By Dale R. Larson
The buck is approaching just like you imagined a million times, using the side hill trail that was littered with its rubs found during scouting. You have waited all season to get the right wind to hunt this travel corridor and finally everything is coming together. The buck walks by your ambush site without a care in the world, stops to examine the preset scent bomb and presents you with the textbook broadside shot. Your bow is already drawn, and you’re settling in on your sight just like you practiced all summer.
Your mental shot process is in action, and then the arrow is gone. You think you hear the arrow hit, and the buck crashes. All the events happen in warp speed, and now the woods are silent. These actions are the most important time of a successful, or sometimes unsuccessful, recovery.
How many times have you been recruited to help find an arrowed animal, and how many times have you asked questions pertaining to the hit, direction of travel, last place the animal was seen, and received no profound answers? The answers were something like, “I’m pretty sure I hit him right behind the shoulder,” “I think he ran between those trees,” or “It all happened so fast I don’t know.”
The answers to these questions are invaluable in the recovery. It is the moment of truth, and your adrenaline is running wild. But let’s look at using your mental computer to process and store these events to aid in the recovery of the animal.
Immediately after the shot, try to see the arrow or point of impact. This will tell you how and when to proceed with the tracking. I’ve been told that with proper aiming technique and concentration on your target, you won’t see the flight of your arrow. But try as I might, I still witness the arrow’s flight. In a hunting scenario I see only good information coming from this shooting flaw, just as long as you are not dropping your bow arm when trying to see the arrow’s flight. I always build my arrows with highly visible fluorescent vanes that are seen easily even in low light.
Watch the animal’s reaction to the hit. Did it jump, take off on a dead run, kick its back legs up, hunch up in the back, act as if it wasn’t hit, run a short distance, stop and stand head down, legs apart, or run a short distance and walk off? All of these reactions will give you clues as to the type of blood trail you will have to follow, how far you can expect the deer to travel, or how soon you should start the recovery.
After logging all this information, watch its retreat and mark the last place you visually saw it with a good landmark because when you get on the ground things are invariably going to look different. A trick that I find helpful is to use a range-finder to target a specific landmark. Then, if confused when on the ground, you can always range back to your stand to reference the landmark.
Now that you have witnessed the whole transition of events, it’s time to sit down and regroup. Play back the entire shot process – the deer’s position, reaction and retreat. Do this several times. It’s important to do these playbacks immediately after the shot because this cool down period is also the time you start second guessing yourself, your shot placement, or whether you heard it go down.
Next, while still sitting in your stand, use your optics and try to locate the exact position of the deer at arrow impact. If possible, that should be the first place you go when on the ground. You’ll be able to locate cut hair from the arrow impact area that will give you valuable information to confirm your shot placement. This will aid in the trailing job. Locating your arrow will also give you needed signs.
Just before climbing down, reestablish your landmark of the last place you saw the deer. If you think you might lose this spot, mark it, then go back to the impact sight, and/or your arrow. Depending on the type of ground cover and shot placement, you might not have much of a trail to follow. But if your landmark is good, at least you will have short-circuited the trail by that much. On more than one occasion, this marking of the last place sighted has been the lifesaver on picking up the trail to recovery.
This initial part of the recovery is all mental training. Just as a target shooter has a mental checklist prior to each shot to ensure accuracy, train yourself to remember the events of the shot sequence. Replaying all of the events – the buck’s approach, position after the shot, your sight picture, and the arrow impact, followed by the deer’s reactions and retreat, then the last seen landmark – should be personalized to your own method of memory. With repeated use of this list, it will come naturally, and you will be collecting the complete data needed to recover the deer.
This article was published in the September 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.