Rudi van Kets considers follow-up procedures after a shot has been taken, and identifies when to call in the deer dog
The correct behaviour of a hunter consists not in firing a shot alone but also in their behaviour towards the game, including searching for it and gralloching it correctly. I believe every hunter has to keep certain standards towards nature in general and game in particular. Every hunter who has wounded deer or boar has a duty to do his utmost to recover it and stop its suffering.
In practice this means he has a moral duty to call in a specialised tracking dog. This all comes from the hunter’s behaviour before and after the shot. If we shoot, we aim to kill the animal as quickly as possible. We do everything in our power, with precise guns, the right ammunition and a good scope. But occasionally we notice that the opposite occurs. The results are badly wounded game.
Before we shoot, we must observe the game, its behaviour, how it appeared, and so forth. These factors will make us decide whether to shoot or not. If we place a bad shot then the above will be of importance when we start tracking as it might determine if the wounded animal goes into cover or flees. Hence the benefit of observation.
We must carefully observe the various reactions of the shot game, starting with the sound of the bullet strike. It is useful to have heard this before as some of us do not hear it at all while others hear it too well. After we shoot, reload immediately as it is quite often the case that when the game is not killed outright it gives us the chance for a second shot. Often I ask the question: Why didn’t you take a second shot? You get a variety of answers. I did not want to damage the game; I did not think about it. With large animals it may be a good idea to give a second shot. Once the animal is on the ground, we give it the famous five cigarette minutes.
We now have the opportunity to verify our thoughts – shot, reaction, location, and direction of flight. Did the animal indicate it was wounded? Try to recall it all. A wounded animal’s reactions can vary enormously. Many factors play a role. I am not a ballistic expert, butin general one can say the greater the calibre, the bigger the wound. This makes it easier to track with our hound.
The law prescribes certain calibres for certain types of game and there are, of course, many different bullets in the same calibre. One can generally state that an animal shot with a .375 will be easier to track than one with a .243. We often hear the argument that a smaller calibre does less damage to the carcase. That is true, but we have an obligation to the animal to let it suffer as little aspossible and to kill it cleanly.
We have to make a serious calibre choice. I recommend a minimum of 8mm for red deer, sika and wild boar, and 7mm for the other species. Of course, a big stag in the rut can be cleanly killed with a .243 if the bullet is correctly placed, but better a bigger calibre. It is not easy to collect evidence of all shot types, but that could be helpful to our investigation of the shot place before we start tracking.
To go into a little more detail, the quantity of blood lost will depend not only on the bullet type and size but also on where it hit the body (high or low). The higher the shot, the less blood.
It is our aim for the game to go into the nearest cover and stay there. Therefore, we leave it in peace. After five or 10 minutes, we go quietly to the shot place. We can now investigate it and find what evidence is available. Be careful – loud talking or calling might cause the wounded game to flee further into the cover with all the consequences that entails.
The wounded game may well be close to the shot location. We have to consider whether the game still has signs of life and give it a bullet. We go back to the shot place and walk the first few metres of the track. Do not walk on the track itself. If we do that, we might destroy important tracking elements that are important later for our hound. The most common mistake is that the hunter immediately follows the track, disturbing the game, which flees further into the cover. Searching with a torch in darkness is also to be avoided and can be seriously dangerous if one searches for a wounded boar. Many a continental hunter has bad memories from this.
After the shot, be silent. The wounded game will go into a wound bed and quite often stay there. We find no signs on the shot place and imagine the game is missed. Now we will do a control search with an experienced hound. If we think we missed and cannot find any shot signs, it is quite often that we find the bullet strike.
We also have a picture of the situation until now. Sometimes we can draw the conclusion that we missed. Occasionally, when the animal we shot at is part of a group, we can look at its behaviour. Did it join the group running away or did it go in a different direction? In the latter case, we always complete a thorough search. Missed or not.