They say the best-laid plans often go awry. Hey, it happens, and usually when we least expect it. The same holds true in deer hunting when our shot misses its mark and (gasp) hits the deer a bit farther back than expected.
It’s known as the dreaded “gut shot.” What some hunters don’t realize is that not all gut shots are the same. The rumen (stomach) shot is most common because it’s located directly behind the thoracic cavity that holds the heart and lungs. The intestines (the real guts), however, are even farther back — located in the stomach cavity just ahead of the hips.
A deer’s reaction to a bullet or arrow through the rumen is characterized by the animal humping up and walk- ing or trotting slowly from the scene. Bowhunters often find stomach contents (partially digested food) on their arrows and notice a foul odor. In snow country, blood trails often appear with brownish/greenish streaks in the snow. Hunters should wait at least four hours before trailing a rumen- shot deer. It’s better to wait six to eight hours, especially when weather conditions permit it. These deer typically travel a short distance and bed. If left undisturbed, they die shortly thereafter. All rumen-shot deer will die, but the distance traveled greatly increases when deer are pushed.
A bullet or arrow through the large or small intestines is a true gut shot. These deer will almost always die in their beds if undisturbed, but hunters should wait at least 10 hours before trailing them. Gut-shot deer will run great distances if immediately pursued.
Seasoned pros find nearly every gut-shot deer they encounter. It’s not that they’re lousy shooters — in fact, they are usually called in to track deer for other hunters. What makes such trackers so successful? Patience … and a lot of it.
As the late, great John Trout Jr. once told me 20 years ago, “You have to be able to put aside your preconceived notions about trailing and deer behavior, and you have to dedicate yourself to staying on that track no matter how long it takes to unravel it.”
Trout’s words spoke volumes, and I’ve lived by them ever since. All too often I see hunters who merely give up because “the deer couldn’t have been hit that hard,” or “he should have died by now.” Those are poor excuses, as are the distance traveled and the amount of time invested before giving up on a blood trail. Every situation is different. Unraveling small drops of dried blood on oak leaves or pine needles can take many hours, especially if the deer is pushed.
Don’t fret about the dinner you’re missing or about getting to work on time. You shouldn’t have gone hunting in the first place if you didn’t plan on that possibility. Call your loved ones and tell them you’ll be late, or call in sick to work. This is serious business. We owe it to the animals we hunt to make every effort to recover them.