Oct 14, 2010

Hunting, Part 9: After the Shot

In Part 8, you pulled the trigger.

If everything went according to plan, there is now a deer within reasonable proximity to you with holes in vital organs. You took the shot, watched him run off, made note of where he went, and sat back down to replay it in your mind and relax.

No, seriously, sit the hell down and RELAX. Call your hunting partner and let him know. Watch the squirrels. Watch the leaves. Read a magazine. Watch for another deer if you're feeling confident.

If you start tracking a deer as soon as it's shot, you're going to be pushing an injured deer. They'll keep running from you, trying to find a spot to bed down and die. A deer that is pushed hard after being shot can cover a tremendous distance, and will end up with muscles loaded with lactic acid and adrenaline. All that gets you is tough and gamey meat.

Wait twenty or thirty minutes before you climb down*. Do so safely; unload your gun, lower it down, unhitch yourself from the tree, and make your way down. Hunter Ed classes will tell you to go looking for your deer with an unloaded gun. I don't agree with this. Load it back up and find where you shot the deer. Go slow. Look for blood, hair, scat - anything indicating an injured animal. Mark the area. Either push a stick into the ground, or hang a small piece of toilet paper from a tree branch.

Start walking the direction you saw the deer go. You're looking for drops of blood. If you're lucky, these will be large and obvious, but that's rarely the case. Walk to the side of the path the deer took so you don't disturb any sign they left. In addition to drops of blood, look for hair, broken twigs, upturned leaves or dirt, or scat. Each time you find one of these things, mark it as mentioned above. Don't stick your fingers in the blood - those tiny little drops are all you have if you need to backtrack. (I do mean tiny, too. I tracked a deer that I shot with a .270 through five-foot-tall goldenrod in the middle of summer, following spots of blood no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. It's tedious, time-consuming work, and it's your responsibility.)

If you completely lose the trail, there are a few options, none of which are fun. The first thing to do is to go back to the last place you had definite blood - not just tracks, but wet red blood. Start working your way outward in a spiral pattern, going slow and keeping your eyes peeled. When you find a spot, mark it, and repeat the process. You may find that the deer made a 90-degree change in direction. As you walk, look from side to side. Look under brush. It's not uncommon for a deer to run a fair distance, then double back and hunker down under some brush to hide.

If that doesn't work, you can try tracking lights - there are a few out there from various makers. I haven't tried any, but the idea is the use of an UV light to make fresh blood fluoresce.

Another option, if you've exhausted everything else, is tracking dogs. DeerSearch.org is available in New York - they provide trained dogs to track wounded deer that are otherwise untrackable. Check out their web site, and if you do need their services, PLEASE give them a donation - these hunters are giving up their own time to help us out.

How far are you going to be tracking? If you're lucky, only a couple hundred yards. A deer shot perfectly through both lungs and the heart can still run a solid quarter-mile before collapsing. An imperfect shot can take them even further - which is why not pushing them is so critical.

If you're tracking in snow, your job is, obviously, much easier. Tracks are clear as day, blood is blatantly obvious, and the deer will (hopefully) stand out against the snow. The methods should be the same, though - it's entirely possible for a deer to cross a stream and you'll be backtracking or walking in the creek to find where it came out. Preserve the track as much as possible.

Once you've found your deer, it's time to make sure it's dead. A good (but not perfect) indicator is the eyes: if they eyes are open and it's not moving, it's likely dead. If the eyes are closed, it's probably still alive. To be absolutely sure, use a stick and poke an eye - a live deer is going to react to this, a dead one (obviously) won't.

If it's not dead, you have two options: Wait or shoot it again. I fall solidly into the "shoot it again" camp. Part of hunting is making a kill as cleanly and humanely as possible. That means a mercy shot if needed. A good revolver is perfect for this; .357Mag or .44Spl (my preference) are both great utility cartridges and will finish a deer without destroying any more meat than necessary. Don't aim for the head or neck. Place your shot above and just behind the front leg, into the chest. Two shots is my usual, just for a little quicker death.

At some point, you're going to be looking an animal in the eye when you kill it. It's not an easy thing to do, and seeing the spark fade from their eyes is a humbling moment. After you've done that, say a little thank-you to whatever floats your boat - the deer, the woods, Yahweh, or the FSM. This is as intimate with the omnivorous food chain as it's possible to be. Meat does not come shrink-wrapped on styrofoam trays. It starts as a living, breathing, animal. You have to respect that as a hunter; if you can't, I'd prefer not to share my woods with you.

* - There is ONE exception to waiting. That is when an animal you've shot has been wounded to the point of immobility but is still within immediate sight. I've had this happen a few times; the best thing to do is climb down and finish the animal quickly and humanely.


Ross said...

Good series, Zercool - just stumbled across it yesterday. With any luck, I'll be going hunting with Nickle next month and it'd be flat out great to finally get a deer...


WV: Forked - as in, he forked another bite of venison into his mouth.

ZerCool said...

Ross - glad you're finding this helpful! Good luck in the woods, and watch out for Nickle. I hear he's a good shot when he wants to be, but I have never seen him pull the trigger on a live round... ;-)