Tracking Your Prey

Call me a softy, but when I shoot a deer, I like to kill it immediately. I hate tracking deer in cold, muddy environments, and I especially hate to cause unnecessary suffering on the part of the deer. I usually hunt in south and east Texas, so our whitetail deer are not normally very large. I use a .270 or 30.06 caliber round with one of a couple scoped bolt action rifles, so as long as my gun is properly sighted in, I usually do not have a problem. There are occasions however, that despite a perfectly placed shot, the deer just seems to be able to run forever. I chased a deer that had a hole in its heart 200 yards in the thickest, briar patch infested scrub brush you have ever seen. Tracking deer is something that most deer hunters will have to do eventually, so it is best to be prepared.

Preparation starts at home. Gather some supplies together before you leave for your hunt and put them in a bag. Any small pack or dump pouch will do, my backpack/hydration bag works perfect for me. Gather up a flashlight, some snacks, water, hydrogen peroxide in a squirt bottle, and a roll of biodegradable flagging ribbon. If nothing else gets packed, the flagging ribbon and the flashlight are the absolute must have’s.

White Tailed Deer

When you first take the shot, and the deer doesn’t go down, watch its reaction, if it jumps when it’s hit, it might be a heart or lung shot. It will most likely not get very far if this is the case. If your shot went awry, and you hit it in the leg, you might see it go down, and try to stumble away. Should this happen, it would be a good idea to deliver a finishing shot before you attempt to approach your prey. A gut shot is the worst type of scenario. The deer is going to be wounded and frightened, and will probably run quite a distance before it decides to bed down. If it is a gut shot, the deer might run with its tail down.

When you shoot, don’t jump out of the stand immediately. Make a note of where you shot the deer and watch where it runs. It will most likely head to thick brush to hide. If you follow the deer too soon, it will hear and smell you coming and keep running. Go to the spot where he took the hit. If you see a great deal of fur, you might have grazed the deer. If you don’t see too much hair, you probably have a body shot. If you see bits of bone, a leg shot is probable.

When looking at blood, take note of where the blood lies. If it is up high, in tall grass, you might have a shot to the heart or lungs. If there are air bubbles in the blood, you have a lung shot, and you won’t have to track your prey very far. Blood that is very dark red with bits of green in it indicate a gut shot, and you might be in for a long trek. If the blood trail gets thin, or you aren’t sure that what you are looking at is actually blood, use your hydrogen peroxide spray bottle, the blood will bubble up just like it does on an open wound. As you get into the woods, liberally use your flagging ribbon. Tie it around trees or branches at eye level or higher. Keep your ears open too, a deer falling on the ground can make a very audible “thud.” Remember not to let yourself get thrown off by tracks. If it is a trail often used by deer, you may be following the wrong buck.

Image Courtesy of Matthew J Obrien

While on the trail, don’t move forward until you see the next drop of blood. If you loose track, and don’t see any blood, move back to the last spot and search for more sign. Should you not see any blood at all, try to look for the path of least resistance. You could get lucky and pick up the trail again, if you still don’t see any, move back again and use your spray bottle. Take your time and don’t try to rush, if it gets dark, who cares, you have your flashlight and flagging ribbon, right? If the blood trail abruptly stops, look around for a spot with heavy brush. A deer on the run will try to bed up in order to hide, especially if it is running out of energy. Typically, this is where the deer will expire. Once it lies down, it usually won’t get back up.

Keeping these simple tips in mind will make it a bit easier to track your prey the next time it runs off. I figure there is no reason to shoot an otherwise harmless animal unless you intend to eat it, so recovering your prey is the most essential part of your hunt.

Shooting in Foul Weather


Gathering rain clouds don’t have to postpone your springtime trip to the range.

As the winter weather ebbs away and warmer breezes encourage us to get outside and enjoy the return of spring, many of us begin to gather our rifles, pistols, and shotguns and head out to the range to get some practice after a long winter spent indoors. With the return of warmer temperatures comes spring rains and weather that is, while somewhat warmer, a wet and soggy mess. It’s not just the rains that can turn your outdoor range into a mud hole, melting snow after months of accumulation can turn normally solid ground into a boot sucking swamp.

Most people are deterred from heading outdoors when dark clouds gather and rain pelts the roof of the house. Even when the sun is shining, a soggy trail suitable for only a 4-wheel drive vehicle can keep many shooters from reaching their outdoor shooting range. But others, like myself, are undeterred. Come rain, shine, snow, or hail… ok, maybe not hail. That stuff hurts. But barring hail, lightning, or a howling tornado, you can likely find me braving the elements.

Foolish? Some might say so, but I disagree. There is an old axiom that you should “Train like you fight.” Now, I’m not in the military, and I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not out there practicing dynamic entries or running a “tactical” pistol and rifle transition course, though I might practice transitions for an upcoming 3-gun match. Even though, in all likelihood, my life will never depend on my skills with a rifle or pistol, I feel that it is valuable to shoot under varying environmental conditions.

Late Season Deer Hunting

As deer season progresses, deer become scarce quickly. It seems that as soon as the rut ends, they all just up and disappear.

Obviously, they’re still there, but where and how do you locate deer that seem to have gone nocturnal? It’s not easy, but late season deer can be hunted with success, you just have to adapt your hunting strategy.

Many hunters fill their tags within the first few days of deer season. What’s more, fierce winter weather deters many hunters who don’t want to endure the elements in the late season. For the late season deer hunter, this is good, as it means that you won’t have to worry about large numbers other hunters being around. Deer are often pressured early in the season when there are large numbers of hunters eager to get their deer during the rut. In the past I’ve had great success hunting deer as late as January when they’ve had time to relax from the pressure of early season hunting.

During the rut, many hunters set up in the early morning in blinds and tree stands where they will be able to rattle or call up a buck. But the rut is a crazy time for deer, between intense hunting pressure and the powerful hormone drive to mate. When deer go nocturnal, relenting to the pressure of the onslaught of hunters, they are less active in the early morning. The midday and afternoon however can be more productive.

Too many hunters hunt the rut exclusively, thinking that deer behavior during that time is “normal”. It is not – deer are so caught up in their hormone driven activities, they throw caution to the wind. It is only as the rut fades that deer return to normal.

No matter how much or how little hunting pressure there is, deer still need to eat. After the rut, bucks turn their attention to food. All of the sparring and mating of the rut leaves most bucks run-down and searching for food. Likewise, does that have been bred during the rut increase the amount of food they consume. Though they remain bedded down during the day, by the afternoon they become hungry and are forced to head back to forage at nearby food sources.

Identify food and water sources. Deer will bed down nearby to established food and water sources. When the pressure is on, they won’t want to travel far for fear of being exposed. Fresh hoof prints and droppings are signs of activity that will allow you to easily identify where the deer are feeding, and which trails they are using.

Once you’ve identified a food or water source, find the deer trails that lead back to their bedding areas. Bedding areas are carefully planned by deer: they are extremely good at choosing bedding locations with multiple escape routes. It is extremely difficult to stalk a deer that is bedded down. A bedded down deer that scents you will explode out of the bedding location and all you will see is the white flash of tail as it bounds away at breakneck speed. Even if you do get the drop on a bedded down deer, it is still difficult to get a good shot at a vital area.

To hunt bedded deer, set up near the identified food source, or along an active trail to and from the food source. Pay close attention to the wind direction to avoid alerting the deer to your scent.

Finally, it’s not unusual to have a second, or even third rut. Though not nearly as active as the first fall rut, secondary ruts can still bring out the bucks and does who have not been bred in the first rut. Does will reach estrus every 28 days, so if you’ve pinpointed the first rut, knowing when the second rut will come is a simple calculation.

In a secondary rut, rattling will not be quite as productive as grunting and calling, but you can still rattle up the odd buck or two. It’s not unheard of to find two or even three of four bucks chasing a doe during the second rut, completely oblivious to anything going on around them. Giving a few soft grunts or a short rattle can bring the deer your direction and present you with a shot.

If you don’t mind facing harsh weather and deer who are back to their usual cautious ways, then the late season is for you. Scouting ahead to identify where the deer are and where their trails are is key, but once you’ve identified them, you can rest easy in the fact that the deer will come.

Hog Hunting At Night

So, I’m about to head out of the office for a weekend hunting trip. I’m heading to a North Texas ranch where the local feral hog population has gotten too large. We’re going to be hunting mostly at night when the hogs are the most active.

Maximum Point Blank Range and the Battlesight Zero

The MPBR is the maximum range at which the bullet rise and drop stays within the vital area of your target. Anyone who has been in the U.S. Army or Marine Corps is familiar with a battlesight zero or improved battlesight zero (BZ0 or IBZ0). The concept for an MPBR or battlesight zero is pretty much the same: zero the rifle so that you get a point of aim that is effective over the longest range.