Follow along on Josh’s exciting, once-in-a-lifetime archery mountain goat hunt in Utah. Watch as he gets it done on opening day!
Follow along on Josh’s exciting, once-in-a-lifetime archery mountain goat hunt in Utah. Watch as he gets it done on opening day!
I never felt so tired! It was 4:30am on the nineteenth morning of my Utah bow hunt. Whenever I lied down to sleep my mind swirled with strategies to outsmart the giant, velvet-clad buck I called “Big 5.” But he always managed to stay one step ahead of me.
I spotted Big 5 on the fourth day of the deer hunt. He was feeding in a thick, oak brush-covered hillside, and I raced to get ahead of him in the fading evening light. Just as I was closing in, the wind shifted and blew him out of the canyon. I spent the next week searching surrounding canyons and exploring other parts of the unit, but couldn’t turn him up. Although I saw plenty of other bucks, none compared to the amazing Big 5. At that point I decided to devote the rest of the season to hunting this one buck.
Just before dark on the twelfth day, Big 5 reappeared in the canyon where I first saw him. There wasn’t enough light for a stalk, but I returned to camp with newfound hope.
My mind buzzed with excitement as I lied in bed anticipating the morning stalk. But wouldn’t you know it, over night a great herd of elk moved in and pushed all the deer out. I spent the next three days searching for him, but to no avail.
During this time I joined forces with two elk hunters—Brian and Mike—who were hunting in the same general area. We had an agreement: I would keep tabs on any big bulls, and they would keep an eye out for Big 5.
Just when I was beginning to lose hope, Mike spotted Big 5 crossing into the canyon at dark on the fourteenth evening. The next morning I sneaked into the deer’s primary feeding area, but ended up busting him out again while still-hunting through the thick and noisy oak brush. This was the lowest point of my hunt.
Bowhunting is a low-odds venture to begin with; things don’t work out most of the time. As a rule, bowhunting success comes from having multiple opportunities, and the fastest way to limit your success is by hunting for one deer exclusively.
To keep hope alive, I wrote a list of positive affirmations in my hunt journal. Of particular note was a reminder that not only do I have 27 years of bowhunting experience under my belt, but I’ve been down this road before: Hunting for just one deer. Only this time was different. I didn’t have three years to get the job done!
Hope returned on day 16 when I discovered a new buck—a massive, old, wide-racked 4×4 I called the “Tank”—in an adjacent canyon. He wasn’t as impressive as Big 5, but the longer I watched him the more I fell in love. He was a magnificent deer, and if nothing else he served as a good backup. The season was half-way over after all, so I was relieved to have another target on my very short list.
So you can imagine my disappointment when, the very next morning, I found that Tank and Big 5 had joined forces! They were now feeding together—along with a few smaller bucks—in the bottom of the canyon where it all started. And just like that, all my eggs were in one basket: Bust one, bust ‘em all.
Desperate to make a stalk, I threw down my glass, picked up my bow and scrambled to the bottom of the steep, aspen-choked canyon. But just as I was closing in, the wind changed and blew one of the smaller bucks out of his bed. I turned and backed out immediately to avoid further damage.
The next morning, in complete darkness, I snuck to the bottom of the canyon hoping to get in front of the bucks before first light. But once again my plans were foiled when I glassed up the bucks feeding at the top of the canyon! As morning dragged on, the bucks side-hilled out of view and disappeared. Once again they stayed one step ahead of me.
By day nineteen I was at wits end. At some point during the restless night I hatched a plan to get ahead of the bucks. I knew from experience that big bucks get big by being unpredictable. So if they fed at the top of the canyon yesterday, perhaps they’d be at the bottom today. Again, in the cover of darkness I dropped down the canyon. And wouldn’t you know it, the bucks stayed high! This time, however, I wasn’t letting them out of my sight.
Immediately I ascended the aspen ridge between us, and then watched as all three deer—Big 5, Tank, and a smaller 3-point—fed along the ridge top and eventually bedded beneath a couple big pine trees. I pulled out my notebook and drew a diagram of the bedding area, noting landmarks that I could use during the stalk. But first I’d have to wait for the thermals to stabilize.
I returned to camp and was just about crawling out of my skin waiting for the south winds to prevail. Finally, at noon I set out on a low-odds stalk towards the bucks, knowing that one false move could blow the bucks out forever. Surely they were growing weary of my chase.
The midday sun beat down on my face as I crested the ridge fifty yards above the bedded bucks, but thick oak brush obscured my view. Must get closer.
Hot, south crosswinds carry away my scent and the sound of my footsteps amongst the loose gravel on the hillside that grows steeper with each step. A frightened chipmunk shrieks and scurries away. I freeze for a minute, then take a range from the lower limbs of one of the trees: 45 yards. I slowly load an arrow and continue forward. Everything must be perfect now.
Each footstep is timed with the occasional gust of wind or the raspy sound of flying grasshoppers. I take another range: 35 yards. I wince as the wind continually dips down, then rises again. My heart-beat quickens; sweat beads up across my face. I take another step and look up again. Fuzzy antlers are suddenly bobbing through the oak brush. Big 5 is up and feeding, but only his head is visible.
I slowly raise my bow and scan ahead for a shot window. The situation unfolds in strange contrast: the natural world flows lazily along, but my mind is frantic as I try to manage a myriad of details in a heightened state of awareness. I’ve been here before; I know the odds. “What happens next? How does this end?”
The buck slowly feeds towards a little, two-foot gap in the oak brush. It’s all a blur as I draw my bow and track the buck with my 30-yard pin. He finally steps through and my arrow is off. There’s an audible “thunk,” and then pandemonium as all three bucks explode down the mountain. Seventy yards out, Tank and the smaller buck regroup and look back, but Big 5 continues out of sight.
Twenty minutes later I begin tracking down the mountainside. There’s blood right away, and for the first time in weeks I feel a sense of relief. A little further down the canyon and there he is. In my haste to shoot, the arrow hit forward in the neck, but did the job.
Like a dream, I reach down and grasp the buck’s sprawling antlers in my hands. I feel strangely numb. Whatever elation I’m supposed to feel has been cancelled out by the rigors of mountain, dampened by loss of sleep, and swamped in disbelief. Sometimes a hunter gets lucky; other times he earns it. In this case, the only luck I had was seeing the buck in the first place. I gave this hunt everything I had; I paid full price for my trophy.
Long ago, in a personal attack fueled by jealousy, an old “friend” once said to me, “I don’t have to shoot the biggest deer on the mountain to prove I’m a man!” I don’t disagree, however it does prove other things: That you have a special skill set; that you are a provider of meat; and above all, you are the top predator you were meant to be. And that, my friends, puts you one step ahead of the rest.
Scouting is hunting; it’s not optional. As rule of thumb, you should spend at least twice as much time scouting as you do hunting. With fewer trophy opportunities these days, it’s best to locate big deer and big deer habitat well ahead of hunting season. Simply put, the more days you spend scouting in the preseason, the less time you’ll waste during your hunt.
Scouting doesn’t mean just locating deer, but locating feed and water, bedding areas, escapes routes, game trails, and sign. You don’t have to actually see a big buck to know he’s there; just look for tracks and read the signs.
Once you’ve located or even patterned a buck, you need to devise multiple game plans. Bowhunting is a low-odds game which means you always need a backup plan, or maybe several. What do you do if you bust the buck on opening morning? Where do you go next? What if that doesn’t work? What if someone else shoots your target buck out from under you?
Effective scouting means always having a backup plan or even a backup buck. Whether I’ve found a great buck, or if I’m just hunting promising new areas, I always have plan A, B, C, D, and so on that will at least cover the first few days of the season.
Part of planning is to anticipate variables, like changing wind direction, and then figuring out the best time of day for a stalk. One method that works for me is to make a list of likely big buck areas and then assign the best time frame to stalk based on thermals, bedding areas, and other factors. For each area I’ll mark morning, evening, or both.
With modern technology, such as super-optics, trail cameras, GPS with topo maps, and 3D internet mapping, you can now scout anywhere in the country, 365 days a year, even late at night in your underpants.
E-scouting is great for locating promising new country, but nothing beats boots on the ground. Physical scouting accomplishes two important things: first, you’ll become intimately familiar with the terrain you’ll be hunting, and second, you’ll get plenty of pre-hunt exercise while enjoying God’s natural splendors.
Trail cameras are a valuable piece of scouting equipment. Not only do cameras tell me when and where the bucks are, but they also tell me where they are not. Any hunter with a limited amount of scouting time will benefit from setting up an array of cameras in likely buck areas.
The best locations to hang cameras are in prime feed locations, secluded water seeps, game trails, bedding routes, and water routes. Even better locations include pinch points, saddles, funnels, and trail intersections. A month or two before the hunt opener I’ll set up four or five cameras covering an area of about five miles. By the hunt opener I have a pretty good idea of the quality and quantity of bucks in my area.
Avoid bumping deer while scouting, especially in the weeks leading up to your hunt. Check your trail cameras during the day when bucks are bedded and less likely to notice you.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of quality optics. Binoculars and spotting scopes open up the vastness of the mountain, and quality optics even open up the shadows during the critical morning and evening hours when big bucks are likely to be moving.
The strength of your spotting scope depends on the type of terrain you’ll be hunting. In thick timber country with limited sight distance you’d probably be fine with a 48x, or maybe just 40x binoculars. In this case it’s more important to identify big buck tracks and droppings than to actually see a deer. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find the deer.
In open or vast country I would recommend a high-quality, 60-power minimum spotter with a large objective lens that gathers plenty of light early and late in the day. Just beware that spotting scopes in this range can get very pricey and very heavy to pack around.
When scouting a new mountain, the first step is to locate prime feeding areas. Begin by searching south- and east-facing slopes, especially in areas adjacent to thick timber or steep bedding cover.
East-facing slopes tend to grow better feed than north and western slopes because they get more sun early, and then fall into shade later when the sun is hottest and thus hold more ground water.
Next, look for secluded stands of aspen trees. Aspens only grow where there is an abundance of ground moisture. Not only do deer love to eat aspen leaves, but the myriad of succulent forbs that grow in these areas as well. In the early season, aspen groves provide an ideal bedding area because the ground is cooler. In late fall as bucks get ready to shed their velvet, they spend more time near scrub aspens which they rub their antlers on.
While investigating likely feeding areas, scan the ground continually for large tracks and droppings. Also watch for areas with plenty of chewed-down vegetation. Once you’ve identified prime feed, follow any trails or large deer tracks leading in and out of the area. At the very least, these trails will point to likely bedding areas. Even if you lose the trail, you’ll still get an idea of which direction the deer are coming from or going. Big bucks have relatively small home ranges, so you should have little trouble locating likely bedding areas.
It’s always possible that your traditional hunting area will go downhill or be lost to the crowds. So you need to be adaptive and mobile, always searching for promising new areas. If you didn’t draw a tag this year, or you just have extra time on your hands, it’s always a good idea to investigate other units or new areas just to see the potential. You don’t need a tag to scout, so get out there and do some camping and hiking. You never know what you’ll turn up.
Scouting is hunting and should be taken seriously. Just drawing a decent tag is quickly becoming the hardest part of hunting. So when it’s your time and your tag, don’t waste valuable hunting days looking for deer that you could have found during the long preseason months.
To succeed with today’s trophy bucks you need to start hunting where other hunters stop. The best hunters I know have no physical limits. They can get go anywhere the animals go, and then get the animal out after the shot.
If you want to spend more time hunting and less time recovering, you’ll need to put a pack on and literally run to the hills long before the season opens.
I won’t get into any specific work-out regimens here; just know that your regular work-out should include donning a heavy pack and doing some vertical hiking. In addition to cardio, a little weight training will do wonders to strengthen your back, legs, and core.
Cardio training—aka high-endurance aerobics—is the best thing you can do to prepare for backcountry hunting. If your heart and lungs are sluggish, it won’t matter how big your biceps or quads are. Your cardiovascular system is what delivers necessary oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
Any cardio-type exercise will help prepare you for the mountains, but if you’re planning an extreme pack-in hunt, you’ll need to change things up a bit. A daily jaunt on the treadmill won’t be enough.
For backcountry hunts I recommend starting a high-endurance aerobic exercise regimen at least two months in advance. Running, biking, swimming, and hiking are all good activities. Do at least one of these activities three times a week for a minimum of one hour.
You should get your heart rate up to 60-65 percent of your maximum heart rate, and then keep it there for at least one hour. If your goal is to become an “extreme wilderness athlete,” you’ll need to bump your heart-rate up to 70-85 percent of maximum heart rate, and then keep it there for a minimum of two hours.
Note: To figure out your “theoretic” maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 30 years old, then your maximum heart rate is 190. To reach 85% of maximum heart rate, you simply multiply 190 by .85 (161.5 beats per minute). The only way to monitor your heart rate is with a fitness tracker. I use the cheap and effective Amazfit Band 5 Activity Fitness Tracker found on Amazon.
Again, it all depends on your style of hunting. If you’re sitting in a tree stand or ambushing a water hole, then you can get away with some pretty low-intensity training. A little jogging or cycling around the block a couple times a week would suffice.
After cardio, leg training should be your top priority. Your legs are the powerhouse of hiking and packing.
Trail running on uneven ground is an ideal exercise for your legs. In addition to intense cardio, running on uneven ground also strengthens the lower legs and joints. Like every joint in the body, the knees and ankles are surrounded by a vast network of tendons and muscles. Strengthening and tightening these joints also helps you to avoid injuries in the backcountry.
Trail running has the added benefit of preparing your body for high-altitude conditioning and endurance. This is especially important for low-landers since everything becomes more difficult with altitude.
Note: If you are out of shape, trail running can be a very arduous workout. At the very least, you should begin with trail hiking, and work up from there. You’ll still get many of the same benefits of running.
Heavy packing relies on both your legs and your back. Dead-weight lifting and squats are the two best ways to condition your back and core.
In addition to weight training, hiking while wearing a heavy pack will help strengthen your back and core muscles. Taking extended scouting trips into the mountains is a great way to train while scouting for animals.
There’s no way around it; backcountry bowhunting requires you to be an athlete. Proper training for the backcountry means taking on a three-prong approach starting with cardio, then leg training, and finally back and core.
After nine years of chasing turkeys with my bow, I finally got this fine tom on public land in Utah during the general season.
Even better than an early Thanksgiving bird was all the wild places I’d visited and the memories I made over the years.
Watch through to the end for an epic slideshow chronicling my turkey adventures. Enjoy!
When I first started hunting turkeys, someone said they were very similar to elk. This sounded absurd considering the two animals are practically complete opposites. However, nine years later I have to admit that turkey behavior during the spring rut is very similar to elk behavior in the fall.
What this means is that any hunter transitioning from turkey to elk, or elk to turkey, will already have many of the necessary skills and knowledge to hunt the other creature.
In this article we’ll explore both the similarities and differences between the two animals.
Now that we’ve examined the various similarities between elk and turkeys, let’s take a look at the major differences.
On the surface, turkeys and elk might seem like completely opposite animals. But hunting them can be very similar. Hopefully the above comparisons will help you transition between the two animals. The majestic bull elk are considered by most hunters to be the most exciting animal to pursue out West, but any dedicated turkey hunter will argue that the lowly thanksgiving bird ranks right up there with him.
The purpose of this article is to share the basics of optimal health based on many years of personal study. This applies to hunting for one major reason: A hunter is an athlete. Hunting big bucks in the modern era means having the physical ability to go wherever they go. In addition to physical conditioning, a huntermust optimize general health as well.
We’re currently living in toxic times. The air, water, and especially modern food are becoming a toxic waste dump compared to just a few decades ago. Diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are more rampant than ever before in human history. Simultaneously, life expectancy has begun to decline in just the last decade despite great leaps and bounds in medical advancements. How can this be?
It’s primarily due to our poor diets and sedentary lifestyles. Eating lots of processed foods, and most other store-bought foods that are laced with GMOs and toxins, will inevitably degrade ones health, leaving you trapped in a decrepit skin-prison.
Optimizing health becomes a higher priority as we age. Therefore, fostering a healthy diet and active lifestyle should be a daily priority. We all get old, but we don’t have to become aged. We just need to eat healthy, eat less, stress less, sleep more, and exercise more.
Several years ago I was suffering from violent blood sugar swings, mostly due to poor diet and a genetic sugar sensitivity. As far as I knew I was eating a normal American diet. But like all illnesses, my condition worsened with age, finally reaching the tipping point in 2010. This is often referred to as toxic overload. Basically your body has the amazing ability to deal great amounts of environmental stressors…until it can’t! And that’s where disease takes over.
Long story short, I spent the next ten years studying nutrition and radically altering my diet. Health and nutrition is no longer a hobby for me, but a way of life. Now I feel better than ever.
Throughout my quest for better health I compiled a prioritized guide to health. I call it the “Ten Pillars of Ultimate Health”.
If you do nothing else, pay close attention to the first three items in the above list. Diet, sleep, and stress reduction make up the foundation of good health.
Diet is #1 for good reason. Any disease this life can throw at you can be remedied through natural medicine and right foods. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, stated the following: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Self-sufficiency is a top priority for me, so harvesting organic, wild meat and growing my own vegetables is a must. It also forces me to maintain an active lifestyle.
Optimal wellness requires a basic understanding of human physiology, from you organs down to the cellular level. With modern research in nutrition and biology we know more about the body than ever before. There is a worldwide health revolution going on right now. Thanks to the internet, this information is widely available to the public.
Every cell in your body wants to live and thrive. So don’t get in their way. At the bare minimum just eat better, sleep more, reduce stress, and exercise. It’s really that simple.
Occasionally I have a beginner student consistently missing wide of the bullseye. At first it appears they’re doing everything correctly, however it quickly becomes apparent that the person is aiming with the wrong eye. Even after pointing this out, he keeps shooting with the wrong eye, or the eye that’s farthest from the arrow.
Knowing which of eye is dominant is imperative to accuracy in archery. If you try aiming with your the wrong eye, the target won’t be in the right place.
When I first hand out bows, I hand them out according to a person’s dominant hand (left or right-handedness). But some people have an opposite eye dominance. They write and throw a ball with their right hand, but they are left-eye dominant. How do you correct for this? Is it better to shoot a left-handed bow?
The answer is NO.
No matter which eye is dominant, you should still shoot with your dominant hand. Your dominant hand is your release hand, or the one that controls the arrow, string, and the final release. This means that you’ll shoot more accurately and naturally using your dominant hand.
Fortunately you can easily train yourself to aim and shoot with your non-dominant eye.
One fix is to simply close your non-shooting eye. This will immediately force you to aim with the correct eye. However, shooting with one eye closed is not recommended. Keeping both eyes open gives you a better sight picture and allows you to see depth and distance more accurately.
A better method is to wear an eye patch (temporarily) over your non-shooting eye. Yes, you will look like an archery pirate for a while, but in a short amount of time you’ll train yourself to shoot with the eye that matches your shooting hand.
Your dominant eye is the one that sends the most information to your brain. It tends to be the eye that gets the most use. Some people have one eye that is much more dominant than the other, while others have an eye that is only slightly more dominant. You can find out which of your eyes is the dominant one using a simple at-home test.
The Miles Test, described below, is considered to be a good indicator of eye dominance:
Although it is possible for a right-handed person to learn how to shoot a left-handed bow, it is much more natural (and more accurate) to learn to shoot with your non-dominant eye. If you are wondering where to get an eye patch, just look to your local pharmacy.
Compound bow technology has come a long way in just the last few decades. The brand of bow doesn’t really matter much anymore because any bow manufacturer still in business has to work hard to keep up with advancements in efficiency and reliability. Some of the more popular bow manufacturers include Mathews, Hoyt, Bowtech, PSE, Bear, Prime, Elite, and a few others. In this article we’ll look at the most important considerations when purchasing a new or used compound bow.
You can expect to pay well over $1000 for brand new bare bow. If you’re on a budget you might consider a lightly used bow for half the cost of a new one. When parallel limb technology took off in the mid-2000s, bows became much quieter and more efficient. Therefore, any used compound bow manufactured after 2008 or 2009 should work fine, so long as it hasn’t been damaged in some way. Over the years I’ve bought a few great used bows on EBay or local classified ads. Older bows from the 80s and 90s with vertical limbs and round cams are much less efficient and noisy. This often results in animals jumping the string.
Modern compound bows are powered by either single or dual cams. Basically, single cam bows are easier to tune than dual cams. The major drawback to single cams is that they produce slower arrow speeds than dual cams. Dual cam bows (aka speed bows) are faster, but more difficult to tune because, a) both cams must roll over in perfect synchronicity, and b) extreme arrow velocity accentuates imperfections in shooting form, bow tuning, and broadhead design.
Tuning issues have been largely reduced in newer bows, but in my experience dual cam bows are still harder to tune. This has more to do with blistering arrow speed than bow tuning. The faster an arrow flies, the more it is negatively affected by poor form or wind planing.
There are two major factors to consider when choosing a compound bow: Draw length and draw weight.
Draw length is basically the distance from your extended palm to your face. The easiest way to measure your draw length is by holding a yardstick in your palms straight out from the base of your throat, and then measure the distance to the tips of your middle fingers. Alternatively, you can measure your wingspan by holding your arms straight out and measuring the distance from the tips of your middle fingers. Then divide this number by 2.5.
The draw length of your bow needs to be within half an inch of your measured length. You can get away with a slightly shorter draw length, but if your bow’s draw is too long it will throw you off balance.
As for draw weight, you should pull as much poundage as you are comfortable with without straining your shoulders or fatiguing out after a few shots. Drawing a bow that’s too heavy can also lead to shoulder injuries that will shorten your bowhunting career.
Also, if your bow is too heavy it can be impossible to draw back when you are cold or fatigued. This is something I’ve experienced personally while hunting in wintertime. That being said, a bow that’s too light won’t transfer enough energy to the arrow and will result in wide sight pin spacing and less accuracy. It can also result in less penetration or pass-through shots.
Aside from draw weight and length, the bow’s carry weight should be considered. As they say, “a heavier bow is a steadier bow.” However, an extreme backcountry bowhunter might consider a lightweight carbon bow. Carbon bows are more expensive than aluminum, but weigh as much as a pound less. If you are stuck with an aluminum bow you can always reduce weight by choosing lightweight accessories made from carbon fiber or other composite materials. My current hunting bow is aluminum, but I keep it light by using a composite quiver, stabilizer, rest, and bow sight.
Another consideration when purchasing a compound bow is the axle–to-axle length (or ATA). If you have a long draw length—basically anything over 28 inches—a longer axle-to-axle bow is more forgiving of form issues because it has a wider string angle. The only drawback to tall bow is when hunting in wide open or low brush country where a taller bow will be more visible as you raise or draw your bow. Unless you have a very long draw length (say, 30 inches or more), I recommend a shorter ATA between 28-30 inches.
No matter what bow, arrow, and broadhead combination you shoot, just remember that shot placement is more important than speed or anything else. You don’t need a pass-through shot to drop a big animal. If your arrow is placed in the right spot, then speed and kinetic energy are secondary factors.
Sooner or later every bowhunter will have to deal with a poorly hit animal. An ethical hunter must do whatever it takes to follow-up and recover wounded game. Arrow-hit deer rarely go down immediately, so every hunter needs to understand the basics of blood-trailing. In this article we’ll look at some tips and tactics for tracking wounded deer.
An arrow kills a deer differently than a bullet. Bullets rely more on shock and devastating tissue damage, whereas an arrow kills either by massive blood loss due to arterial damage, or through asphyxiation by deflating the lungs.
A third and much less effective method is septic shock. Septic shock, or blood poisoning, is the result of gut-shot animals slowly dying as their stomach contents and bacteria gradually overwhelm the blood stream. Basically the deer dies from a full-body infection over the course of several hours or even days. Oftentimes the animal is lost because it bleeds very little and covers lots of ground.
Unless the animal goes down within sight, you need to give it some time to die. Even if you’re confident in a heart or lung shot, you should still wait a half hour minimum before tracking.
If you suspect a gut shot, wait at least two or three hours before tracking, and then proceed very cautiously while glassing ahead. If it’s very cold out, it would be probably be fine to leave it over night.
Whatever you do, don’t go barreling in on the deer. Arrow-shot deer sometimes don’t realize they’ve been hit and will only run a short distance before bedding down. You do not want to bump the animal, but if you are able to stalk close enough, try to get a second arrow in the animal to put it out of its misery.
You do not want to leave a mortally hit animal sitting for several hours in hot weather. Even a marginally hit animal will slow down and stiffen up within a few hours, so possibly bumping him is still better than letting the whole animal spoil overnight. Just use your best judgment based on the conditions you’re dealing with.
In rainy or snowy weather you should hasten your tracking job. Water will quickly wash away any blood, and snow can cover it up.
Immediately following your shot, mark the spot you shot from with orange tape, and then mark the place where the deer was standing. Next, see if you can find your arrow and inspect it carefully. Bright red, bubbly blood is usually lungs. Any green smears or foul smells indicates stomach, and very dark blood can anything from muscle to heart or liver. Heart shots are obvious as they tend to bleed profusely.
Once you’ve determined the quality of your hit, try to pick up the blood trail. The secret to successful animal recovery is moving slowly, as if you are still-hunting. Make very little noise and glass ahead frequently. If at all possible, move with a favorable wind.
While blood-tracking, plan on following both blood and tracks. Sometimes a deer will bleed completely internally, in which case you will rely more on tracking than blood-trailing. Fortunately running deer tend to leave very deep and obvious tracks accompanied by torn-up ground.
Inevitably you’ll get stuck with a very sparse or problematic blood-trailing job. If the blood trail is very light, you should follow these guidelines:
Contrary to popular belief, wounded animals don’t go directly to water, nor do they run directly downhill. Rather their first inclination is to put as much distance between you and them as possible. Given enough time the animal will eventually seek out water, but don’t count on it.
As for direction of travel, I’ve seen mortally wounded animals run uphill or downhill. But more often they side-hill or slant downhill over very long distances. Once again, every shot situation is different, so use your best judgment.
On rare occasion a deer that seems mortally hit will escape and make a full recovery. This happens a lot with high hits in “no-man’s-land,” as it’s sometimes called. Other times the arrow may have only contacted muscle tissue. Either way, you’ll likely never catch up to the animal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; it just means there are times when you must throw in the towel. Only experience can tell you how to proceed.