After the Shot – 6 Ways To Avoid Mistakes

By John Trout, Jr.

What follows the shot could decide the outcome!

It’s no big secret what happens to you at the moment you shoot at a deer. Your heart races. Adrenaline flows wildly throughout your body. Your mind runs wild with anticipation.


When the moment of truth arrives, anticipation and excitement immediately follows.
(Photo by John & Vikki Trout)

Despite these natural, exciting and overwhelming reactions, we must somehow remember to follow through – taking note of important facts and making decisions that could determine whether or not you recover the deer. You’ll get no “second” chance, no instant replays. As they say, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” You must do it right the first time, despite your enthusiasm and eagerness. Here are six concerns you must not overlook:

1. Staying Focused – I will be the first to admit that it’s not easy staying focused upon releasing an arrow or squeezing a trigger. “Buck fever” is but one way to lose focus. Surprisingly, it’s not always beginning hunters that suffer the syndrome. And it’s not always caused by a big buck – deer fever is just as bad. Veteran hunters often lose their focus when a shot is taken.

It is vital that you stay focused right through the moment you shoot, and continue for at least the next 60 seconds. In fact, it’s that first minute that counts the most – the period when you collect essential details about what lies ahead.

2. Analyzing Shot Reactions – Most hunters fully realize that many deer don’t drop upon being hit with an arrow or projectile. Nevertheless, most deer give a definite reaction to being hit. Studying the deer’s reaction could help you to determine not only whether you hit the deer, but also where the animal is hit.


Staying focused on a deer’s reaction following the shot could help you recover the animal. (Photo by John & Vikki Trout)

Many deer hit through the vital lungs and/or heart will typically lunge forward and run hard with the tail tucked. However, a muscle wound could result in a similar response. A deer shot through only the abdomen often runs away slower. Some will stop and stand after traveling just a short distance, appearing hunkered before finally walking off.

These reactions are not carved in stone, however. Some deer shot through the vitals could show no reaction to being hit, and leave the scene at a slower pace with their tail flagging.

3. Pinpointing the Spot – More than likely, a hit deer that runs away will quickly disappear. How long you can see the deer will depend solely upon your visibility. However, if you have binoculars with you, use them if time allows, and pinpoint the precise spot where you last saw the deer. I will say, though, don’t take your eyes off the deer to use binoculars and risk losing sight of him. They’re beneficial only if the deer stops.


After shooting, remain at your ambush location and avoid the temptation to search for the deer immediately. (Photo by John & Vikki Trout)

Pinpointing the last spot you saw the deer could benefit you when the tracking begins. Some deer might not bleed until they have traveled a certain distance. The spot you pick could be a tree, thicket, or another natural part of the landscape that’s identifiable when tracking.

4. Identifying Shot Location – After you have watched the deer for as long as possible, make it a point to identify the shot location. This is not always easy, even if you shoot a short distance of 20 yards.

From my treestand, I often mark the precise location where the deer stood. In some cases I use my binoculars to see if I can find scuffed marks in the leaves or soil, and to take notice of blood nearby. Blood is usually not readily visible from a treestand, but I can at least mentally mark a bush, tree, or something else that will provide valuable information saves time and helps in follow-up.

5. Staying Put – Never leave your ambush location immediately after the shot. Your anxiety will make it tempting, but “patience is a virtue.” Leaving your treestand or ground blind too quickly could send a wounded deer farther away.

Even when I’m comfortably sure that my arrow or bullet passed through the vitals, I make it a point to sit tight. I use this time to ponder over the previously mentioned tips and consider how long to stay put. Even if you see the deer is down, watch it for several minutes.


Successfully following a blood trail to your deer could depend upon how you handled the moments immediately following the shot.
(Photo by John & Vikki Trout)

6. Waiting – How Long? – For eons, the standby rule for many deer hunters is to wait at least 20 minutes before beginning to look for the deer. Today, I still practice this technique. Twenty minutes allows time for everything to calm down, time for me to relax, and often time enough for the deer to succumb.

Exceptions exist, particularly if I feel I’ve hit a deer through the paunch. Liver, stomach and intestinal-shot deer do not succumb within seconds as do deer hit in the vitals. Thus, I often find myself waiting at the ambush site for much longer. If I shoot a deer late in the evening, I often stay put until dusk so I can mark the shot location for the following morning to begin tracking.

I offer dozens of additional suggestions for tracking your deer in my book – Finding Wounded Deer. But the previously mentioned tips are essential before you begin following blood. Moreover, they could provide you with an opportunity to pull out your super-sharp Havalon knife at the end of the blood trail.


About John Trout, Jr.

john-trout-jr-236x235Southern Indiana hunter John Trout, Jr. is a full-time freelance writer and photographer specializing in whitetail deer, wild turkey and black bear. He has authored eight books and his work has appeared in nearly every publication in North America. You’ll enjoy a visit his website at


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