It’s a tough call to decide how long to wait to track a bow-shot deer.
QUESTION: I’d like to get a few deer in the freezer early in the archery season, but it’s really hot here in Alabama at that time. It can be in the 90s! How long is it safe to let a deer go after a shot? I want to give the deer time to expire, but I don’t want the meat to spoil.
ANSWER: To ensure the best quality meat possible, you want to recover and dress your deer as soon as possible. The rub becomes how soon that is, and what variables can delay recovery and processing. And hot temperatures only exacerbate the situation.
I’m not sure who first came up with it, but conventional wisdom says you should wait at least 30 minutes before following up a bow-shot deer. I recently read where someone declared that a myth and advised following up right away. As is so often the case, the truth usually lies somewhere in between. In cool weather, I advise waiting. If the deer is dead it’s not going anywhere and there’s no hurry. You will find it. If the deer hasn’t expired, you only risk bumping it and reducing your chances of recovery. Warm temperatures are a different story.
It usually comes down to a judgement call based on specific circumstances. If you saw or heard the deer fall, it’s probably safe to go right after it. If you’re reasonably certain you made a lethal shot, wait a few minutes and then find your arrow and determine the type of hit. If there’s lots of blood, proceed. If it looks like a paunch hit, you have to wait awhile, possibly a long while. If you’re not sure, you can start on the trail and see what it looks like. Or, you can call in a tracking dog. Regardless, you’ve got to get on the trail sooner since every second counts when it’s in the 70s, 80s or 90s.
While time to recovery is important, time to opening up the body cavity is critical, especially in warm weather. I never much saw the logic in dragging an extra 30 or 40 pounds of guts out of the woods only to haul it back in and dump it later. Field-dressing your deer nearby will not detract from the huntability of your stand. But to each their own. Just make sure you open the body cavity as soon as is practically possible to cool the meat. Then, get it to a walk-in cooler or stuff a bag of ice in the body cavity.
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