer was shot. Mark the location. Use your GPS, phone, reflective tape on the ground, anything—so long as you will be able to find the exact spot again later. Then begin looking for clues on the ground. Blood spatter, your arrow, fur, and disturbed leaves are all good clues you will need to find again later. Hopefully, your deer will be just around that next set of trees. However, you should be making the necessary moves now, while the trail is fresh, to help you track in case it isn’t close. Mark any blood trail you find with something you’ll be able to see later.
Examine the arrow (if it is nearby). A pass-through shot is generally a good sign if it is accompanied by blood. If you find the arrow, take note of the color of blood on the fletching and broadhead. If the blood is bright red and or has air bubbles in it there is a good chance you hit the deer in the lungs or heart. On the other hand, if the blood is dark, if the arrow has a foul odor, and if there is any fecal matter on the arrow, you likely hit the abdomen.
What you find out, will help determine the next steps you should take to find your deer. Take your time, be meticulous, and don’t rush. The steps you take when you first examine the sight of the hit will help determine if you recover the deer or never find it. It is a crime scene and you are the forensic investigator. Leave no stone unturned and record or mark everything you find.
In summary, be patient, don’t panic, and take your time.
We will cover what to do next in Part 2 of our article, “Dealing With A Wounded Deer.”