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.
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.
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.