Deer Tracking And Recovery – Tracking A Wounded Deer

| Last Updated June 4, 2021

Big Game Logic is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

You’ve just shot the deer that you’ve patiently waited hours to find.

You’re excited and your anticipation is high, but you know that you have to exercise restraint and the proper course of action to track your deer.

What you do in the crucial moments after you shoot the deer will determine whether or not you recover your game.

First Step: Wait

The first step you take after shooting a deer is to wait. Make a mental note of where the deer was from a nearby object (a notable tree, rock, bush, or any landmark).

Depending on the location of the shot, and whether you used a gun or a bow, it will take a varying amount of time for the deer to die. Learn the different types of blood, tallow, and fur patterns for each type of shot. The minimum recommended wait time is 30 minutes, but waiting longer is recommended in several cases. 

Learning the minimum wait times depending on where you shot your deer is absolutely crucial for tracking success, and it requires a detailed explanation on its own. Attempting to pursue the deer too soon will cause it to go into hiding or to run.

You should wait in the same position that you were when you shot, and stay as absolutely quiet as possible. This is to avoid any noise that may be picked up by the deer.

How to Track Your Deer After Waiting

Once the recommended wait time has elapsed, it is time to make your pursuit. Here is how you should track your deer:

Head over to the spot where you shot the deer.

Patience is crucial. There is a good chance that you will have to wait for a longer period of time for the deer to die instead of a shorter period.

Look at the blood pattern to help you determine where you shot the deer.

Make notes of what you find along the trail (blood, hair, tallow). For instance if you find tallow, you may have to wait for 3 or more hours to track.

As you follow the trail, have something with you to mark the trail such as colored toilet paper. Drop pieces of the paper routinely to mark your trail as your track your deer.

Look for blood on trees, branches, or plants. Blood will often rub off on these as the deer flees.

If you live in a warmer client look for ants or other insects gathering on the trail floor that are feeding on blood drops.

If you can’t find blood spatters while standing, get down on your hands and knees to see the ground better.

If you suspect the deer is gut shot, it will often head for water. Look at nearby bodies of water in this case.

Stay off of the trail as much as possible. This is crucial so that you do not alter the blood pattern.

If nightfall approaches, wait until the next morning to track the deer for safety and visibility. It will make no major difference in your tracking ability to wait overnight, and the morning visibility will only help you.

Once you find the animal, approach it very carefully. Be sure that it is dead before attempting to prepare it for field dressing.

Always remember the importance of adjusting your wait time depending on where you shot the deer. And, take the above and other precautions to be as safe and humane as possible.

Tracking a deer can be quite exciting, and knowing how to properly track your deer will help ensure that you recover your game successfully.

Recovering Gut Shot Deer

No one wants to put an arrow in the guts of a deer. It takes much longer for a deer to expire from this type of wound which is obviously not a good thing for the animal and it’s mentally excruciating for a hunter. We strive for quick, clean kills. Preventing gut shots is the first step but if you hit a deer too far back, recovering the deer should be your number one priority. The good news is with today’s broadheads, the chances of recovering a poorly hit deer are still pretty good.

If you believe you hit a deer too far back the first thing you should do is nothing at all. Sit tight and watch the deer walk away. Most deer will bed down within 100 yards of where they were shot. If you climb out of the stand right away, you will probably spook the deer further from your location. The further the deer goes from your stand, the less likely a successful recovery becomes. Wait at least a half hour before climbing down. If you can see the deer, wait even longer.

After climbing down from your stand, locate your arrow. An arrow will almost always pass completely through a gut shot deer. There simply isn’t anything to stop an arrow in a deer’s abdomen. An arrow that passes through the guts may be covered with brown or clear fluid. There will be little if any blood on the arrow and it will smell horrible. Once you find the arrow, the best thing you can do is move away from the area as quickly and quietly as possible.

A gut shot deer should be given as much as 12 hours before tracking. Even then, you should bring a weapon with you when trailing. If you can bring help and they can carry a weapon do so. Gut shot deer springing from their beds even after 12 hours is not uncommon.

When it comes to trailing, marking the deer as it walks away is imperative. A gut shot deer will bleed a little but you won’t have a huge, easy to spot blood trail. Start walking toward where you last spotted the deer and keep one eye on the ground and one eye ahead of you. Move slowly and be prepared for a possible follow up shot. Bring a long some trail tape to mark blood and places you’ve checked.

Work in concentric circles from the last place blood was spotted. If it seems like the deer has disappeared, check water sources. A gut shot deer will experience flu like symptoms before expiring. It will likely crave water and look for a place to cool off. If a gut shot deer isn’t found bedded down close to where it was shot, it will often be found in or near water.

More Recovery Tips

“Thwack!” My arrow blasted into the side of a dandy doe on this crisp Saturday morning. She kicked her hind legs high in the air and ran off with her tail down. She made it about half way up the opposite ridge before crashing into the dark autumn leaves. Her escape didn’t account for more than forty or fifty yards before it ended.

This is a blessing for a bow hunter. No tracking is due to an effective, clean kill and the end result is a clear conscious and fresh venison.

All hunters want fast, humane deaths for their quarry. We’re not out there to inflict suffering on game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. 

Obviously, preseason preparation is a great way to prevent wounding deer. Practice how you hunt and fire a bunch of arrows at a variety of distances and angles. Simple deer anatomy and woodsmanship is also important. But there are times that no matter how many things you do right, things go wrong.

The biggest factor in finding wounded deer is time. Knowing how much time to leave an animal is usually the difference between recovering a deer and supplying food to the resident predator population.

What You Should Do After Your Shot

The first thing to do after the shot is determine where the deer is hit. If you hit the deer in the front third of the body, in most cases, even if it runs out of sight, time is short for this deer. If I see a deer go down, I still wait about a half hour to approach it. Sometimes, they just don’t know where the arrow came from and think it’s safe to lay down. But most of the time they will die in a minute or two. I use this time to reflect on the hunt, take a few deep breaths, and collect my gear. Take your time and truly enjoy the moment. Even when approaching a deer like this I will have an arrow ready just in case they get up.

Deer that travel out of sight typically don’t go very far. In most instances, not more than 100 yards. If I’m confident in the shot, I’ll give that deer two hours. Even with today’s mechanical broadheads it’s amazing how little blood there can be. With this in mind, before I leave the tree, I make a detailed mental note of where I last saw the deer and where it was headed. Stand at the base of your tree and get a good mark. Then go have lunch.

Two hours after the shot, head to your mark and start looking for blood. Stay in hunter mode and walk quietly. This not only conceals your presence, but it allows you to listen for deer getting up. If at some point the blood trail disappears, start making circles around the last splatter of blood until you relocate it. I’ve often found the deer itself while doing this. Again, the key is time. Be sure to actually clock the time table, don’t just guess.

A well placed shot will lead to swift kill of any deer. But what about a poorly placed shot? A gut shot deer will, in most cases, die close to where it was arrowed if given time. How much time? Give a gut shot deer at least 12 hours. If you released the arrow in the morning, start looking at night or maybe even the next morning. Usually, these deer will lay down unbelievably close to where they were hit and if left undisturbed, bleed to death internally. If you push them too soon, they will leave the area completely before laying down again. In this case, they become coyote kibble.

An important note about gut shot deer: they usually leave sparse blood trails. However, with today’s broadheads, they will have massive internal bleeding. This is why it’s so important to give them time. If the deer bedded down and died near where the shot was taken, your odds of recovering it are exponentially better.

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.