A few years ago I was guiding a hunter from back east. He was new to the sport, was a fair shot, but a bit short on experience.
Up front he told me that he had shot at a lot more deer than he had hit. I told him that was no problem, we would work within his limitations, and chances were we could get him a nice South Texas buck.
A couple of days into the hunt he had his chance. A good buck came out to the edge of some brush about 150 yards away. It was obvious that the buck was nervous and wasn’t going to approach the feeder, but had just stopped by to see whether there were any does hanging around.
It was a pretty long shot for a novice, but he was shooting a very accurate .308, and having seen him shoot, I was confident he could make the shot. His .308 was sighted in an inch high at a hundred yards which would put it right on the money at 150.
I was talking quietly to the hunter, trying to keep him calm. I told him to rest his rifle on the bag that we had on the window of the blind, get a solid hold, take his shooting breath and then squeeze the trigger. I told him not to rush. If the buck left before he got the shot off, we would just find another, which might even be bigger.
He took me at my word. I thought he would never get the shot off, but finally the gun roared. The buck bucked, kicked at its belly, and started off into the thick brush at top speed. It was out of sight in split second. I grinned and looked over at my hunter. His face was a picture of anguish.
“Damn,” he said. “I thought I was on that one.”
I told him he was on it and that it would be dead a few yards into the brush. I could see he didn’t believe me.
We waited the prescribed 15 minutes and then climbed out of the blind and walked over to where the buck had been standing. You could see in the dirt where the buck had kicked and then dug out.
I followed the tracks into the edge of the brush and there found the first big splash of blood. My hunter looked at the blood like it was a box of pure radium. His eyes were bugged out so far that you could have scraped them off with a stick.
“Heart shot,” I told him. “They nearly always take off like that when they’re hit in the heart.”
At first he grinned, and then he frowned. “Gosh, I wouldn’t have even come over to look. I thought I had missed him clean. I wonder how many of those other deer I thought I missed had been hit?”
Yeah. Me too.
We found the buck about 50 yards out into the brush. It was hit square in the heart.
I am astounded by the number of hunters who believe that every deer hit in the chest with a high-powered rifle will fall down dead. The truth is, although some do, some don’t.
I would guess, looking back over four decades of hunting deer, that more of them I have shot have run than have dropped in their tracks. If a hunter tells me that every deer he has ever shot has dropped, I know one of two things. One, he has not shot very many deer. Or two, he, like the hunter above, has not gone over to see about some that were hit, but did not drop.
Rule number One: Always go over to the place where the deer was standing and check to see if it was hit. If there is no blood on the spot, follow the deer to see if it bleeds later.
This is something that happens a lot. I have seen deer that were hit solidly, but did not leave any blood on the ground for astounding distances. Also, a great many deer hit in the lungs will give absolutely no indication of being hit, regardless of the power of the rifle they are shot with. They will simply run off as if they were scared, only to run out of oxygen and die within less than a hundred yards, and often in less than 50.
Even if there is no blood, there may be other signs. A lot of times the bullet cuts off some hair. If the hair is the color of the deer in general, it is a body shot. If the hair is very dark or black, it is from the upper body, maybe a graze across the top of the back. If the hair is light or white, it is from the lower body or the belly.
Rule number Two: Listen for the sound of the bullet striking the deer. You can’t always hear the bullet hit, especially at very close range, but you usually can. The sound of the strike can tell you a lot about where you hit the animal. If the sound is a hollow, watery sound, you can bet that it was a gut shot. If it is a solid thud, it is usually a hit in the chest. If it is a sharp crack, you probably hit a bone.
For a number of reasons, a deer might not leave blood at the point of impact. The skin is elastic and not solidly attached to the body underneath. When the deer jumps and runs, the skin may cover the entrance wound. The deer might run some distance before the hole is uncovered. Also, the hair of the animal, especially the soft, furry undercoat, can soak up an unbelievable amount of blood.
Once, when my brother shot a deer with his .45 auto, the deer ran about 75 yards before it stopped, wobbled around, and fell over. When we got to the deer there was no blood apparent at the wound site. But when I put my hand on the deer at the hole, it came away covered with blood. The hair had soaked up the blood like a dry sponge.
Another time I shot a buck that was above me on the ridge of a hill. At the shot the buck took off like the devil was riding his coattails and was out of sight over the ridge in a second.
I didn’t think I had hit it, but I followed rule number one. When I got to the spot where the buck had been standing I could find no evidence of a hit. I picked up the deer’s tracks and began to follow it.
About 15 yards into the brush I found a huge gout of blood. From there on it looked like someone was carrying a full bucket of red paint which was slopping over the top. I didn’t know a deer had that much blood.
When I found the deer it had run about 40 yards and run into a cedar tree, completely shattering the tree. It was dead on its feet when it hit the tree. The shot had been a solid chest hit. Had I been less experienced, I might never had climbed up that steep hill, and I would have lost a nice trophy.
The last thing I have to tell you is that the color and texture of the blood can tell you a lot. If the blood is pink and frothy, it is from the lungs. If it is dark and greasy looking, with streaks of yellow and green or brown, it is from the guts. If it is dark and ropy, it is probably from an artery or the heart. If it is bright red, like the fake blood in the horror movies, it is generally from a muscle wound.
Now most of these things are generalities. They are not hard and fast natural laws, but they are true most of the time. The most important thing is that you should learn from your experience.
Learn to track, learn to see what is on the ground, look for small signs as well as large. Sometimes the blood sign is little drops as small as bird shot from a shotgun. Sometimes the blood sign is not on the ground, but will be on the stems of grass and bushes.
I cannot tell you everything you need to know in a short piece like this, but what is in this article will take you a long way down the road to being able to find the deer you hit.
—story by Steve LaMascus