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Like a detective collecting clues to pursue a suspect, a bowhunter must gather a variety of “hit data” to help track the animal after it’s shot.

The first important piece of information for a successful recovery is noticing where your arrow strikes the animal. In many states, lighted nocks are legal bowhunting equipment and can be a great help with seeing your shot placement.

Knowing where your arrow hit is a rough indicator of:

  • How long it will take your animal to die
  • How long to wait before beginning the recovery process

To track your arrow after release, remain perfectly still. Don’t even lower your bow down the tree if you are hunting from a tree stand.

In addition to noting where the arrow strikes, notice:

  • How far the arrow penetrates—in some cases, it may pass through.
  • Where the arrow hits the ground if it passes through the animal.
  • How the arrow strike sounds—a “crack” may indicate a broken bone, a “thud” may signal a solid chest hit, and a “plop” may indicate a gut shot. Or you may hear the arrow slapping branches.
  • How the animal reacts after the strike. Does the animal collapse instantly, run away, or hump up and walk away? If the animal humps up, there’s a high likelihood of a gut shot.
    • If the animal instantly collapses (spine shot), immediately shoot it again.
    • If the animal remains upright and leaves the area:
      • Watch it as long as possible to determine the direction of travel.
      • Listen as the animal flees—you may hear it fall to the ground. Also listen for a death moan, breaking brush, or rolling rocks.
      • Note the time, landmarks around the shooting area, and where the animal was standing or last seen.
      • Take a compass bearing.
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