Skip to main content

How To Make It Right, When The Shot Goes Wrong

All hope isn't lost if you make a bad shot. You just have to follow these steps to ensure recovery.

How To Make It Right, When The Shot Goes Wrong

The sun had just risen on a cold and crisp November morning. It was Nov. 24, to be exact. I was perched in a pine tree waiting for my moment at a buck I had been after all year called “Squiggley.” We had been playing cat and mouse ever since I started targeting him, and I thought this might be the day. I had hunted over 100 days since shooting my last buck, and I was so ready for the moment of truth, or so I thought.

The moment of truth while deer hunting is absolutely encapsulating. What I mean by that is, there’s so much involved in the actual moment you send an arrow at a deer. From scouting, running trail cameras, setting up stands, shed hunting in the spring and glassing velvet bucks, there’s a lot that goes into shooting a buck. And the last thing you want to do is mess up your opportunity when it presents itself.

Why, you might be asking, did I jump straight from talking about a buck I was after to not wanting to mess up the most critical moment in deer hunting? Well, that day at about 8:00 a.m., I glanced up and somehow Squiggley was already standing at 20 yards. With little time, I grabbed my bow, turned my camera on and pointed it in his direction; I drew back, nestled the pin on his vitals and let the arrow fly. As soon as the arrow made impact my heart dropped. I watched it hit high, in between his spine and his vitals, and I was disgusted with myself. I knew I had to make the shot quick, but I thought I took just enough time to feel comfortable. How could I have hit so high?

As I hung my bow back up, I noticed something that made my sadness almost turn into anger. I had totally forgotten to dial my single-pin sight back to 20 yards after practicing the previous evening at 25 yards. The buck was inside 20 yards when I shot, and my pin was off just enough to cause my arrow to hit high. It was a careless mistake, and I thought it could cost me this buck.

If you’re reading this and you’ve never experienced anything like this moment, it will come. If you bowhunt whitetails long enough, you’ll eventually find yourself in a similar situation. I’d bet that most of you reading this have been in this situation, though; and once you make a bad shot, it’s simply imperative that you do everything in your power to recover the deer. You owe it to yourself and the deer.

I truly believe that many more deer could be recovered each year if the proper amount of effort would be put in, and the right steps are followed during the recovery. You can’t give up, but you also don’t want to be reckless. Here’s how I went about the recovery of Squiggley, and how you can recover a deer the next time you make a poor shot.

STEP 1: ANALYZE THE SHOT

The first thing you need to do is to deeply analyze what happened. This is why it’s extremely important to listen and watch intently after sending an arrow. This is another reason why I love filming hunts. Instead of purely trying to recollect my thoughts, I had the benefit of video footage to turn to. After my shot on Squiggley, I watched the video back, and confirmed exactly what I thought. I hit him in no man’s land, but I was shooting on a steep downhill angle. So, my hope was that I hit at least one lung.

Analyzing the shot is important for the rest of the recovery. It can help you determine where the deer may head, how long you should give him before heading in and how much help you’ll need. In my case, we did a deep analyzation and concluded a couple different scenarios. I either got lucky and clipped part of one lung and got the second; I got one lung and the deer would most likely die, but it would take a while; or I didn’t hit any vitals and he wasn’t going to die. The only way to know for sure was to get on the blood trail and try to figure out what had happened.

nawp-2209-p972
The author says that one of the most important things you can do during a poor-shot situation, is to carefully examine the shot scene. By taking careful note of the amount and type of blood present, hair on the ground and how your arrow looks, you can get a better idea of what your next move should be. Photo courtesy of Alex Comstock

STEP 2: ANALYZE THE SCENE

One of the first things that will either support or fight against your hypothesis is analyzing the scene. By “scene,” I mean the point of impact and its surrounding area.




When it came to checking out the point of impact with Squiggley (five hours after the shot), there was minimal blood and we deemed that the arrow stayed in him. It wasn’t much to go on, but in some cases, you might not find what you’re expecting. A little part of me was hoping and praying for a lot of blood, and the off chance I clipped both lungs. Right away, however, we figured we could throw that out the window.

When covering a scenario like this, it often looks bleak. And emotionally it can be hard to stay in it and feel optimistic. After we analyzed the scene of the shot and started blood trailing, my hope for a successful recovery slowly waned. We followed blood for nearly a mile, but it was slow moving and there was never much blood. We also never found a bed, so that was discouraging. I was at the lowest of lows and things weren’t looking promising.

So, after a bad shot, what do you do when seemingly everything is going wrong? That leads us to the final step.

Recommended


STEP 3: EXHAUST ALL RESOURCES

At the beginning of this article, I said you owe it to the deer to do everything in your power to recover it. This couldn’t be more true than when all seems like it’s lost. It’s easy to call it quits after blood trailing for a long time and things don’t look good. It’s easy to tell yourself the deer probably isn’t dead anyway. It’s easy to simply give up. In my particular case, it would have been easy to give up after following a sparse blood trail all day with not much to it. But, when I say exhaust all resources, I truly mean it.

nawp-2209-p973
Ultimately, you owe it to yourself and the animal to exhaust all resources when searching for poorly hit game. As whitetail hunters, we should respect the deer enough to do everything in our power to recover them and limit suffering. Photo courtesy of Alex Comstock

The next day I called in a tracking dog, as well as five or six of my buddies. It was Thanksgiving, and we all had until about noon that day until we had to go to family functions. The tracking dog was able to get on the trail of the buck, and we tracked him for another half-mile or so, even jumping him once. After jumping the buck, we decided to back out; and this is another moment in time where I believe many people would have called it quits.

Again, I’m driving this point home, but it would have been very easy to tell myself that buck wasn’t going to die.

However, I was surprised that we were able to catch up to the deer. And not only that, but he let the dog get to 30 yards from him before taking off. I thought to myself, he may be worse off than one might think, and there still could be a chance. It’s my belief that it’s your ethical obligation to recover the deer if there even seems like a slight chance. I decided that I would go in the next morning for one last crack at it, with hopes of him expiring in the next 24 hours or allowing me to get close enough for a follow-up shot.

The shot was clearly a bad one, and I felt absolutely terrible. It’s truly a brutal reality of bowhunting whitetails. Moments like this will occur, and it’s up to you to learn from them.

IT CAN WORK OUT

I had planned to go back to where we jumped Squiggley the next day at about 9:00 a.m. Before I even got up, I woke to a phone call. It was from another hunter in the area that I knew. I answered, and to my surprise he had just stumbled onto the buck lying dead, not more than a few hundred yards from where we had jumped him the previous day. I couldn’t believe it. What were the chances of finding him like this? The other hunter and I had actually been talking about that buck a few days before I shot him, so he thought I must have been the one to arrow him and called me to find out if that was the case.

I rushed to the woods, in utter disbelief. I also had so many questions. Clearly the buck hadn’t gone far since the previous day when we bumped him. I wondered to myself: how many people would have recovered this deer?

Even though I had quite the assist, I’m almost positive I would have recovered the buck that morning, as he was right where I was planning on walking. Obviously, nothing is a sure thing, so I was happy for the assist!

nawp-2209-p971
Unfortunately, bad shots are a reality of whitetail hunting. However, if you properly handle the situation and put all your effort into it, recovering poorly hit game is still very possible. Photo courtesy of Alex Comstock

When all seems lost after a bad shot on a whitetail, don’t give up easily. Your story may not play out like mine, but it could. The simple fact is, if you give up easily, you’ll never put yourself in position to find out what could’ve happened.

Bowhunting whitetails is hard, don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. But don’t use that as an excuse to give up early. If you make a bad shot on a whitetail, own it, and go find that deer. If you have the no-quit mentality, it can allow you to successfully recover a deer you otherwise wouldn’t have.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Ripcord Arrow Rests Rejuvenates Lineup with Three New Models

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Don't Sleep on Conventional Trail Cameras

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Browning Trail Cameras Announces Cellular Innovation for 2024

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

ATA 2024 Core SR First Look from Bowtech

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Browning OVIX Camo: Ultimate Concealment for Any Time, Any Place

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Air Venturi Avenge-X Classic PCP Air Rifle Reviewed

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Primos Edge Carbon Fiber Tripod Shooting Sticks

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Bowhunting Aoudad in Texas with Browning OVIX Camo

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Bowtech CP30: A Better Bow Made For The Whitetailer

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Browning's Exclusive OVIX Camo Gives You Complete Concealment

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Learn

Year-Round Deer Scouting with Moultrie Mobile Edge Cellular Trail Cams

There are few things that get North American Whitetail's Blake Garlock more fired up than chasing early season bucks wit...
Gear

Early Fall Tactics for Big Ultimate Season Bucks

North American Whitetail Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the North American Whitetail App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top North American Whitetail stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All North American Whitetail subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now