Tracking Animals During the Hunt

The art of tracking animals during the hunt is necessary when your shot does not immediately kill your target.

| January/February 1988

  • 109-102-i1
    The skill required, of course, is tracking, and it's an art that's unknown to all too many modern hunters.

  • 109-102-i1

Tracking is an important part of hunting when your first shot does not kill your prey, it takes skill to track down a wounded animal.  

Tracking Animals During the Hunt

There are two great sins in hunting. The first is to attempt a shot beyond your abilities and by doing so allow the escape of a wounded animal. Of course, even the most conscientious outdoorsman can't guarantee that he or she will always make a quick, clean kill. There are simply too many things that can go wrong in the fraction of a second between the final tightening of the trigger finger and the bullet's impact. The second transgression, though, can be avoided and is thus unforgivable: It is the failure, through laziness or lack of preparation, to make a good effort to find, end the suffering of and recover wounded game. The skill required, of course, is tracking, and it's an art that's unknown to all too many modern hunters.

It Starts With the Shot

Many tracking problems can be avoided by simply using all of your powers of observation at the moment you pull the trigger. When shooting at long range, listen for the sound of the bullet striking. This distinctive "thunk" can be heard for a good distance on a quiet day. Even more important, don't take your eyes off the animal until it's either clearly dead or out of sight. Watch for indications of a hit: a stumble, a humping of the back, a quick kick of the front or rear legs (often indicating a heart shot) or a flicking of the tail or head.

If the animal is down, stay calm and keep your weapon ready for a few minutes before approaching. More than one hunter who has excitedly run up to even such a timid animal as a whitetail deer has received serious injuries when the stunned creature recovered. At the least, a careless approach could leave you unprepared to shoot at a suddenly up-and-running target.

Should you be sure you've hit the animal but not downed it, try to maintain your calm as best you can and continue to shoot. Once a creature is wounded, you've effectively entered into a contract to finish the job. If you can do it before the beast clears the next ridge or disappears into the brush, your day will be shorter and far more rewarding.

Let's say that you've made your best effort, only to have the animal run off: First and foremost, never simply assume that you've missed. "Missed" shots account for innumerable dead and wasted game animals every year. Instead, make sure your gun or bow is ready, and — keeping your eyes on the area where the animal was last seen — stalk slowly to the spot where it stood when the shot was fired. Once there, search the area thoroughly for evidence of a hit. An archer should first look for his or her arrow; often a seemingly missed shot will have actually passed through the animal and will provide ample evidence of having done so. A gun hunter should look for bits of clipped hair or traces of blood.

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