View Full Version : Wounded Deer Behavior

Art Eatman
October 31, 2000, 06:33 PM
Some of this is from listening to the Old Guys; some from observation.

Deer tend to follow patterns when wounded, particularly with a leg wound--which I'll focus on. "Tend to", I sez; not all deer know what I think they oughta do.

If a foreleg is broken, a deer is more likely to go uphill than downhill--if there is a choice. Further, they'll tend to go into the wind, if possible; this may mean quartering up a hill.

If a hind leg is broken, they'll generally go downhill. And, usually, if the day is calm, they're more likely to catch warm air rising and thus be going into what little wind there is.

In either event, at some point they'll figure it's time to lay down in the thickest cover to be found. Now, if you know it's fairly high on a hind leg, there's a fair chance that he'll bleed out--femoral artery, for instance. So, wait a bit before trailing.

On a front leg? All bets are off. You trail, but don't just follow what blood trail there is, or directly along the tracks. Try to have another person follow the trail, and try to work off to the side, scanning ahead for likely hidey-holes where the deer may lay up. But don't shoot your buddy!

In the FWIW department, one of my buddies took a neck shot in late afternoon, at a deer facing him. He flinched (we discovered on another hunt) and the bullet hit the deer in the right front leg, went along the inside of the ribs and into the right ham. (Again, discovered later.) We trailed the deer, with the hunter unendingly swearing he had hit the neck. :) Bucky followed a contour, going neither up nor down hill. Went about 250 yards or so before laying down.

Hope this BS is useful, Art

Dave R
October 31, 2000, 11:12 PM
Thanks, Art. Always nice to get real-world experience.

November 1, 2000, 01:23 AM
Thanks. Wounded animals also tend to go to water if they can (after they settle down a bit). Being aware of where creeks and lakes are in the area can make tracking easier. Sometimes you can predict the destination of the deer.

Keith Rogan
November 2, 2000, 01:41 PM
All of that makes sense, but I wouldn't count on a deer ever doing the "right thing".

I've had a bit of experience in this area because people in my neck of the woods always want to hunt with heavier than normal bullet weights (because of the bears), so they'll stoke their old 30.06 with 180 or 200 grain bullets which often won't reliably expand on deer.
At any rate, I've spent a number of afternoons looking for other peoples deer. The one constant (in my experience) is that they do bed down and usually closer than you'd think. It's extremely important to actually look for blood, tie it to a particular track and attempt to follow it foot by foot directly to the deer. A bedded deer can be completely invisible from just a few yards away. Blundering off in the general direction you think he took will just obscure the track and lose the deer.

I *"think"* that wounded deer just head for a known cover in the general vicinity and whether that is uphill or downhill is immaterial to them - they just want to hide.

As an aside, let me pass along an anecdote about how well deer can hide. 3 or 4 years ago I was hunting with two friends in a remote locale in late december. We were hunting out of a forest service cabin that had been heavily hunted all season and we weren't doing very well, so decided to climb up a mountain to hunt some big bowls which we figured hadn't been heavily hit. We got up above the snow line into a "relatively" flat area criss-crossed with ravines filled with deep snow.
We were following a trail with me third in line and I noticed a dark "spot" lying in the snow no more than 6 feet from the trail. It was a doe, curled in a ball, ears down, looking for all the world like a rock or small log in amongst the grass and brush sticking out of the snow.
Well, having an opportunity to play "Mighty Hunter" and show my friends up, I called them back (being careful to not look at the deer and spook her), and chided them about not being very observant. I then took a snowball and whacked the deer almost at our feet - and all hell broke loose because their were at least 8 deer within 5 or 10 yards of us on both sides of the trail, which broke and ran in every direction!
The difficult part was trying to pretend that I knew they were all there! I wish I had a picture to show how naked this area was. A few leafless alders, some tufts of grass and rocks - everything else was just naked snow. You wouldn't think a deer was within a mile of that place.

The Bears and Bear Maulings Page: members.xoom.com/keithrogan (http://members.xoom.com/keithrogan)

Art Eatman
November 2, 2000, 08:15 PM
Keith, I don't care who writes the book--some deer can't read! :)

Note I was generalizing, and looking mostly at leg wounds. I'd guess your notions about the bedding down might (?) be more applicable to body shots. Might.

One hunt, I heard a shot and wandered over to see who done what. A guy had wounded a mule deer in the lower right ham. He didn't know what to do next, and didn't seem to care. So, I bailed off after the buck, following the blood trail. That sucker just flat went up a mountain much faster than I could, and I wasn't hurt--and was a good bit younger, then! I will say, in defense of my "theory", that his initial 200 yards or so were down a dry wash...Sadly, I guess he wound up as lion food.


Keith Rogan
November 3, 2000, 02:38 PM

Yeah, I know what you mean. There's so many variables that it's difficult, impossible really, to make a general rule.

I guess you'd have to look at each case and really think about it. If it was a leg shot, was the leg broken or did they see just a "limp" as it ran off? Are there a lot of hunters in the area stirring things up? How steep is the terrain? Which way is the wind blowing? Where is the nearest heavy cover in the direction the deer went? How long has it been since the shot?

I think maybe the best thing to do is sit down for a half hour or so and think about all these things - maybe smoke some crack to pass the time... Then make a plan based on the specific circumstances and follow it.

The Bears and Bear Maulings Page: members.xoom.com/keithrogan (http://members.xoom.com/keithrogan)

Art Eatman
November 3, 2000, 02:54 PM
Well, Keith, a little sittin' and cogitatin' never hurt anything...

:), Art

Nevada Fitch
November 4, 2000, 06:48 PM
Well, I guess I will put my two cents worth in also.I have been very lucky in the fact that I cannot remember actually failing to bag a wounded deer except for twice.one was a high shoulder hit with a crossbow, the other was with a muzzelloader I don't know where I hit that one at. I have had several deer run with well placed fatal hits that took some looking and trailing to find.most never went over a hundred yards,a few went farther but not often. I believe most travel down hill when convenient some have gone uphill, some just stayed on the trail they were on.several will leave the trail just before going down.I have often had a lung shot or heartshot deer clamp its tail and run flat out as long as life last maybe ten seconds.They can cover a lot of ground in ten seconds sometimes.That can be a real pain in the butt when you just fired at the last couple minutes of remaining light,it is dark right away and you haven't found your deer yet.I have started pulling into the shoulder more often in hopes of droping more in their tracks when gun hunting anymore.