Despite what we see on TV and video, not all arrows loosed at deer pass through both lungs, and not every gunshot results in a buck dropping in its tracks. Hunt long enough, and you WILL make a marginal hit on a deer. So how do you handle the situation when you know your shot wasn’t immediately fatal?

My friend Dan Schmidt — a veteran whitetail hunter with many deer to his credit — faced just such a situation while hunting during Wisconsin’s firearms season last month. Dan spotted a great buck following a doe through the woods, and used calling to lure the pair within shooting range. When the buck stopped just over 40 yards away, Dan aimed his bolt-action shotgun (central Wisconsin is shotgun-only) and fired. Both deer ran off, and though Dan was sure he’d hit the buck, he didn’t feel confident in his shot placement. He inspected the area where the buck was standing and had his suspicions confirmed; a few spotty patches of dark-red blood, some white hair, and not much else.

So it was dilemma time. Taking up the track was tempting; hunting pressure is intense in this area, and someone else could stumble upon Dan’s buck and finish the job. Also, the tract he hunts is small; just over 40 acres, surrounded by private land that is also hunted. If the buck laid down shortly after disappearing, going in to finish it off would spare him having to ask the neighbor’s for permission to track the buck. And, finally, the universal motivation we all experience; shoot a deer, and the natural inclination is to rush in and claim your prize.

Fortunately, Dan ignored all that. “I felt the most likely scenario was that I’d somehow gut-shot the deer,” Dan says. “And experience has taught me to wait a minimum of 10 hours before tracking in that situation. It was difficult, but I decided to wait. It helped me that it seemed the buck had run toward a 3-acre mini-sanctuary we’d established on the property. I felt if he got there, he might lie down and die.” So Dan left the woods, came back the following morning, and found the dead buck after tracking it to the sanctuary. And guess what? The carcass was still warm, indicating the animal had died only hours before. Had Dan pushed the issue, this is one trophy that might have eluded him … but died eventually.


Perhaps Buck Tracker readers have similar tales to tell. How do you handle wounded deer? Do you trail alone or with companions? Any tips you can offer that will help readers as they blood trail deer? Write ‘em in our comments section.

Buck Stats
Date: November 17, 2007
Location: Waupaca County, Wisconsin
Weight: 200 lbs, field dressed
Points: 13
Green Score: 161”
Firearm: Marlin Model 512, bolt action shotgun
Shot distance: 42 yards.
Method: Tree stand