Your hands are shaking, your heart is beating, and opportunity is knocking at the bottom of your treestand. The pin settles behind the shoulder and the squeeze of a release trigger begins. Arrow shaft, broadhead and kinetic energy soon meet hair, flesh and vital organs. In a matter of a few moments you’ve had an adrenaline dump, a shot sequence and now it’s time to recover the animal.
Here are some simple tips to incorporate into your recovery strategy.
1. Watch Closely
Although everything is happening at a fast pace, at the moment of the shot watch closely and make a mental note as to the exact location where the animal was standing. After the shot, do your best to mark the exact tree or bush the deer might have run past. If you’re able to watch it for some distance, stay focused on which patch of brush or thicket the deer ran into last. Use these landmarks to give you a general direction the animal traveled and as starting locations if the blood trail is sparse.
If you have a cell phone or digital camera, take some pictures from your blind or treestand of where the animal was standing. Especially when hunting from a treestand things can look very different when you get on the ground and start trying to replay the shot scenario. Viewing the pictures can help you remember exactly where the animal was standing and identify key directional markers.
2. Listen Intently
It’s natural to want to grab your phone or give some release to the pent-up emotion, but before you text your buddies or start your celebration, give it a few minutes. Cup your hand to your ear and listen intently in the direction the animal ran. The sound of your expired animal falling down can be a key factor in finding your trophy.
3. Wait Patiently
You can be a respectable marksman, but once in a while everyone makes a not-so-perfect shot. After the shot, set your watch and disciple your mind to wait at least 45 minutes before tracking your animal. This is definitely the longest 45 minutes any hunter will experience during the season, but it will pay big dividends. Remaining quiet and stationary will help ensure you don’t push the animal any further than necessary.
Once you confirm that the shot was lethal, pursue carefully. If the blood is dark or smells like “gut” back out and wait several hours before resuming the search.
3. Look Diligently
Look carefully and do your best to locate your arrow before tracking your harvest. Your arrow will tell you about the shot placement and how good or bad your shot might have been. The telltale sign on your arrow, such as bright red blood or white hair and fat, will let you know if you can begin recovery or back out.
4. Tread Lightly
One drop of blood might be the all important landmark that speeds up your recovery. Avoid disturbing limbs, leaves or any other natural debris that might have a splattering of blood on it. Before stepping on or over it, be sure to carefully study any item that might have been in the path of your animal. If searching in thick brush, get on your knees and study limbs or small trees at the approximate height of the entry and exit wounds. A drop of blood on an undisturbed leaf or twig might be the roadmap to your trophy.
5. Go Slowly
“Buck or doe, slow is the way to go.” You’re not in a race so take it easy. Look diligently with every single step. Avoid the temptation to hurry. Study the area right where you are, find blood then move ahead.
6. Mark Individually
Take the path of patience and mark where the last drop of blood was found. Toilet paper works well for this and is biodegradable. Placing the toilet paper on a limb at eye level will allow you to look back, see over the undergrowth and will help to determine a general direction the animal is traveling.
A small spray bottle filled with hydrogen peroxide can also benefit your deer recovery. If you question whether a small red spot is definitely blood, spray the hydrogen peroxide on the spot – if it’s blood, it will immediately bubble up.
7. Back-out Humbly
“When in doubt back out” is an age-old adage, but it’s definitely worth implementing. If there is even a slight possibility your hit is less than lethal and the animal will require additional time to expire, back out, wait it out and continue your recovery efforts after the appropriate time has passed.
8. Persist Unconditionally
You owe it to the animal to look repeatedly and unconditionally. If you know you hit the deer and have given it ample time to expire, don’t give up after the first few hours of searching. When sure of a lethal hit and yet there is little sign, have some friend’s help you search. Use a GPS to grid the area in which the animal was most likely to have expired.
9. Reflect Graciously
When you find your animal take time to reflect on a great hunt and the privilege you have to be in the great outdoors. Take plenty of time to photograph your trophy in its natural environment. This animal is the reward of many hours spent scouting, preparing and waiting. Savor the moment.
10. Recover Respectively
All life is sustained by death. Respect the life you have just taken and appreciate the fact that you have been blessed with sustenance. Our friends at Lone Wolf Treestands illustrate this concept with their poster entitled “Reverence”.
If you have any additional tracking tips feel free to drop us a note.