Lessons learned in tracking
We sometimes have to remind ourselves as hunters how important it is to pay attention to every detail when it comes to taking a shot that gives us the best chance for a quick, clean kill on a whitetail.
I learned that the hard way while bow hunting near my hometown in Southwestern Minnesota on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. A 10-pointer chased two does right past my climbing stand near the Yellow Medicine River when he presented me with what should have been an easy shot and a quick kill.
The buck was standing broadside when he turned his head in the opposite direction. He had just stepped forward with his front leg that was opposite of me. In the moment, I didn’t think of waiting for him to take another step to give me a better picture of the vitals. All I saw was a perfect opportunity to draw.
I did that, calmed myself and put my pin over what I thought to be both of his lungs. I released the arrow and hit my target. When I got down, I found the arrow to be covered in dark red blood from the liver. I had completely misjudged the vitals and hit him further back than I wanted.
My emotions went from excitement to concern after talking things over with my dad. What transpired was a much longer tracking job than any hunter hopes for. Here are a few things I learned about tracking and ultimately finding a deer after failing to make a perfect shot.
WHEN IN DOUBT: WAIT From my own experience and talking to other hunters, this could be the best advice but maybe the hardest to follow when it comes to making a recovery.
Our initial reaction after making a shot is to want to get our hands on the deer. A lot of times, this leads to bad decisions.
I backed out after seeing my arrow and went back home to eat supper with my family. I wrestled with what to do, but a couple hours passed and we went after him. We found dry blood where I hit him and where he stopped within sight of my stand.
We lost it and started moving through the cover where they normally bed down. It wasn’t long before we found a fresh blood trail that led out of the woods. We backed out, but the damage had already been done.
If there’s any doubt about the shot, wait. I should have given him at least four hours if not waited until morning. It’s a mistake that could have cost me on this deer.
HAVE A TRACKING PARTNER I don’t think I ever would have found my buck if it wasn’t for the help of my father-in-law, Mike. He came back to the woods with my dad and me at first light the next morning. It wasn’t long before we lost the blood trail heading into a small field that was in CRP.
As the hunter, we still want to rush everything. I was upset that I didn’t make a better shot. The only way to alleviate some of that disappointment is by finding the deer. It can be easy to forget about the necessary steps to make that happen.
My dad and I started walking up and down the field thinking the deer had probably bedded back down in the grass. Meanwhile, Mike kept searching for blood and eventually found it. Now we were back on course.
The buck had kept running all the way through the field and into the neighboring land. We followed drops of blood through grass and over the black dirt of a plowed corn field for almost a mile before we hit a huge field that was in CRP.
The trail continued about 50 yards into the grass before we lost it again. Finally, we started walking up and down through the thickest cover.
We did this for more than an hour with no sign. Mike figured our best chance was to walk a path through the middle of the field that had been beaten down by vehicle traffic to see if we could find blood.
It wasn’t long before he did.
The buck had crossed the tire tracks and into the other side. I followed the blood about 15 feet before finding him.
I was so focused on the end result, but Mike thought about what it would take to get there. Find a tracking partner who knows how important it is to recover the animal.
They will work hard to help do that and make sound decisions that the hunter can sometimes forget at the time.
BE PERSISTENT Don’t give up. We tracked this buck for almost five hours that morning before finding him. There were plenty of times that I thought it would be for naught, but every hour of daylight is an opportunity.
Our initial concern should be making the quickest kill possible. When that doesn’t happen, we owe it to the animals to do everything we can to make a recovery.