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Wisdom from Richard P. Smith’s Book “Tracking Wounded Deer”

Richard P. Smith on the cover of “Tracking Wounded Deer: How to Find and Tag Deer Shot with Bow or Gun.”

By Bruce Ingram for Whitetail Times

Richard P. Smith’s book “Tracking Wounded Deer: How to Find and Tag Deer Shot with Bow or Gun” covers all aspects of deer recovery and makes for educational reading for any hunter. Smith has been a deer hunter for more than 50 years and has authored 27 books, mostly about deer and bearing hunting. This title was originally published in 1988, and the third edition was published in 2018.

One of the many fascinating aspects of the book is Smith’s explanations of how being able to identify deer hair (specifically where on the animal’s body this sign came from) can be a major plus in knowing how badly the deer was hit and how hard it may be to find a downed whitetail. One of the most interesting chapters of the book is “Determining Where You Hit.” On one page alone, there are pictures of deer hairs from 12 different parts of an animal’s body.

“I was inspired to write the book based on the numerous stories I heard from hunters who were unsuccessful in recovering the deer they shot,” Smith says. “The most gratifying aspect of writing this book is the continual stream of compliments I get each year from hunters who tell me information in the book helped them recover a deer that they otherwise might not have found.”

Some tips from Smith:

  • Assume each shot scored a hit, be persistent in trying to recover deer you’ve shot by exploring every option until you find the right one, and, most importantly, take care in placing each shot, whether with a gun or bow. Deer that are well-hit travel the least distance, leave the best blood trails, and are the easiest to recover.
  • Smith believes most deer are dead by the time we begin trailing the. The mental concept that we are tracking a dead animal helps hunters stay on the trail longer and search more thoroughly.
  • Fatally hit deer don’t always bleed externally. That fact is another reason we should always be loath to give up looking for blood or sign that an animal has been hit.
  • Always assume a shot connected. I once shot at a doe about 20 yards away. The animal never displayed any reaction that it might have been hit, and I watched it bound off about 15 yards before it stopped, looked around, and walked casually and sturdily away. In fact, the deer even began walking up a mountain as if it were unscathed. I just assumed I’d blown an easy shot. But then, remembering this passage in Smith’s book, I decided to climb down from my stand and attempt to locate the arrow and any blood or hair. I could not find any of the latter two, but I did find a blood-covered arrow. I think walked up to where I had last seen the animal and continued up the mountain. About 20 minutes later, I located the first sign of blood, and about an hour later, I was hauling the whitetail down the mountain. Although the hit had been a double-lung shot, the deer had left precious little sign.
  • Smith writes that deer can react any number of ways to being shot with a gun or a bow. Flinch, stumble, shudder, hunch up, drop its tail, jump, kick with its hind legs, or break into a dead run—or react not at all. Thus, hunters should never assume a miss. A deer not reacting to being hit is certainly not common, but it does happen. Again, the first assumption should be that our shot connected, not that it possibly didn’t.
  • If neither hair nor blood is immediately visible, that doesn’t mean a shot missed. Many, many times, hunters can find excellent blood trails beginning many yards after we thought we should have seen sign.
  • An exit wound often yields more hair than an entry wound.
  • A broadhead that exits a deer frequently contains hair from that part of the body instead of from where it entered. A good example of this would be hair that looks like it came from a deer’s stomach area, which may cause us to think we gut-shot the animal. In reality though, could have pierced the boiler room of a deer and merely exited far back on the animal.

Bruce Ingram, staff writer for Whitetail Times, lives in Fincastle, Virginia with his family.  Ingram is a serious whitetail hunter and fisherman. His hunting and fishing articles have been published in state, regional and national publications.  Our author has written four books on river smallmouth fishing. Bruce and his wife Elaine write a weekly outdoor blog that readers can visit at www.bruceingramoutdoors.com. Readers can also order Bruce’s books on smallmouth fishing from the site. Our staff writer welcomes and looks forward to hearing from readers via e-mail be_ingram@juno.com with their questions and comments about his articles in Whitetail Times.          

©Virginia Deer Hunters Association. For attribution information and reprint rights, contact Denny Quaiff, Executive Director, VDHA.

Hunting During the COVID-19 Outbreak

  • If you choose to hunt during the pandemic it is essential that you follow CDC guidelines.
  • Purchase your hunting license online instead of in-person.
  • Hunt alone or with family members or others that you live with and are isolating with during the Governor’s “stay at home” order.
  • Do not hunt if you feel sick or think you might be sick.
  • Stay at home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds or using alcohol-based sanitizer even while afield or afloat.
  • Do not share equipment with anyone, and wash your equipment when you’re done.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other hunters you encounter and try to avoid crowded access points.
  • Try to hunt near home as much as possible and avoid traveling long distances.
  • November 4, 2020