Ask The Biologist

Timing Is Everything

Timing Is Everything

By Bob Humphrey

Every situation is different when it comes to tracking a deer.

QUESTION: I read lots of stories about bowhunters who shoot a buck and then back out of the woods. Many times they find the deer very close to where it was shot. It seems to me that if you do not retrieve the animal and field-dress it quickly, the meat has spoiled. In my humble opinion, such animals are wasted. Do you feel we give hunters correct information and teach about real hunting scenarios, including tracking and proper shot placement? — Pete

ANSWER: It’s difficult to generalize because every situation is unique, and this applies especially to how long to wait before attempting to recover a wounded deer. Much depends on the situation, and it’s a delicate balancing act.

If the deer is dead it’s not going anywhere, so there’s no need to rush after it. If it’s not, you risk jumping it, significantly reducing your odds of recovery. However, if you wait too long, you run the risk losing it to predators or scavengers like coyotes, or losing the trail to rain or snow, or having it spoil if temperatures are too warm.

Numerous sources recommend waiting at least 30 minutes to an hour for a bow-shot deer. That’s probably a decent general guideline, particularly in situations where you feel relatively confident in your shot. Even in the worst-case scenario waiting an hour or so is worth the risk. If you don’t find the deer within 100-200 yards it’s probably a good idea to back out and wait longer, then get help, possibly even a tracking dog, especially when tracking in the dark.

Evenings are usually cooler, and letting a deer lay overnight when it’s between 50 and 60 degrees should be no problem, at least with regard to spoilage.

If the deer is gut-shot, I recommend waiting at least 12 hours before attempting a recovery. Yes, there might be some spoilage if it’s warm, but if you jump the deer, which you will if it’s still alive, you will probably not recover it.

That’s a rather short answer. Entire books could be, and have been written on tracking wounded deer. Again, every situation is different.

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