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By: Dr. Dave Samuel

While attending the Archery Trade Show in Columbus Ohio in January, I had the opportunity to sit with some folks involved with the National Bowhunter Education Foundation to talk about bow wounding. Some of what follows came from those talks, and some are just my thoughts. Regardless, the facts are that aspects of bow wounding have changed and this may necessitate different thinking on the subject.

Before we got into our discussions, Anders Gejer from Sweden made an interesting observation. I first met Anders in 1987 when I taught a bowhunter education class in Denmark to representatives from nine countries. We were there to form a World Bowhunting Union and teach the bow class. The thought was that if countries in Europe and Africa had an international organization and if they had a bowhunter education class, it would be easier for them to convince their governments to legalize bowhunting. (Footnote—those ideas have worked in many countries since that meeting.) But big game bowhunting (i.e., moose) is still not legal in Sweden and Anders continues to fight for that after all these years. That’s dedication.

Anders also brought up an interesting thought on terminology. He noted that most of the time we do not track or follow “wounded” deer. We track “dead” deer. A small point for us but maybe a better way to phrase things for all those non hunters out there that listen to bowhunters talking or read what bowhunters write. We don’t track wounded deer; most of the time we track dead deer.

One of the major points that came up during those discussions was the coyote situation and it’s impact on deer recovery. It is becoming obvious to every eastern deer hunter that coyote numbers have climbed drastically over the past ten years. Years ago a coyote sighting in my part of West Virginia was very unusual. Today, they are everywhere. The discussion centered on letting deer that are hit further back go overnight. We are seeing more loss of such deer to coyotes when we let a deer lay overnight. So, should we follow them that night rather than let coyotes get them?

Should we let an animal go overnight before tracking with a less than ideal hit? Even when coyotes are present?

Dr. Jack Frost from Alaska deer hunts every year in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. He is an experienced bowhunter and his thoughts were that even though coyotes may get some of those deer, you should still wait at least eight hours before following a deer that is hit far back. Others agreed. The consensus was that even though there is now a higher chance that a coyote will get such deer, the best strategy on deer hit further back is to sneak out and come back many hours later. I concur. Whether it is raining, snowing or in areas with coyotes, I feel the best chance of recovering deer hit further back is to sneak away, let the deer bed (which, if undisturbed will probably be within 150 yards of where they were shot) and recover them the next day.

This reminds me of a story I heard from my good friend and great bowhunter, Len Cardinale from New Jersey. Years back he was bowhunting the late season in southern New York. A really good buck came in and Len hit it further back then he would have liked. Immediately a major snow storm moved in and covered the ground with many inches of snow. Len saw the storm coming and knew it would wipe out the trail of the deer. Even so, he quietly left the woods and came back the next morning. He went to where he last saw the deer, moved some yards past that and found the deer dead, under the snow. As a younger bowhunter, that story reinforced the idea to me that I should not track a deer that is hit further back, no matter what the weather. Wait and come back and your chances of finding that deer are good.

Another part of those discussions was about the use of trailing dogs to recover deer. More states now allow the use of trailing dogs and other states are now considering using them. In 2010, twelve states opened up the use of dogs to trail wounded deer. The driving force behind the use of dogs is John Jeanneney who wrote the book “Tracking Dogs For Finding Wounded Deer.” Apparently he has been on hundreds of trackings and this has given him some perspective on what happens to deer hit in certain areas of the body as well as thoughts on how far they go, how often they bed, etc. Indeed, compared to most of us, Mr. Jeanneney has seen what it would many lifetimes for us to see, relative to trailing lost deer. I had to leave the discussions before they ended, but it appeared that the bowhunter education folks were going to invite Mr. Jeanneney to meet with their board and use his expertise to consider any revisions on how to improve what the NBEF teaches on blood trailing in their bow classes.

The NBEF is not considering teaching students that you need to use trailing dogs.  But the man who has followed hundreds of blood trails may have some thoughts on trailing that will help the NBEF do a better job on teaching blood trailing.  Or, they  might come up with new ways to improve what they are already doing.

Though, this subject did not come up, the use of lighted nocks also has changed the world on wounded game. At least I assume they do. There is no science to back up those claims but it seems only logical that lighted nocks give the bowhunter a better view of where the deer was struck and this then may help that hunter make better choices in tracking. Of course there is also the thought that lighted nocks may encourage bowhunters to shoot later in the evening with lower light and this could lead to higher wounding. Again, there is no science to support that either.

Nothing stays the same in this world. However, there is one constant relative to wounding. Take the most ethical shot you can on game. Wait for the right shot, do not shoot beyond your effective range and do everything you can to recover game. Follow those rules and you will rest easier during your 2012 bowhunts. Ethical bowhunting supersedes any changes going on relative to wounding.