There are many ways you can hit a deer but none is more dreadful than the gut shot. Not just because there is little to no blood for tracking, but it is almost always fatal. The gut shot will kill a deer given the correct amount of time. Also, a gut shot deer tends to leave a big mess. But a gut shot none the less is fatal and can be recovered if the right steps are taken.
After shooting a deer in the guts, or paunch as some refer to it, you will most always get a complete pass through as there is nothing in the mid-section to stop the arrow or bullet. If you are archery hunting, your arrow will often be covered with a green or brown body fluid and even half-digested stomach matter. There will usually be little to no blood on the arrow. This is a clear indication of a gut shot.
If you suspect a gut shot has been made on a deer, whether you or another hunter did so, back out. Get down from the stand very quietly and leave the area. A gut shot deer will most likely run 100 yards or so and stop. A deer experiences a great deal of pain when gut shot. Unlike a double lung or heart shot, a Deer will tend to give into the pain and find a place to lie down, but not die right away. If you spook the deer however, it can run for miles. This is why it is so important to let the deer expire, undisturbed.
I have heard many time frames in which you should leave a deer lay after being gut shot. If you shoot it in the morning, I suggest leaving it until the evening. If the deer is shot in the evening I would wait until morning. None the less, I suggest always waiting at least 12 hours before attempting to retrieve a gut shot deer.
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Many hunters will ask if a gut shot deer is safe to eat. I can say from my own experience that with proper care a gut shot deer is usually fine to eat. Yes, I have made the mistake of hitting a deer in the guts. However, I considered myself lucky to have even found the deer considering horrible tracking signs or that the lack of. Once again, I backed out quietly and came back after giving the deer at least 12 hours to expire.
If you are like me and process your own venison, I myself will dampen a towel with vinegar and wipe the questionable sections of the deer. Vinegar will kill any bacteria forming and it is obviously safe to consume. From there I continue to process the meat into steaks or roasts.
The obvious best way to recover a gut shot deer is to not shoot it in the guts at all. Always allow for a good broadside or quartering away shot. The last thing any hunter wants to do is make a bad hit and have a deer suffer. But with that being said, if you hunt long enough, you will make a bad hit. Very few experienced hunters can say they have always hit their mark. Although very frustrating and saddening for you and the deer, it is important to give your best effort to recover that animal. This includes not attempting to recover the animal until ample time has been given for it to expire.