No hunter wants to make a gut shot on a deer, but accidents sometimes happen, even to the most skilled and prepared hunters. Maybe you didn't notice the slight angle the deer was standing at, or perhaps you rushed and made a lousy trigger pull. Maybe your arrow hit at a slightly weird angle, deflecting the broadhead from the lungs and into the stomach. Then, instead of the heart or lung shot you hoped for, you have a gut or liver hit and a wounded deer leaving a poor blood trail for the tracking job.
What happens next after that gut shot is what matters. Here is a step-by-step breakdown to handle the situation of a gut-hit deer and salvage the meat.
What to Do After The Gut Shot
You can usually tell if you made a lousy shot right after you pull the trigger. If you feel like you might not have hit dead on, immediately take note of where precisely the deer was standing and facing, where it was headed, and what mistake you might have made. Use the camera on your cell phone to take a photo of the area the deer was standing when it was shot. This helps as a reference if you have trouble locating blood.
You might deduct whether the shot was further back than you intended. Or, maybe something went incredibly awry, and your bullet or arrow went deep into the gut. The most important thing to do is not bump or scare off the down deer. Most seasoned hunters say if you bump a gut-shot deer, you'll never find it. That is often the case, but it doesn't have to be. Scan the area you last saw the deer for clues on what hit you may have made and then quietly slip out and wait twelve or so hours.
A good rule of thumb is if you shoot the deer in the morning, don't look until the evening, and if you shoot it in the evening, don't look until the following morning. This will allow the deer to remain still and pass so you can retrieve it later.
Analyze the clues
Often, there will be clues left behind in the area where the deer was shot. Look for blood, fur, green bile, or any other bits of deer material. White tufts of fur from the underbelly and green or brown intestine contents can indicate a gut shot. Making a liver shot will probably be easier to recover than putting a bullet, arrow, or crossbow bolt into the stomach or intestines. The blood trail can help you confirm whether it is a gut shot or not. If the red blood trail is sparse with bits of partially-digested food mixed in, odds are you did indeed make a gut shot instead of a shot to the vitals.
Even the pro hunters sometimes hit a deer in a less-than-ideal place. It happens, especially with bowhunting. Give yourself some grace but learn from your mistakes. At this point, all you can do is do your best to retrieve the deer. If you're lucky, you may be able to locate the deer from the last spot you saw it.
When trailing a gut-shot deer, carefully mark the last drop of blood as you go because the trail may become sparse. If you still have trouble finding it, consider finding a tracking dog to aid recovery.
I made my first poor shot on a deer in a while, and unfortunately, I had to suffer the consequences. I shot too quickly without recognizing that the deer wasn't fully broadsiding. Thankfully, my bullet ruptured her diaphragm, so I found her just 20 yards into the woods. I was able to make a clear shot and retrieve her just shortly after the initial shot. If you can spot your gut-shot deer but don't have a clear follow-up shot, then stick to the first option of backing out and waiting.
How to Save The Meat
If you recover a gut-shot deer, do not fret, some of the meat can be salvaged. But be warned, you may not end up with as much meat as usual, and the tenderloins almost always can't be eaten. You need to field dress it immediately; it will be a messier job than usual. Even more so if you recover your kill the following day and it has had time to sit. Especially if coyotes managed to get hold of it. Try your best to keep fur, dirt, and loose stomach contents away from the venison.
Almost every deer hunter has their own theory on saving the most venison from the gut-shot deer. Some say to soak the meat in salt, baking soda, or vinegar. While I haven't tested every one of those, my experience with the soaking method is not great.
Another theory is, if the weather is cool enough, to leave the deer hanging and dry age it, so to speak. This makes it so that when you go to process the meat, you can basically shave off the outer layer and are left with fresh red meat underneath. Judge the situation and make the best choice you can. Check each piece for appearance and smell as you work the meat off the bone. From here, the best way to maximize what you save is to plan on grinding it all, mixing in higher fat content, and turning it into sausages or jerky.
READ MORE: IS THIS JERKY GUN WORTH A TRY?
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