It’s You’re Responsibility to Follow Up Your Shot
My son Forrest, my daughter Lindera and I used parts of several late summer weekends to cut a new walking trail through the rhododendron jungle on the lower part of our property. We were busy moving logs and trimming rhododendron when I found it lying on the forest floor – a beautiful six-point rack still attached to the buck’s skeleton.
While this buck was far too decomposed to determine the cause of death with any certainty, judging from its age I’d be willing to bet that it had been wounded but not found by a hunter during last deer season. The buck probably headed for water and then died in our rhododendron thicket near the stream that flows through the jungle.
Unfortunately this is nothing new. Shortly after the 2000 season, I discovered a dead, hunter-wounded seven-point buck less than 100 yards from where I located this six point. I found, or I should say, our dogs found a fresh hunter-wounded doe already this fall – shortly after the early muzzleloader season ended.
I don’t think that I’d be very far out on a limb if I said that over the past 20 years, I’ve discovered at least one unclaimed deer carcass within a half mile of my house each winter. That’s one wounded and lost deer in less than a square mile of forest! One year there were three dead deer – two spike bucks and a doe – all within a 1000 yards of my house! Just imagine the waste if this occurs all over the state each fall. In Wildlife Management Units 4D and 2G alone, that would amount to over 5,700 wasted deer annually! If the true figure was only half of my estimate, it would still be a terrible waste.
I recently discussed this problem with fellow outdoor writer and long-time deer hunter John Kasun, who lives in Duncansville. Our conclusion was that the causes of this terrible waste are hunters’ inability or desire to properly follow up their shots.
Kasun has been hunting whitetails for 51 years. In 1955, he became one of the first Pennsylvania archers to harvest a buck and, at age 16, surely the youngest. He has hunted whitetails in five states other than Pennsylvania, and he regularly presents seminars about deer hunting and how to track wounded game. Within hours after we spoke, Kasun was off to West Virginia for the opening of their buck season.
My game tracking experience pales when compared to Kasun’s, but both of us hunt and track with about the same philosophy. Here are some excerpts from my interview with Kasun. They were edited for organization.
Nale: What’s the first step toward locating a wounded deer?
Kasun: Tracking starts before the shot, not after the shot. The shot is critical. A lot of hunters seem to use the ready-fire-aim technique. They are so anxious to get the shot that they don’t take the micro-second necessary to make the shot right.
Shot discipline is critical. You’ve got to know where you are aiming, where to put the bullet, and make sure that it goes there when you shoot. Don’t just take the shot. I hate it when a hunter says, “It was the only shot I had.” If the only shot you have is a deer’s hind end, then you don’t have a shot!
Nale: Ok, what is next?
Kasun: Attention to detail. At the time of the shot, my mind is slowing up and recording the whole event. What did I see through the scope? How did the deer react? Exactly where did I see it run and what did I hear? You have to record the event because everything that happens is a clue that you are going to have to use to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. Understanding what it all means comes from experience.
Nale: How long should a hunter wait after the shot before looking for the deer?
Kasun: The average guy couldn’t go wrong by waiting a minimum of one-half to one full hour. It’s hard to get rifle hunters to do that, but it’s almost always better to wait. If there is any indication of a gut-shot deer, your best chance at recovery is to wait a minimum of four hours. The only deer that I want to push is one that might only be hit in the muscle.
Nale: I always begin by marking with my handkerchief the spot where I was standing when I pulled the trigger, and then I try to locate the point of impact. What do you do?
Kasun: Both are good ideas, but I always mark the spot on which I was standing and then find and mark where I last saw the deer, because that is such an important piece of the puzzle. Then I locate and mark the point of impact.
Nale: What’s next?
Kasun: I then begin marking with biodegradable fluorescent orange tape every bit of sign that I see – hair, tracks, and blood. That gives me the exact line of the deer’s path and a sure-fire starting point if I ever lose the trail.
Always assume that every shot is a hit. Never just walk away muttering, “I think I missed.” Not following up your shot is irresponsible hunting. The next worst thing is the guy who says, “I only found a drop of blood. I don’t think that it was hurt too bad.” A mistake that many hunters make is that they are looking for a lot of blood. I’ve recovered wounded animals when you could put the total sign in a teaspoon. You can’t judge the hit by the amount of blood that you see.
Nale: Just how does the average hunter gain the experience that you mentioned earlier?
Kasun: Always track every deer, even if you see where it drops. After you’re sure that the deer is dead, begin at the point of impact and trail the deer. Notice everything that you can – blood, hair, tracks — everything.
The other thing is performing a necropsy when you gut the deer. Try to discover exactly what your bullet or arrow did and then link that to the sign that you observed as well as how the deer acted when you shot.
Kasun also shared the philosophy with which he hunts. “I take great responsibility when I shoot.” He continued, “That animal is my responsibility and I don’t take that lightly. I would never think of attempting to take another deer while I had a wounded animal out there.”
Developing game tracking skills can turn an apparent failed hunt into a success, prevent the waste of venison, and make you feel better about your time in the deer woods. Allow Kasun’s advice to point you in the correct direction. There’s no better time than next Monday to begin developing or refining your tracking skills.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com
It’s You’re Responsibility to Follow Up Your Shot