Ask The Biologist

Down But Not Out

Down But Not Out

By Bob Humphrey

Deer are tough – there’s just no other way to put it.

QUESTION: This winter, I shot a buck and knocked it right down, but then it got up and ran away. We tracked it for a long way and found two large puddles of blood but did not find the deer. Then we brought in tracking dogs and jumped the deer, but it ran away and we did not recover it. I can’t believe I knocked it off its feet but it didn’t die. Where could I have hit it for this to happen? – Kenneth N.

ANSWER: One can never be sure about the location of a hit until you recover the deer. However, certain reactions and blood trails can sometimes provide clues.

For example, a deer shot in the paunch will often hunch up and walk or trot slowly away and may leave little, if any, blood. A deer shot low in the brisket may jump up, and then race off. The fact that your deer went down suggests a couple possibilities. One is that you hit it high, possibly close to the spine. Shock from bullet’s impact can temporarily stun deer. This is often the case when hunters walk up on a fallen deer only to see it get up and run off.

Another possibility is that you hit solid bone, probably the front shoulder. This, too, would stun the deer and possibly knock it down. You didn’t mention if the deer was struggling as it ran, which might indicate a broken leg, but given that you were not able to catch up to it, even with dogs, I suspect that’s not the case. Unfortunately, it will forever remain a mystery.

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