Ask The Biologist

Kickin’ It with the Bucks

Kickin’ It with the Bucks

By Bob Humphrey

You can sometimes tell a lot about a shot by the way a deer reacts.

QUESTION: Recently I shot a deer, I thought, in the chest. Immediately after the shot, the deer bucked and kicked out both rear legs and ran off, seemingly hit hard and with its tail down. I took another shot while it was running off. I waited about 15 minutes and went to the site of impact but did not find blood or hair until I went to the second spot of impact and found blood. I trailed it for 150-200 yards before the blood trail dried up. I never recovered the deer. My question is: doesn’t a deer bucking mean a good shot? Or did he somehow duck down, or did I just miss the first shot? I have watched deer on TV do this leg kick. What do you make of these facts? – David B.

ANSWER: There are countless cues you can use to aid in recovering a wounded deer, including how they react to the shot. But you can never be certain about any of them until you lay hands on the animal. A high leg kick strongly suggests a heart shot, but obviously that was not the case with your deer, or you would almost certainly have found it within 200 yards.

Without further details, it’s difficult to offer much beyond speculation as to what actually happened. In and of itself, the tail down could be meaningless. Sometimes wounded deer flash their white tail just as they would if you’d missed. A normally tucked tail might suggest a miss, but often a tightly tucked tail is indicative the animal was, indeed, wounded.

Then, did it bolt, jump, run, trot or simply walk off? A tightly tucked tail, humped up posture and steady trot or slow run might suggest a paunch hit, in which case the blood trail could be modest, sparse or nearly impossible to see.

A deer hit low, in the brisket, might also kick, but you would probably find an abundance of dark hair at the impact site. And the hair would be white if you hit low and back.

It would also help to know what the animal was doing and how it was facing at the shot. If it was tense, even the noise of the shot could make it jump, although probably not with a high leg kick. Unfortunately, it seems we’ll never know.

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