I’m not a good shot with a bow, especially when it comes to shooting at a live deer. Even after 32+ years of hunting, when I draw back on a deer there’s a fog that comes over my brain that makes me forget most of what I know about solid shooting technique. So when this handsome doe came by at 10 yards, I made One Hit (To The Body). Techniques for finding gut-shot deer can be found all over the net, but take if from “this guy” because, unfortunately, I have too much first hand experience with this topic- like the time I tracked this gut-shot javelina through the desert. Here’s what to do if you make a gut hit on a deer, or for that matter, any big game animal.
- Watch, look and listen: As always with any shot, keep your eyes on the deer as long as possible. Get a visual lock on landmarks where you last saw the animal. Everything looks differently once you’re back on the ground (assuming you are hunting from a treestand) so really put some thought and effort into nailing down a specific point that can be easily located once on the ground.
- Stay put: Okay, so you think you made a gut shot. The reality is slowly sinking in as well as the levity of the situation. Might as well drink some coffee and relax. If possible, stay in the stand for about 1 hour, unless you can still see the deer, in which case, wait as long as possible. If situations dictate that you must leave the woods (such as, SHIT, I gotta go get to work!) , slip out of the stand like a ninja.
- Next, quietly find and evaluate the arrow: Chances are that if you gut shot a deer it was a complete pass through. There will be no mistake, if you hit the paunch (stomach) the arrow will be coated with particles of stomach contents. If you hit the intestinal tract, the arrow will be coated with a brown-green slime. Either way the arrow will have some stink to it. Intestinal hits are preferable as the arrow will cause more bleeding and the deer will probably expire more quickly than a straight stomach hit. Next, slip out of the stand like a church mouse and exit the area in the opposite direction of the deer’s line of travel.
- Wait it out: Go home or go back to camp or find something to do that will take your mind off of the situation. After shooting this doe I actually Googled “how long to wait for gut shot deer”, and came up with answers ranging from 6 – 18 hours. Then I came to my senses and tapped into my personal catalog of experience and used common sense. In most cases I believe that 6 to 8 hours is an adequate time to let the animal expire but if it’s evening and getting dark, it’s much better to wait overnight. Disregard weather conditions and wait. Gut shot animals leave minimal “blood trail” anyway.
- Get confident: Know that you WILL find that deer! Every hunter strives for a quick clean kill. I feel horrible when I make a poor shot on an animal and I deeply regret prolonging the animal’s death. But, If there’s one positive aspect of a gut hit, it’s that the deer is dead- 100% of the time.
- Call in the troops: Whenever possible, call in some favors and gather your talented hunting buddies. The more boots on the ground and eyes on the ground, the better.
The Long Green Mile
Return to the spot where you last saw the animal. Now it’s time to “track”. But you’re not really tracking so much as following. Scan the ground for sign such as brown blood, gut matter, hair, tracks or disturbance but as TuPac says, keep ya’ head up. You’re doing a body search as much as anything. Move along slowly and quietly in the direction you last saw the deer. Keep in mind that the deer may still be alive when you find it. For this reason you should always carry your weapon while tracking.
As legend goes, an undisturbed gut-shot deer will typically bed down within 100 yards or so of the shot. If you waited 6-8 hours before tracking, the deer is either dead or it’s probably going to be bedded, unalert and too sick to move thus providing an opportunity to slip in and finish it off.
Remember, the deer is dead. Eliminate the “oh, I think he’ll make it” thought that can creep in on long and frustrating blood trails. You are dealing with a dead deer. Assume the deer is probably laying within 150 yards of shot. That alone should provide the confidence and dedication to stay in the woods and keep after it. Now go find it!