TRAILING DEER   1 comment

IL Whitetail 0000

Your release is smooth, the flight of the arrow straight, and the sound of the impact on the deer is a familiar thwack. The deer is down, correct? All that remains is to field dress him and get to the processing location. The answer is no on both counts. There is more to do between your release and deer steaks on the grill.

Novice hunters seem to think that the deer will fall over upon impact, and some do, but most do not. An arrow kills by massive hemorrhage. During that time the bowhunter has to remain where he is as the deer disappears from sight.

Just what is the hunter’s responsibility?

First, watch the deer until it stops or vanishes from your vision. Notice where the arrow struck and evaluate the possible mortality of the shot. Notice any marking points where the animal stood when hit and where he was last seen.

Observe the animal as it moves off to see if it appears wounded or perhaps untouched. Notice the direction it takes for as long as possible. If it goes down in sight, remain very still and watch to see if it gets up.

Even if you see it go down do not move from your position. Many a deer has been lost to over archers who follow wounded deer too soon. Once a deer gets up, no matter how mortally wounded, it can travel milers before succumbing to its wounds. The adrenaline pumps through its system and keeps the animal going beyond their apparent endurance level.

An often asked question is “how long should one stay in position without moving?”

If you are not sure of the kill, it is a good idea to check your watch and wait 30 minutes. This can seem an eternity so be sure to use your watch.

After the waiting time expires approach the exact impact location and mark it. Tie a piece of cloth or other marker to the nearest brush or tree. Look for the arrow. If present mark its location. Examine the arrow for blood. It can tell you where on the animal it struck and how much penetration might have taken place. It may have fallen out as the deer ran off and will give an idea of the direction of its flight. You can lay the arrow on the ground pointing in the direction the deer fled. You may have to come back to these reference points should you lose the blood trail.

Next, look for signs of a blood trail. It can be spots on the ground, bushes, or shrubs. Even tall grasses might have blood on them.

Blood that is foamy or bubbly is from the lung area and is surely a mortal wound. Dry lung blood has little circles where the bubbles burst and left a ring. Blood from high back hits has bits of fat in it. From kidney and liver areas the blood is very dark in color. Blood with bits of green gunk in it is from a gut shot animal. This means one should not pursue it for another hour or so. If possible wait until the next day. Gut shot animals run and run if pursued. If not pursued they often will lie down and die. They are not in pain but it takes longer for them to bleed out.

Bright red blood that is not foamy is from a leg cut. Leg cuts can sever the femoral artery and the deer can go down quite quickly.

If you cannot locate the arrow it is safe to assume it is still in the animal. You may come across it later. Or you may find at least part of it.

If a blood trail is apparent then follow it through being careful to mark the trail behind you. In this way if you lose the trail you can go back, see the general direction of flight, and follow the projected path. Mark the trail in two ways.

The most popular way to mark a trail is with toilet paper. Be sure to use biodegradable paper or go back later and pick it up. There is enough litter in the woods without you adding to it. Place sheets of paper on twigs or branches wherever you see a blood sign. Soon one can look back along the trail and plainly see the pattern.

Another way of marking the trail is to stick an arrow in the ground where you find blood spore. When you run out of arrows, go back to the earliest arrow, pick it up and use it again.

As mentioned earlier in looking for blood, do not just look on the ground. It will also be on small trees and twigs against which a fleeing animal might brush. You might have to do some hands and knees looking, but that is all part of the hunt. A good tracker can follow a trail of spots no larger than a pinhead.

Other signs in addition to blood might be disturbed leaves, tracks, overturned stones or anything that might look out of place. Wounded animals in flight will tear up an amazing amount of turf in their all out flight.

During warm days early in the season, the blood will dry faster and as a consequence will appear as a dark spot on a rock. It is important to pay close attention to everything.

On the other hand, late season presents another problem. Deer hair is thicker in cold months. As a result, hair of a bleeding deer soaks up some of the blood leaving not such an obvious trail.

As you gain on the deer and the end is near you will notice changes in the appearance of the trail. Blood becomes less noticeable. The ground becomes more likely torn up as the animal stumbles and falls.

Once a downed animal is sighted approach it with caution, especially a buck. More than one hunter was gored as he approached a “dead buck” that gets up. He may live to tell the tail but a lengthy recuperation is in the picture. Be very sure any animal is dead before approaching. Do not approach the front of the animal.

To be positive an animal is dead throw a stick or stone at it. The tip of an arrow or bow touched to the eye tells the true story. If there is a response such as a blink, then it is still alive. No animal, including humans, can stand to have their eye touched without movement.

If the animal is dead, then time has come to take pictures, field dress it and drag the meat out of the woods and place in a cooler or take to the processing plant.

Tracking a wounded animal requires patience, being methodical, cautious and through. Never give up. If all signs seem to disappear, sit down and become at one with the woods. Become part of your surroundings and look for something that is out of place. Something does not belong. That is a sign something passed that way recently. Usually that is where you pick up the trail again.



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  1. Pingback: TRAILING DEER | AverageOutdoorsman

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