Sep 10, 2015

Handling Sub Par Shot Situations

Bloodhound Deer Tackers

By: Kasey Morgan

With Wisconsin’s archery season fast approaching, most hunters are scrambling about, trying to get tree-stands into perfect position, food plots seeded in, and trail cameras hung to patrol the forest.  All of this is being done in preparation for that buck of a lifetime. But, what is truly the most important facet of hunting?   It is safe to say that each of these steps play an integral part in harvesting that next addition to your trophy wall of fame. However, today we are going to discuss something that, although is not the “prettiest” of topics, can separate success from failure.

The ability to make lethal shots and recover your game determines whether or not your freezer will be filled this fall.  I am not going to spend a ton of time on archery technique or tactics for making great shots when that moment of truth arrives.  What I will say, in the words of the great Vince Lombardi, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”   Most archery shops have an archery professional within their walls.  As hunters, we are some of the most prideful people in the world, but seeking out someone who may know a thing or two more about hitting where you are aiming, is never a bad idea.  My next advice is to shoot, shoot and shoot! Repetition creates confidence and familiarizing yourself with your weapon of choice is extremely important when finishing the job in the land of the whitetail.  The last point I will make is about equipment.  Football players rarely practice without their pads on. It is extremely simple to throw a football without a helmet and shoulder pads. But, throw a few extra pounds of equipment on and your Aaron Rogers’ arm just went Jay Cutler in a matter of minutes.  Put the exact equipment on that you will be wearing when Mr. Big walks through your shooting lane and practice hitting the vitals.

            With all of that being said, the whitetail deer did not become the most sought after big game animal in the world by posing like a GlenDel target.  They are edgy and cautious.  Their instincts can make the most experienced of archers look like it is their first day with a bow.  This is when a few simple steps can make all the difference in the world. 

The first step in your process should be to recall the angle of the deer.  Was your animal quartering toward you, quartering away, broadside, or other?  I will pray that the option of “other” is never the case as this would mean that the shot taken is almost guaranteed to be unethical; so let’s concentrate on the first three.  Turn on the Outdoor, Pursuit, or Sportsman’s Channel when you get a chance and watch the deer as they move.  Watch deer in the wild as well and study them.  The first thing that you will notice is that they are very rarely, if ever, standing perfectly broadside.  Both their leg placement and their neck and head movements can dictate the angle of the vitals.  This is very important when taking into consideration where to place your pin upon the release.  When the near leg of a whitetail deer is positioned behind the off leg; the vitals are actually hidden behind the near leg.  Many hunters will take this shot and hit directly behind the shoulder thinking the vital organs are located behind the near leg only to bump the deer while trailing due to a misinterpretation of the organs struck by the arrow.  When the thoracic cavity of a deer is contorted because the animal is reaching back to lick a hind leg and you tap the release, what seemed like a broadside deer can quickly turn quartering away. 

Now that you have burned into your memory what angle the deer was as you took the shot, the next step is to seriously concentrate on the exact location of the arrow entrance.  As you release the arrow, without peaking and causing an errant shot, make your best effort to locate the entrance wound.  Lighted nocks can be a great asset to this process, but be careful in low light situations.  When light is at a minimum, the light from the end of your arrow can be incredibly deceiving.  

With the angle of the deer etched in your mind and the entrance wound located, it is now time to decipher the body language displayed by the deer.  Immediate examples to watch for are a hunching motion, squat and lunge, mule kick, and immediately fleeing without much reaction at all.  Next you should locate the path of flight.  When I say this I mean really truly locate where the deer went following the shot.  Make mental notes of landmarks the deer passed by, if you have a cell phone take some pictures of these landmarks from the tree.  The forest looks much different from 20 feet in the air and many tracks have been fouled by a lack of information on the flight path.  Once you have located the deer’s exit location continue your diagnosis of the deer’s body language.  Is the tail flickering indicating a potential liver/paunch type hit? Is the deer still visible?  Did it bed down, and if so, near what landmarks?  If you cannot locate the deer, do not panic, this is exactly why you took so much time to locate and recall the deer path upon exit.  You will find infinitely more deer tracking them then by aimlessly attempting to locate a carcass. 

When the woods go calm, and your adrenaline has started to subside, a time for reflection is much needed.  Recall the angle of the deer, the entrance location, the body language, flight path, and body language after the deer slowed, if still visible.  If you absolutely did not see the deer run to its death, meaning you cannot physically see the dead animal from your point of vantage, do not take up the track.  After waiting a full hour it is extremely important to not disturb the potentially downed animal.  A double lung hit deer can travel over 250 yards before expiring and although they usually cannot survive more than 10-15 minutes, a 250 yard run can put the deer right where you were planning to exit your setup. 

The biggest mistake I see, as a professional tracker, is when hunters take up the track far too soon after the shot.  The majority of the tracks that we have come up empty handed on have been the result of bumping the deer out of its initial bed.  So what is the correct amount of time to give a deer once it has been hit?  The answer is completely situational.  When dealing with a purely paunch hit deer, 12 hours is the absolute minimum, and we tend to jump quite a few deer while tracking after giving a gut shot deer 12 hours to expire.  I like to wait a full 24 hours if possible.  A paunch hit deer will expire and results in an extremely high recovery rate if handled properly.  Of the 200+ paunch hit deer we have tracked, we have never been unsuccessful. 

The toughest track we encounter is a one lung hit animal.  These hits usually produce little to no sign and a whitetail deer can survive for weeks after this hit; assuming it was only the one lung that was punctured.  If a one lung hit is assumed; the waiting period should be no less than 24 hours.  The longer you can wait, the better in this situation.  This wait period can be decreased if the hit is assumed to have hit one lung and other organs which often occur with quartering shots; however I would never drop below 12 hours.  At Bloodhound Deer Trackers we run around a 40% recovery rate with this type of hit, and again this depends on how the track is handled by the hunter.  A deer can travel great distances with one functioning lung and the animal could end up expiring miles from your property making recovery impossible.

The next common hit is a purely liver hit deer.  If the shot is presumed to be purely liver the deer should be given 8 to 12 hours before beginning to track.  A liver hit deer will usually not travel far unless bumped and the blood, although dark in color, is usually quite easy to follow.  The animals often bed within 150 yards of the hit site and will usually expire within 100 yards of the initial bed.  We run an extremely high recovery rate on this hit as well, even if the deer has been pushed by the hunter before we can arrive.  The deer usually travel between 400-500 yards once bumped, however, the scent is strong and the hounds tend to have an easy time running the line.  This information also applies to a kidney hit deer, as the liver and kidneys belong to the same bodily system.

The next three hit sites I would like to talk about are hit or miss wounds.  What I mean by this is either you hit them just right and they are dead, within an extremely short distance, or you didn’t and the animal will tend to survive.  The first is a hindquarter hit.  Once again, I mean purely hindquarter, not a hit on a quartering animal where the arrow strikes multiple locations.  If this type of hit occurs and you miss the femoral artery the deer will most likely survive.  If the femoral is cut the deer will expire in less than 200 yards.  The next is forward of the lungs or the brisket/front shoulder hit.  These types of wounds will create a copious amount of sign to begin the track and then dwindle down to basically nothing.  These types of wounds most often result in a live deer.  The last is a neck wound.  There are four possibilities with this wound: spinal, meat upper neck, esophagus, or jugular.   A spinal hit will result in an immediate death with the deer making it less than 50 yards.  The upper neck hit will most often result in a live deer with an extremely long blood trail that looks extremely promising to start; then lessens as the length of the track increases.  The esophagus hit will create similar sign to a paunch hit deer along with mucus type blood.  A deer, given ample time, will often expire with this hit although; we have encountered some extremely long tracks created by this hit.  The last is the jugular hit.  Much like the femoral artery, the jugular will cause almost instant death with staggering amounts of blood.

There are millions of different shot situations that can occur in the whitetail woods.  By touching on the most common situations that I have observed over the past five years as a tracker I hope that we can get you one step closer to recovering more game.  As hunters, it is nice to know that there is an experienced tracking hound just a phone call away. However, with a few small changes to your post shot program you can probably avoid the need all together.  I give the same advice to everyone whether they require the use of my service or not and the Stan Potts, “when in doubt, back out,” method helps trackers like myself out as well.