All the target practice in the world can’t guarantee against the occasional flubbed shot—especially when there’s a big buck involved. But if you hit a deer too far back or too high, it doesn’t mean your hunt is over. Knowing what to look for during and after a bad shot can give you clues on how to react and will mean the difference between finding your buck and going home empty-handed. Here are a few of the most common misplaced shots, how to tell when you’ve made them, and what to do after the fact.
1) The Shot: High Chest Hit
Deer’s Reaction: A deer hit in the so-called “dead zone” (which is a bit of a misnomer) between the lungs and spine will likely tuck its tail and run but otherwise act -uninjured. It can go 200 yards or more before bedding down.
Blood Sign: Sticky shreds of pink meat all over your passed-through arrow is the telltale sign that the shaft entered above the lungs and went through the saddle. A modest, bright-red blood trail will peter out within 100 yards.
Recovery Plan: So close to a good shot, yet it’s often not lethal. Your best chance is with a second arrow. After a couple of hours, take up the trail with your bow, preferably alone.
2) The Shot: Paunch Hit
Deer’s Reaction: A gut-shot deer will buckle sharply on impact and labor out of sight. It will look mortally wounded (because it is) and will rarely go more than 100 yards before bedding down.
Blood Sign: This arrow will pass through, too, and the first thing you should do is look and sniff for stomach contents on the shaft and especially around the fletchings. The blood trail will be thick, dark, and sparse.
Recovery Plan: Remember two things: First, this deer will eventually die if left undisturbed. Second, if you bump it from its bed, your odds of recovery plummet. So don’t be in a hurry. Give it at least six hours before taking up the trail.
3) The Shot: Shoulder Hit
Deer’s Reaction: The deer will typically run frantically out of sight with its tail tightly tucked. As always, you should keep a sharp eye on the animal and listen closely as it flees. You may actually see or hear it go down.
Blood Sign: This hit often stops the arrow, so blood on the ground may be minimal. But blood found on a broken shaft will reveal the depth of penetration.
Recovery Plan: If you hit the shoulder high with minimal penetration, it was probably nonfatal. A lower hit 7 or 8 inches deep will get at least one lung, the heart if you’re lucky. Wait two hours, then bring a friend to help search.
4) The Shot: Ham Hit
Deer’s Reaction: Deer hit in the hams tend to have difficulty running and may fall down repeatedly as they try to escape. If you know you hit too far back, don’t let the sound of a falling deer fool you into taking up the trail too soon.
Blood Sign: The hams are full of blood vessels, including the femoral artery. A solid hit leaves a heavy, bright-red trail. The arrow usually doesn’t pass through, but it may break, leaving a portion that reveals penetration.
Recovery Plan: No one aims at the butt, but the truth is, there are worse places to hit a deer. If you leave this animal alone for two hours, the chances are good that you’ll find it within 200 yards.
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5) The Shot: Liver Hit
Deer’s Reaction: Deer hit in the liver act like deer hit in the guts. After buckling and laboring away, they may go a bit farther (up to 200 yards) before bedding down. On the other hand, they die faster.
Blood Sign: Your arrow will zip through the deer, and when you recover it, the shaft and fletchings will be soaked in dark-red blood. The trail, however, may consist of only droplets that disappear for stretches of 10 to 20 yards.
Recovery Plan: Give the deer two hours before tracking and get on your hands and knees if necessary to stick with the trail. If you hit the liver, the deer is dead.