THE OVERNIGHT RECOVERY – NOT ALWAYS GOOD
We see the overnight recovery a lot now on outdoor TV now, and we hear guys say, “If in doubt, back out.” I think that is some of the most overused and abused advice I have heard in the hunting world. It has given a generation of bowhunters the wrong idea about how to go about recovering game.
There are times when you have to leave deer out overnight in order to let the deer have sufficient time to die, but this should not be a casual decision. It should be a last resort.
If the conditions aren’t right, (cold) you may come back to find a completely inedible deer the next day.
Greg and Derik had cold conditions that kept their deer well preserved until morning, but I have had bad experiences with bucks I’ve left overnight to the point where I am very hesitant to do it now. One buck in particular still causes my nose hair to curl.
I accidentally shot that buck in the paunch and left him until the next morning. The reasoning was sound enough: it is a mistake to push a deer shot in the paunch after dark because you run the risk of sending him right out of your hunting area to die elsewhere. Left undisturbed, he will die close by, making recovery much easier the next morning. Well, anyway, it seemed like good logic.
I left him and came back for him the next morning. He must have died quicker than I thought because he was stiff as a fence post and his cavity, once opened, filled the air with noxious fog.
Blood left in a deer’s body cavity spoils even quicker than the richest cream. Keep that in mind. Would you leave a glass of cream out overnight on a warm day and then drink it the next morning?
I was determined to do my duty as a hunter and eat my quarry. I took that particular buck to a butcher shop and had most of it made into hamburger. I struggled mightily to eat that burger. When Pam began to fry it up for chili or casserole, it made the whole house smell. I would eat it and I never got sick but that buck sure cured me of leaving deer in the field even a moment longer than necessary.
When it Works: For more input on this subject, I called the local locker plant that handles hundreds of deer each year. The owner told me that if the temperature is in the low 30s, the deer will be fine even if you leave it out overnight before you recover and field dress it. It is just a judgment call on his part, but Randy has had personal experience in this matter. “I’ve done this myself and the meat was fine,” he said.
“We keep our coolers dialed in at 33 degrees,” Randy added. “You can keep a deer for a long time at that temperature. Of course, when the gut is still in the deer you have to do everything you can to get the deer opened up and cooled down as fast as possible, but leaving it overnight when the temperature is in the low 30s should still produce good eating.”
“Where guys get into trouble is when the temperature is up in the upper 30s or higher and it takes them 12 hours, or more, to recover the deer. I have had some bad stuff brought in here and the worst ones were always recovered the day after they were shot in warm conditions. If you don’t get to a deer until 12 hours after it dies in 50-degree conditions you have a problem on your hands. Gangrene sets in fast. I can trim the meat as best I can, but that is not going to be high quality table fare.”
“Blood spoils in the meat much faster than the meat itself,” said Randy. “The best eating occurs when you can drain the carcass of blood immediately. That is what we do when processing other types of animals such as beef and hogs. We would never think of leaving the blood in the carcass.
“Yet, when you shoot a deer in the paunch, and then wait until after it coagulates before field dressing the deer, that is exactly what you are doing. You don’t kill him by bleeding him out. The blood stays in the muscles and in fact, it carries the acid and infection from his stomach or intestines to all parts of the deer’s body. That is what actually kills it. It dies of internal blood poisoning and septic shock. The blood and the bacteria are still in the meat. While I have never heard of anyone getting ill from eating meat from paunch shot deer, they don’t taste as good as deer that were killed cleanly and bled out quickly.”
Night Tracking Tips: So the idea is to go after the deer as soon as you feel the hit will have caused death. If you would wait three hours to take up the blood trail on a morning hit, then do the same thing on an evening hit.
I have used all means of artificial light to track deer after dark and by far the most convenient has been a small video light that we use when filming segments after dark. I have a link to one here that you can look at. It is small and easy to carry and lights things up perfectly.
It is best to move slowly and very carefully, so keep the amount of help to a bare minimum at night. I never go with more than one other helper, and often go alone.
Beating Coyotes: In many parts of the country, it is wise to worry about coyotes if you leave a deer out overnight. I had one experience in which I lost a portion of a nice mule deer buck one night and since then I have done everything possible to keep the coyotes from getting even one bite of my venison. To do this, I actually bundle up and wait outside near the area where I shot the deer listening for coyotes for the prescribed time until I believe the deer is dead.
If I hear coyotes yapping in the direction the deer went sooner than my scheduled time to start the recovery, I head in their direction immediately.
You can recover marginally hit deer and save the venison too if you know the truth. It is not good to leave a deer out overnight when the temperatures are warm. Instead, go after it in the dark as soon as you feel it is most likely dead. Overnight spells overcooked when the temperature ranges into the 40s, and above. It is not an appetizing prospect.