October 2014

10/12/2014

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The Miserable, Heart Wrenching, Nauseating, Tedious and Joyous Art of Tracking Deer.

By Sean Ferbrache, Chief Operating Officer AHLA
If you were to ask my hunting partners and friends, they might describe me as some kind of mad genius when it comes to tracking deer. Someone that has the knack of finding the tiniest of blood specks and most obscure clues. I guess on some level, that’s a pretty fitting description. Tracking deer is just like anything else in life. Maybe you have heard of the rule of 10,000 hours? The 10k hour rule predicts that anyone can be great at anything if they practice enough. So, when applied to my hunting career and my perceived prowess as a tracker, it tells you that I must not be much of a shot! In fact, it doesn’t seem like I ever get to see my deer go down in sight. This lack of skill and/or luck has led to what seems like 10k hours of tracking wounded deer for myself and friends.

Let me share with you the things that I have found to be the most instrumental in finding my deer.
The first is one that gets mentioned a lot, but adhered to rarely. Unless you see your animal go down in plain sight, do not start tracking right away. It’s so simple, but the urge to find that deer is equally strong. My best advice is to pack your things up and head back to your truck before taking a single step in the direction the deer ran. Once at the truck, remove a layer of clothes, make sure you have your tagging kit, have a snack and then start back to begin tracking. As a rule, I let at least an hour pass from impact to tracking. This is how I force myself away from the impact area and a potentially wounded animal. By leaving the area, I put myself in a much more relaxed, objective frame of mind. This is how you want to approach any tracking job…objectively and with a clear mind.

Mark the last drop of blood you find…everytime. I have seen it done many times with many different items, but the one that works the best is and always will be toilet paper. By tearing a small piece and placing on or near every blood drop, you can look back and see a clear path. When you stand behind this trail of Charmin you will be amazed at how easy it is to see where the deer was going. Once you leave blood, you can spend several minutes looking for the last drop you found. What a waste of time! Once I find blood, I mark it. When darkness and/or rain are approaching the last thing I want to do is look for a clue I already found once. The toilet paper is bio degradable so you don’t have to remove it.
How good or bad was your shot? This isn’t the time to rationalize a poor shot. If it wasn’t on the mark, call it that and make a good decision going forward. The only way you can make a bad shot worse is to push a wounded animal off of your lease. (for the record…it’s impossible to make a bad shot better.) By knowing the anatomy of the animal you are hunting, you can make good guesses at how long to give them and
where they may have gone. For instance, if your shot was low and back, it’s a good bet you have gut shot your deer. Typically, this will result in internal fluid loss and dehydration. Is there water nearby? Find a water source and you may find your deer. Was the shot back but otherwise good? A liver hit deer is going to die. Fact. You need to give this deer a minimum of 12 hours before you start looking. Fact. You cannot change the shot you made, but you can alter the way you track accordingly. This isn’t easy…these are the types of decisions made calmly and objectively. (See how they work together?)

Lastly, take a look at the terrain and natural travel routes. This is where you can forget about the physical clues and just take a step back. Take a big picture look at where you are and where you normally see deer moving. I shot a deer several years ago that ran 400 to 500 yards from my tree. As I tracked him, I realized he was running his scrapes! Like any living creature, wounded animals want security. They want to feel safe. The best place to find both of those is in familiar surroundings. If you lose blood completely, find a large thicket in the area or a draw/saddle nearby. Don’t just barrel in, but circle the thicket and see if you can pick up a trail going in. I am always amazed at how clear a picture can be if I step back and try to determine where a deer might go if spooked or wounded. From there, you can almost always pick up a track, some hair or even a tiny speck of blood. Remember, when you are trying to solve a mystery, the tiniest of clues are as telling as the big ones.