Mathews Inc.
By Dr. Dave Samuel

After all these years of bowhunting I tend to take it for granted that bowhunters understand what to do when they Gut Shoot an animal.  And most do know what to do.  But on a recent elk hunt I met a guy who had hit a cow elk a little far back.  He showed me the sign, the arrow, and it was obvious where the animal was hit.

He needed to leave the woods quietly, and return in six hours to recover the elk.  However, he was intent on chasing after it right away.  He was reluctant to listen to advice, but in the end his friends talked him out of an immediate trail, and the result was good.

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Years ago my good friend Len Cardinale told me a story of a buck he shot around mid morning in New York, in the late season.  He hit it back, and immediately a huge snowstorm moved in, bringing 6-8 inches of snow in a short time.  Some bowhunters, after making a paunch shot, feel that they must track the deer right away if there is impending snow or rain.  This is not what you should do, and Len did not do so either.  From his story I learned a lot.

First, you must recognize a paunch shot.  Behavior of the animal upon the hit is one good sign.  Often such animals hunch up at the shot.  Then they walk away slowly with their head down.  They often stop and stand for several minutes.  Liver hit animals behave this way as well.  Your job is to remain totally quiet, not revealing yourself to the animal.  If darkness comes and the animal is still within range and standing, or bedded, you need to sneak out of there without making a sound.

A Gut hit deer will often hunch his back and walk away slowly. Another clue is a flickering tail. Watch this video of a classic Gut-hit doe walking away moments after the shot.

But sometimes the animal will not hunch up. What then? Waiting a short period of time and finding the arrow is imperitive. The Arrow will provide tell-tale clues, not only about whether the animal was gut hit, but also where in the guts the trauma occurred. Generally the larger the matter, the worse the trail. For instance, big chunks of vegetation or crushed nuts would indicate a stomach hit animal. As far as gut hits go, that would be the worst-case scenario.

Digestive matter on the arrow indicates the involvement of guts, but in this case, the liver was also involved.


If the arrow is coated with green slime with tiny matter, that would likely indicate intestines - a better scenario. The reason intestines are better is because you actually cut more surface area when hits occur there. Veins run alongside the intestines and these will get severed several times as the broadhead passes through the clump of twisting digestive system. If you mistakingly think you hit the animal well and you start trailing and begin to find many beds - this can also be an indication of a gut-shot. Back off, and come back later.

A Gut hit deer will bed often and this sign will be evident along the blood trail. A deer will likely bed close to where it was shot - so carefully sneak out of your stand - or stay put for 6 hours.

If it is raining, or if such weather is coming, you still need to get out of there quietly.  To the inexperienced, such advice seems foolhardy.  Rain will wash away the blood trail, so we must follow the trail right away before we lose it.  Right?  Not really.

The problem with this logic is that there is no blood trail to follow.  Paunch shot animals don't leave much of a blood trail.  Thus, there is little for the rain to wash away.  However, paunch shot animals, unless disturbed (usually by the bowhunter), will lay down relatively soon after the shot.  In my example above, Len left this poorly shot buck and drove home, even though snow was covering the deers tracks.  Had he followed right away, he'd have jumped the buck from it's bed, one hundred yards from the tree stand, and that buck would have run a half mile before stopping.

With fresh snow he may have been able to follow.  But when it rains and this happens, it's over. You hear such stories all the time.  "I hit him back, and when I followed an hour later, I jumped him from his bed, and we never found him."  What a waste.  Go home, wait 6 hours, and come back as Len did.  Len found that buck 100 yards from his stand, dead.   Pope and Younger too.

Another factor is critical to recovering wounded animals ... knowing where the animal was hit.  I've used yellow and/or white feathers for 50 years and the reason is a simple one.  They allow me to better follow the flight of the arrow and determine where I hit.

On my most recent elk hunt, a big coyote came to water right at dark.  The shot was 29 yards or so, and even in the dim light, I knew right where my arrow struck that coyote.  In that case it didn't affect the quick recovery.  But for deer, elk, moose, etc., knowing exactly where you hit might determine how and when you follow the animal.

All the above seems fairly basic. Then again, bowhunting is about basics.  I've paunch shot several deer over the years, and I thank Len Cardinale from New Jersey for his lesson taught those many years ago.  Up till then I figured you had to follow paunched animals right away if there was rain.  Not so.  Up till then I figured you need only wait two hours on a paunched animal.  Not so. Six hours is better (of course if it is very, very hot, and there is a lot of open country allowing little shade, then you might go a bit earlier to prevent spoilage ... but usually 6 hours is it).

True, the animals don't always go by the book.  But follow these basic principles and your recovery rate on paunch animals will rise dramatically.  The deer are doing it out there right now, so it's time to hit the woods.

Dr. Dave Samuel is the Conservation Editor for Bowhunter Magazine and a frequent contributor to


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