When you connect with your target in the field, the overwhelming excitement will make you want to track down your quarry right away.

But unlike rifle hunting where you’ll frequently drop a deer in its tracks, bowhunting often results in long blood trails and demands some patience. 

Although bowhunters should always shoot for a quick, ethical kill via the vitals, so many factors come into play that could cause your broadhead to hit just an inch too far in one direction or fail to completely pass through. And it’s the shot quality that should determine how quickly you start tracking.

The general rule of thumb is to wait 30 minutes, but this doesn’t truly apply across the board.


If the deer sprinted off immediately after the shot and you find lung blood on the ground, you can move relatively soon. In this best-case scenario, some experts will advise you to wait the 30 minutes to an hour or begin tracking right away.


If you made contact with the deer but it slowly walks off or arches its back then runs, you may have hit it in the gut or liver. Check your arrow for greenish brown slime and/or a foul smell that could indicate you hit too far back. In this case, back off! Wait overnight or at least 6 to 8 hours before going after it.


If you heard your arrow make contact with the shoulder – and possibly even break off — there’s a decent chance the deer could survive if you didn’t get enough penetration. Deer shot in the shoulder will often take off with their front ends low, favoring the injured side. In this case, it’s best to climb down and track the deer immediately.


A spine shot will bring a buck down quickly, but it won’t necessarily kill it as fast. Approach a spine-shot animal with caution and be prepared to fire a follow-up shot as soon as possible.

Every hunting scenario is different, and the conditions and forecast can help determine your next steps too. The best way to set yourself up for a short, easy track job is to practice, practice, practice.