Mossy Oak

4 Things to Do Immediately After Taking a Shot On a Deer or Big Game Animal


We scout all year, pick our best spot, and then patiently wait for the shot to present itself on our favorite wild game. The thing is (and with all due respect), we all still get excited as heck when the moment of truth finally arrives and out steps that buck, bull, or bear we've had our eye on--and we loose the arrow or touch off the round. It's at this point that we usually remember to start breathing again.

With that in mind, our season is not over just because we got a shot at a shooter. Rather, it is just beginning. There are other bits of information we should have in our back pockets by now--above and beyond congratulating ourselves for the successful hunt--things that we should be aware of now that the opportunity has come and gone.

This doesn't mean that the shot hasn't hit the mark, only that by now we should be able to tell the difference while preparing for both possibilities. Big animals have a way of taking on a hit that sometimes can fool us into believing in varying outcomes, which is a great reason for knowing those outcomes long before we take to the hunt. Let's take a look at some of things to think about once the shot is taken.

Give Thanks

Sure, this isn't one of those technical ideas that we'll discuss shortly, but for any outdoorsman or woman who is fortunate enough to see their hard-earned wild game drop on the spot, it should go without saying that we don't have to wait until we trail the animal or get down from our stand to give thanks for its life. Knowing what it takes for that creature to exist in the wild and how hard it is to fool in its own environment is one thing, but giving thanks to the higher power that gave us dominion over these creatures should be standard procedure for all of us.


Mark the Spot

Here is where all that preseason scouting should come in most valuable. Knowing the area around your stand should be as second nature as knowing your own backyard--the point being that distances are so key to a big game hunt. For most deer hunters, it can mean distances in the 25- to 50-yard range for bowhunters, and out to 150 yards or more during rifle season. For other big game, this is where glassing comes in handy before the shot to identify likely places where game will appear and promptly exit after the shot.

It is now that you should have noticed where the animal ran and gotten a bearing as to where you should start looking for blood sign. It's not always the easiest thing to do during the excitement of the moment. But when you look back at the times when trying to find the first blood trail compared to where you ultimately found it, you will understand the importance of marking the spot where the animal was when you took the shot.

Wait, Watch, and Listen

While bowhunters know and love that telltale "thwack" of an arrow strike, it's not always that simple to know when a bullet or slug hits the target on a big game animal. Many veteran moose hunters report that sometimes, when they hit square in the vitals, some bulls react as if nothing happened and saunter off into the brush.


We can't always see what happens with the animal after it disappears into the cover, but many times we can hear it. It's not always easy to tell, but there can be a marked difference between an animal crashing through the cover after a vital hit or one just running to escape. Most veteran hunters will tell you that they wait for at least 30 to 45 minutes before getting out of their stand or crossing that ridge to begin looking for blood sign. If you move in too quickly, the animal's flight instinct will kick in and, along with their flush of adrenaline, it can and will jump up and start running again, sometimes for several hundred yards.

Mark Its Reaction

The reaction that your wild game has to the shot can mean the world to a hunter, but they're not always good. Staying aware of this reactive body posture is the key to starting and ending your harvest.

The Good

  • That jumping "mule kick" that lets you know it has been struck.
  • It takes a low, stiff legged posture on the run.
  • It takes a tail-tucked and uncertain path as it scrambles away.

The Bad

  • If the animal runs but stops immediately trying to discern what the heck just happened.
  • The animal stays alert.
  • Bounds away with a high tail (especially deer) and escapes with the others in its group.

One thing that can happen to the best of us is trying to take a peek at the result of the shot too soon, thereby pulling the trigger as opposed to squeezing it or letting an arrow fly without holding steady. Maybe one of the toughest things to do while your target buck or bull is finally standing right in your shooting lane is to remember to simply breathe. Calling to mind all of these simple tasks ahead of time will make your harvest more successful and easier than ever.

Please check out my book "The Hunter's Way" from HarperCollins. Be sure to follow my webpage, or on Facebook and YouTube.


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