How Long Do You Wait After Shooting a Deer?
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
After I released my first arrow of 2020, I was so excited I could barely stand. However, I was left wondering after witnessing a less than ideal shot, how long do you wait after shooting a deer with a bow before tracking the animal?
After I did some quick searching I found the average minimum wait time for any shot is 30 minutes. Brain shots will be instant kills (0 minutes). Heart, major vessels, and both lung shots (double lung shots) will be 30 - 45 minutes. Single lung and liver shots will be 4 hours, and gut shots will be greater than 8 hours.
Typically heart shots and major vessel shots (aorta and vena cava) will be very quick kills. However, you should never assume your shot placement unless you witness an animal expire. If you hit two lungs (referred to as a double lung hit), you should wait 30-90 minutes. Hitting one lung or anywhere in the body cavity caudad (towards the butt of the animal) of the diaphragm, you may need up to 12 hours or more before you start tracking. Some shots may never be fatal, and checking the color of the blood on and around your arrow can provide some indication of your shot placement and approximate wait time before blood tracking the deer.
I had potentially just killed my first deer with a bow and it was my first deer on public land. But despite my excitement, I was able to stay quiet both in movement and with my voice. I texted my buddies and reviewed my GoPro footage to confirm what my eye witnessed moments prior. The video revealed a shot that seemed slightly back of where I wanted to hit but did pass through. After waiting 45 minutes I climbed down to check the arrow, revealing good arterial blood on both the shaft and fletching. After taking my time getting the sled from the truck, a total of 90 minutes had passed before I started searching for the deer. This was important because no matter how good your shot placement is and no matter what weapon you use, very few shots will result in instant death and zero movements from the deer. If you want to read more about my first successful public land archery hunt you can find it here.
How Long Does it Take a Deer to Die After being Shot?
The amount of time it takes a deer to die after a shot with a bow and arrow will depend on what damage is done and to which tissues the arrow penetrates as it enters the body of the deer. The shortest time (instant) will be a brain shot and the longest (12 hours or greater) amount of time will be a gut or non-vital shot. Each deer will expire at different times based on individual organism differences (anatomical and physiological) and micro differences of each shooting scenario.
Where is the Best Place to Shoot a Deer?
The sharpshooters of the world can drop deer where they stand with a few shot locations: (basically nervous system-related) the head and spinal cord. Buckling both front shoulders also can produce a relatively immobile deer, but the only guarantee of not having to wait after you release your arrow is head and spine shots. If your goal is to have the least amount of wait time before you start tracking, then brain and spine will result in almost no tracking at all.
However, if you are like most hunters, you are shooting for vitals (heart and lungs with shot placement in the crease of the shoulder) which will spare most of the meat on the deer while still providing the archer about a 10-inch diameter kill zone which more room for error than shooting for brain or spine. The following shot placement list is a progressive order of the least amount of time to the most amount of time it takes to kill a deer. There are always exceptions, so remember every situation is different and approach any wounded or expired animal with caution.
The Shortest Amount of Time it Takes to Kill a Deer Based on Shot Placement. (Shot places are ranked with the fastest expected death as the lowest number. For example, the quickest death expected from any shot would be #1 on the list)
Junction of Head and Spine
Major Vessels - Aorta, Vena Cava, and Carotids
Gut - Stomach, Intestines, Vasculature
What beginner hunters may assume is that a vital shot is an instantly lethal shot, which is not the case. Even with a double lung or a heart shot, deer can put an astonishing amount of distance between you and them if you rush in before they have expired. Therefore, it is extremely important to give the animal enough time to die before you make any moves that could risk bumping or spooking them up and back onto their feet.
What Happens If You Do Not Wait After you Shoot a Deer.
The deer could run off the property and off of the land you have permission to access.
Deer could tamponade (temporarily stop the bleeding) their wound while running, allowing them to run several hundred yards away.
Inaccessibility- The deer could run into cover or water increasing the difficulty for discovery and recovery.
It could run into other hunters who may shoot it creating a difficult claim scenario.
The deer could fight instead of run leading to your injury and or death.
How Can You Minimize Your Wait Time After Shooting a Deer?
After understanding where you want to shoot a deer with a bow and how long you should wait after you shoot a deer, it's time to start trying to set yourself up for the best possible chance of success. This means you will have to crunch numbers, specifically success and failure stats of different shots, and percent lethality of those shots. You will also want to research the right kind of equipment that will give you the maximum success percentages in each of those categories. The short answer is you want to fully pass through the deer on any shot (not just the perfect vital shot) in order to increase your chances of killing the deer. Any arrow left in a deer may tamponade and prevent acute blood loss despite eventually leading to a lethal shot.
It can be hard to contain your excitement after taking a shot, especially for a new hunter. However the benefits of staying calm and collected to both you and the animal are tremendous. Learning to give the animal time to expire is not an easy thing to do, but with practice and patience, you can increase the chances of a short track and quick recovery of your ethically sourced meat.