Field Skills: Closing the Deer Deal

For deer hunters, what you do just after the shot is as important as any part of the hunt.

Field Skills: Closing the Deer Deal

Waiting for a good shot, and then marking exactly where the deer is when you shoot, are the first two steps in easy game recovery. (Photo courtesy of Vista Media)

You finally managed to locate that late-season buck of a lifetime, made a good setup and took your best shot. Whether hunting with gun, muzzleloader or bow, if you want to recover that buck, what you do next is critical. Mess it up, and your freezer might stay empty until next year.

The absolute most critical thing to do is to accurately mark exactly where the deer was standing when the shot was made. This is most easily done before you take the shot, because afterward the adrenaline and excitement of the situation are going to make this much more difficult.

We’ve all been there before, knowing a deer was standing “just right over there,” but not knowing exactly where. You’ve got to make sure you use some kind of landmark or object to pinpoint the exact location. For situations where the deer leaves a good blood trail, this isn’t a big deal. But when blood is scarce, this can make or break your success.

The second most critical thing—nearly as important as knowing exactly where the deer was standing—is marking the precise place you last saw the deer before it disappeared from your sight. This makes your job much easier because you can often start your trailing at the point where you last saw the animal, which could be several hundred yards from where it was standing at the shot.


Find the best day and time to go hunting in your zip code

A good rule of thumb is to never leave your treestand, blind or wherever you shot from for at least 30 minutes after the shot. That doesn’t sound like much time, but it can seem like an eternity if you’re waiting to get your hands on a once-in-a-lifetime rack!


The next step, once the initial waiting is over, is when things can get tricky. When you reach the place where the animal was shot, immediately start looking for blood. Lots of blood likely means a shorter tracking job, but don’t lose heart if there’s not much there. Often animals can jump or run for some time before leaving much blood on the ground.

Tracking can be a little easier in the late season than early on, as the red leaves and grasses of fall will mostly have gone brown. Regardless, take as much time as you need to pick up and follow the trail. Eagerness to find the deer can cause you to lose the trail and have to circle back to find it again—a process that means that the faster you move, the longer it can take to find your deer.

Bowhunters need to find their arrow if they can. Bright pinkish blood with frothy bubbles on the shaft usually means a lung hit, which obviously is a good thing. Darker blood without bubbles is usually an indication of a shot to the liver or heart. Greenish, bad-smelling material on the arrow indicates a paunch hit. Blood on the ground will generally display one of these characteristics, too.

With a lung-hit deer, many hunters start trailing after the initial 30 minutes. But if you have time, I think it’s always better to wait another 30. Bumping an injured, bedded deer is never good—they usually run a long way. Giving it time to bleed out and die nearly always produces better results.


Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

For liver hits, it’s better to wait another couple of hours. For paunch shots, several hours is usually the rule of thumb. For an evening paunch shot, waiting overnight to start trailing is usually the best tactic. The only time I wouldn’t do that is if I were hunting in an area with a very high coyote population. Even then, I’d stay nearby and only pursue the trail before morning if I heard feeding coyotes yapping nearby.

Later in the season, meat spoilage isn’t as much of a concern as it is on opening day. Because of that, you can make an educated decision without having to consider the possibility of your tasty venison going bad.

While following a blood trail, you should mark your trail every several feet, since stepping back and looking at the line of markers can give you an idea of the exact direction a deer is traveling. Be sure and do it with small pieces of toilet paper or some other biodegradable material. Few things are more irritating than heading to your favorite patch of woods and coming across long marker tape trails made from materials that will still be there 30 years from now.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

13 Fishing Omen Black Baitcasting Rod

13 Fishing Omen Black Baitcasting Rod

Multiple time FLW Costa winner Jessi Mizell is no stranger to catching big Florida bass on a popping frog. As he tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, with the new 13 Fishing Omen Black baitcasting rod, the job just got easier.

Berkley

Berkley's Frittside Crankbaits

World Fishing Network show host Chad LaChance had a chance to visit with legendary crankbait master David Fritts about his new Frittside crankbaits from Berkley. LaChance, host of the Fishful Thinker on WFN, also got a few cranking tips from Fritts, the former Classic and Forrest Wood Cup champion.

Mustad

Mustad's Saltwater Jig Lineup

Russ Whisler shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the innovative features and great color schemes in Mustad's voluminous lineup of saltwater jigs introduced at ICAST 2019.

Trending Articles

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time. Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers. Other Freshwater

3 Deadly Bait Rigs For Stripers

J.B. Kasper - April 21, 2005

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers.

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures? Other Freshwater

5 Great Lures For Bluegills

Stephen D. Carpenteri - March 10, 2011

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures?

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting. Whitetail

Baiting Deer Continues to Dwindle in Midwest

Patrick Durkin - December 11, 2019

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting.

Could a new testing protocol lead to the repeal of bans on urine-based scents for deer hunting? Conservation & Politics

Perspective: Urine-Based Scent Use for Deer Hunting

Adam Heggenstaller - December 19, 2019

Could a new testing protocol lead to the repeal of bans on urine-based scents for deer hunting?

Learn the lingo to improve your odds in the whitetail woods. Whitetail

8 Deer Vocalizations You Must Master

Mike Marsh - November 26, 2019

Learn the lingo to improve your odds in the whitetail woods.

Most major deer-urine scent companies are adopting the technology. Whitetail

Commercial CWD Test for Deer Scents Available, in Wide Use

Game & Fish Digital Staff - February 20, 2020

Most major deer-urine scent companies are adopting the technology.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.