OK there you are lined up on that Roe Buck and everything looks good, you squeeze the trigger and instead of dropping on the spot it runs usually into the woods. So what went wrong and more importantly what do you do? Shot placement might be out and a heart shot deer, despite being technically dead can run 100 yards more or less and will always try and go to ground and hide. Worse if it’s gut shot, it will hunch as it’s hit and also run, but further as the wound, though fatal is not instantly so.

The blame game

So was it your poor shooting; probably? Despite all the talk about head and neck shots, the best aim point is just behind the point of the shoulder, so the bullet should expand and damage both heart and lungs, which is a near instant knock down. Also, you should know the range you can realistically hit the target at and not take risky longer shots. Regardless; you’ve made a bloody mess and have to sort it!

The first thing is to calm down and walk to where you think the deer was, keep the rifle loaded, safety on and the scope’s magnification at its lowest setting as you may have to shoot fast. Look around for signs of blood, fur and body tissue; ‘the pins’, which can give an indication of where you hit it. Dark red blood is arterial so assume a heart shot; lung tissue is pink so it could have been higher. Also look for hoof prints and broken twigs etc and blood on leaves. Walk carefully as you can easily stand on this evidence, so making the job harder; observation, not movement is the key!


If it’s a heart or lung shot the animal might well already be dead as both are fatal, but in woods, it will instinctively go to ground, so any large cover is worth investigating. A gut shot will eventually kill but they can travel a lot further, so you have to be thorough and persevere. But as time passes it’s probably lost, or it’s gone off your land as a wounded deer can still travel fast!

It’s now time to get some help. If you know someone with a good dog they can track it, in the UK we have a deer dog service that you can call out. This is run by those with tracker dogs who like to keep them working and on top of their game. But you must also inform the landowner regardless of how it will make you look. They might want to help or simply keep an eye out and tell their neighbours to do the same. On that point be aware that you cannot, without permission go on another person’s land as it would be illegal trespass, worse if carrying a rifle!

Hopefully, you will never have this problem and the odds can be reduced by knowing where to shoot the deer correctly and the limit of your ability to do so. The majority of deer that run are usually found within 100 yards or less with a bit of careful tracking. Even if you shoot a deer on open land; still track it looking for pins and sign as it’s all good practice!