Shooting game with a broadhead-tipped arrow isn’t an exact science. Plenty can go wrong, and sometimes it does. Even if we feel our shot placement was good, if game is out of sight, it’s best to wait at least 45 minutes before following up.
Pulling back, I anchored, centered the sight pin on his chest, followed and, as soon as the buck paused, I released. My arrow passing clean through his torso, the massive buck raced forward, belly to the ground, and circled back 40 yards to vanish in the timber. Five seconds passed, and then silence.
Straining to listen for several minutes, I was confident in my shot, but if I’ve learned anything over three decades as a bowhunter, its that the decisions we make after we release an arrow, will often determine whether we retrieve our game or not.
Knowing it was better to be safe than sorry, I allowed an hour to pass before following up. Rewarded handsomely for my patience, a surprisingly sparse blood trail led right to an impressive 160-class whitetail. He had indeed fallen just 10 yards from where I’d lost sight of him.
Whether you’ve been mentored, or educated through the school of hard knocks, if you’re a seasoned bowhunter you know about the 45-minute rule – and if you don’t, you should. Unfortunate but true, far too many bow hunters, not to mention gun hunters, lose game each year because they fail to wait before following up on their shot. Here are few things to consider before tracking to retrieve your next animal.
Shot placement is the most important factor when determining when and how to begin tracking shot game. Your first consideration should be where the arrow penetrated the animal. Many double-lung shots, especially on deer, involve less than a 50-yard run, a pause, and a collapse. With perfect shot placement, collapsing the lungs or damaging the heart, retrieval of downed game is simple and straightforward – but not always. Know that a single lung hit can complicate things. If the heart, lungs, major arteries or liver have been damaged, your chances of retrieving the game increase greatly. Conversely, a gut shot can spell disaster. In the end, it’s about sending your broadhead through the most vascular place possible to ensure massive hemorrhaging, a good blood trail, and most importantly a quick kill. But regardless of the shot, if the animal vanishes into the woods, it’s important to wait at least the 45 minutes before following up. More often than not, if the shot was good, you won’t be disappointed.
Even still, there are exceptions to every rule. The only exemption from this one is if you can see that the animal is down for the count. Even then, savvy hunters still wait a few minutes before approaching. In the excitement of the moment, too often archers rush in to collect their prize, without giving shot game adequate time to expire. Remember that a broadhead kills through hemorrhaging alone. Damage to vitals is only caused by sharp blades, nothing else. It can take time for these vitals to shut down due to the trauma.
DECISIONS & CONSEQUENCES
If you make a less-than-perfect shot, or question how the animal reacted, you have some decisions to make. Think about where that arrow entered, the depth of penetration, the organs it passed through or other damages caused, and whether or not there is an exit wound. All of these factors affect how far the animal will go after the shot. But remember, its not an exact science. The one sure thing about killing an animal with a bow is that rarely are two shots the same and, even when we make what appears to be an ideal shot, game can react in ways we can never anticipate. Extraordinary things happen with bowhunting.
The reality is, many game animals fall to less-than-perfect shots. Remember, the unwritten 45-minute rule, is merely a point of reference and a minimum recommendation for a good shot. As a rule, with a liver shot, wait six-to-nine hours. With a gut shot, evaluate, and wait between 12 and 24 hours before following up. When in doubt, back out, wait, and return later. In most instances, you want to avoid bumping your animal from a bed and pushing it. In the end, if you made a less-than-ideal shot, then you’ve got a lot to consider and decisions will have to be made – decisions that will invariably dictate the outcome of your hunt.