Official Montana Hunting Safety Course Link to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Hello, hunter! Montana's online hunting course has moved. Click here to go to the latest version of the Today's Hunter in Montana course—the official hunting safety course of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

The following course material is for reference only. Please go to the new course to complete your Montana certification.

What To Do After the Shot

Even if you make a perfect shot, the animal may not fall instantly and die right away. A deer hit in the vital area can run for hundreds of yards before collapsing. It is your responsibility to do your best to recover every animal you shoot.

Hunting couple with deerIf a wounded animal does not die on the spot:

  • Mentally mark the location of the animal when you shot and where you saw it last. Look for some distinctive feature (dead tree, flat rock, etc.). Also, be sure to look back often when tracking. The landscape will look different on the return trip!
  • Wait for 30 minutes before following a wounded animal. A wounded animal will likely lie down. It might die there on the spot or become too weak to get up by the time you find it. It may take as long as 4-6 hours for an animal hit outside the heart/lung area to die.
  • While waiting, go over the shot in your mind: What was the animal doing before you shot? What did the animal do when you shot it? Did the position of its body change when you shot?
  • Even if you think you didn’t hit the animal always check for blood, hair, or bone chips near the spot where it was standing. Unusual running behavior after a shot may indicate that an animal has been hit.
  • Go slowly and look carefully for signs of a hit. Always assume you made your shot until you recover the animal or are absolutely certain you missed it cleanly.
  • In case you need to track a wounded animal, use this technique:
    • Mark the place you were standing when you shot and the area where the animal was standing when it was shot.
    • Take a compass bearing on the direction you saw the animal go.
    • Look for blood, tracks, meat, hair, or bone on grass, rocks, leaves, and trees as well as broken twigs, disturbed vegetation, and broken ground.
    • At first sign, mark the site with highly visible flagging material (remember to remove this tape after you find the animal).
    • Follow the animal’s path, marking the trail at each sign.
    • Walk to the side of the trail if possible, so you don’t disturb sign.
    • If you have somebody helping you track, trackers and flankers should keep 50 yards apart. The tracker concentrates on the trail while flankers look ahead for downed or fleeing game.
    • Never give up on a trail until you’ve made every effort to find the next sign. If you lose the trail, start searching in widening circles from the last sign especially downhill and near water since that’s where wounded animals sometimes tend to go.
    • Approach downed wildlife carefully. Approach from behind and poke the animal with a stick to make sure it is dead. Watch to see if it is breathing. If there is no sign of movement, check the eyes. If the eye does not blink, the animal is dead. If the animal is still alive, kill it quickly with a shot to the base of the ear, making sure the shot is safe.

Appreciate the Gift

Few things are more satisfying or bittersweet than the moment at which you take the life of an animal. You may be proud of your accomplishment at the same time that you feel sadness for the death of the animal. Take a moment to give thanks for all that hunting means to you and for the wonderful gift you have received—a gift provided by the wild land.

Montana Fish, Wildlife,
& Parks
White-tailed deer tracks
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Official hunting safety course for Montana hunters last modified: November 16, 2011
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