We all put a lot of preparation into having our equipment sighted in and ready. As a community, hunters have done a great job of educating one another about the importance of making a good, clean shot. Many of us in the outdoors media have been so focused on that issue that we've forgotten the second part of each successful deer hunting story: what happens after the shot.
While your heart might be pumping and your adrenaline roaring through your body, try to keep focused on what happens right after you shoot. Bow or gun, use your eyes. What did the deer do when you shot? Did it stumble or jump? Was it running crouched low or bounding upright? How about the tail: high and flagging or tucked?
Next, take careful note of the deer's path. Watch it as long as you can and pick out a tree or rock where you last saw it to use as a marker when you climb down from your stand or begin tracking.
For bowhunters especially: Listen. Many deer given up for lost are found following a hunter saying, "Well, I thought I heard some crashing over there, but it wasn't the way the deer was headed so I didn't think much of it." You can often tell if a deer falls down just by listening.
Good preparation and practice is extremely important to a successful hunt, but it is only half the job. Don't forget to focus on what happens after the shot.