Outdoor Journal: ‘Dead On!’ outlines steps in deer search
Have you ever wounded a whitetail deer and not been able to find it? I think it’s happened to most hunters at least once, and it gives the hunter a terrible feeling.
As a responsible hunter, you go over and over everything that happened from the bullet impact until the deer disappeared, always thinking and wondering if you did enough before abandoning the search.
I recently read a book written by a local hunter who has collected what he has learned after 34 years of tracking wounded deer. This book not only contains all of his techniques for tracking wounded whitetails, but also information on the deer’s anatomy and the proper shot placement for bow and gun hunters, something we all should revisit from time to time. I actually read this book several weeks ago while sitting in a blind, turkey hunting.
The book is titled “Dead On!” and was written by John Jeanneney of Berne and published by Teckel Time Inc. The soft-covered, 110-page book is based on 930 searches for wounded deer. In 1975, after losing a deer he’d wounded, Jeanneney applied for a research license from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate the feasibility of using leased tracking dogs to find wounded/dead. The following year, DEC issued him a Scientific Collector permit. John and the late Don Hickman of Pleasant Valley founded Deer Search, which extended across the state. Today, leashed tracking dogs are authorized in 21 states.
Deer Search is a volunteer organization that seeks to reduce the number of deer that are wounded and left in the woods to die during the hunting season. They use specially trained dogs to find wounded big game, impossible to track by eye. I’ve been on a couple of these searches, both of which were successful, and the handlers and the dogs were outstanding. Here are three telephone numbers all hunters should carry along with their hunting license: Mid-Hudson Valley (845) 227-5099, Western New York (716) 648-4355 and in the Finger Lakes (585) 935-5220.
The contents of John’s book share what the author and all members of Deer Search have learned since the organization’s inception. This book is not on how the dogs find the deer, but rather things deer hunters should know and apply in big-game hunting to lessen the number of wounded deer and bear.
“Dead On!” begins where it should, with choosing the shot. Obviously, when the trigger is pulled or the arrow released, it’s done with the intention of a quick and clean kill. Being a responsible hunter is stressed throughout this chapter. Also included are checks that should be made by the hunter prior to the shot, along with when, and when not, to take it. These include detailed discussions of what can happen from the time an arrow is released to when it impacts the deer. One of the problems John has seen is shot placement too far back on the deer, resulting in intestinal and stomach wounds. As for the distance, especially of a bow shot, it should be a personal thing that only the bowhunter’s abilities can determine. I’ve always preferred 35 yards or less — that’s my comfort zone.
Jeanneney stresses using “enough” gun in this chapter to help eliminate wounded deer. I know that a .223 and .243 will kill a deer with the proper bullet and its placement, but there are many things that can happen that even the best of shooters cannot control. Why take the chance?
Chapter 2 details and illustrates a wealth of chest-shot information. A deer is tougher than most think, and Jeanneney includes descriptions of the differences of the damage of an arrow and its chest shot wound. Also, I found it interesting that in over 900 calls for help finding a deer, only once was for a heart-shot deer. Blood trails will tell a lot about where the deer was hit, and this chapter details how to determine lung shots. On TV, I notice the bowhunters will often emphasize pass-through shots and hold up the arrow, which I believed was a good sign, but I found out in this book that a pass-through chest shot may seal almost immediately because the deer’s chest muscles slide back across the wound after the arrow exits.
It’s important when reading the chapter devoted to the deer’s anatomy to make special note and memorize the size and location of the vital areas. All of them have very detailed descriptions and are shown in drawings and photos. Deer aren’t as big as you think they are.
The term “gut shot,” is often used by hunters whose shot was behind the diaphragm of the deer, and in the chapter devoted to this area, readers will learn this shot is almost always terminal, but not immediately. Pay close attention to the discussion of how to determine its signs. These include the amount of blood and its color. If it’s an intestinal hit, you may see food fragments of what the deer ate, and even make the determination by smelling the arrow. Once it is determined that it is a gut shot, the author explains when and how you should track the deer.
Leg and muscles wounds, which often will seal up quickly, and the deer will recover from them is also covered. However, anytime a deer is definitely hit, regardless of where, a responsible sportsman must put his or her very best effort into finding it. Unfortunately, these deer, especially those who lose their leg or the use of it, will not make it through the winter.
Therefore, it’s important to read this section and learn the signs of a leg wound. An immediate sign after the shot is that the deer repeatedly falls down when retreating, or you can actually see a leg flopping. Once determined that it was a leg hit, start trailing immediately and follow the proper techniques and things to look for when tracking this deer.
As a hunter who prefers to knock down the deer where it stands, my aiming point, whenever possible, is the front shoulder, but I only do this when hunting with my rifle or slug gun, not with a bow.
Chapter 5 is devoted to “High Back Shots” because what you think is the perfect shot is not always the case, especially when deer jump up and run off. You’ll enjoy the story Jeanneney tells of a hunter who thought he killed his buck instantly and took a photo of the downed deer immediately with his gun resting in the buck’s rack. And I think you know what happened next. He never did find his shotgun. Read this chapter carefully and learn the signs of a high back hit and its physical characteristics.
Are you a neck shooter? This chapter begins with something I learned a long, long time ago: You either drop the deer immediately or not at all. When these shots are taken with gun or bow, the key is to know the signs of how good/bad the hit was, all of which are outlined in this chapter. They include physical characteristics, head and jaw shots and how to identify them and then how to track the deer. However, the final thought in this chapter, and one I totally agree with, is “Don’t take head and neck shots intentionally.”
Chapter 7, “After the Shot,” is one we all should read every year before we head for the deer woods. It includes some very good advice on when to wait and when not to wait, to begin tracking after a shot. What is stressed is that there is no “one” rule for what to do after the shot. Waiting a half-hour or more after the shot is not the rule of thumb in all cases when you shoot the deer with a bow or a rifle. You will learn in this chapter that the answer is: “It depends.” Within these seven pages, you will learn the effects of the initial shock factor, chest shots, leg and shoulder hits and the exception for shots to the stomach, liver and intestines.
And speaking of the initial shock factor, you probably have noticed by now that “arrow” is mentioned more than “bullet,” and this is because with firearms, “the corridor of damaged tissues is much broader and shot placement is not as critical.”
I found the last two chapters, 8 and 9, on blood tracking and what to do when the blood trail ends, very informative for all of us, regardless of our hunting experiences. These include how to look for the blood, follow it, determining the direction the deer has taken, marking the last blood, and a whole series of methods you can use when the blood trail ends without finding a dead deer. And be sure you carry in your hunting pack all of the gadgets that he recommends. You have to find your deer, which, of course, should include a Deer Search telephone number.
I think that John Jeanneney’s “Dead On!” book belongs in every deer hunter’s library. To order your book, you can go to www.born-to-track.com. The book sells for $13.95.