What Happens After: Post-shot archery tips from Bill Ayer and Cody McCarthy
By M.D. Johnson
Let’s say you’ve done everything right. The right scouting. The right amount of calling. Right place. Right time. And the shot? The shot felt good. Smooth draw. Smooth release. Yeah, there were a few little pines, but … well … you don’t think you hit anything other than that bull — and right where you wanted. He whirled, you cow called, and he kept moving. Maybe he stumbled a bit; maybe not.
What now? Your adrenaline is understandably off the charts. Hell, you’re even shaking a little, and you know damn well it isn’t from the cold. You better grab a seat, catch your breath, and think about your next move.
And what is your next move? This week, Bill Ayer (the man behind Slayer Calls) and his director of product innovation and world elk calling champion, Cody McCarthy, talk about what happens — or what should happen — after the shot. Here are their archery tips for seasoned hunters and beginners alike.
The shot: You hear him go down with a CRASH inside of a hundred yards.
McCarthy – Always wait at least 30 minutes, just for your own head — your own clarity — and out of respect for that animal. Let him have that time. You don’t want to bump him or push him. Give yourself time. Make sure you know where you are and what’s happening. Go through your pack and make sure you have everything you need. Mark the time you shot and the point — the exact spot — from where you shot. You’ve just done something that’s extremely tough to do. If you have it on film, replay the shot. Enjoy the moment. [Laughs] Go get your gear collected, and get ready for the real work.
The shot: You hear the hit, but you’re unsure precisely where it landed. Maybe it’s a little far back, but … what do you do?
Ayer – If I’m with someone, I always give the information to the non-shooter [typically the caller]. It seems like the shooter is always amped up. I’m laid back, but when I step over that white line, there’s a lot of adrenaline involved for me. So maybe I saw things differently than the non-shooter.
I’ll get together with the caller. We’ll sit down and talk shot placement. What I saw. What he saw. Then I’ll turn the reins over to the non-shooter; he’s the foreman of the situation. He’s going to size up the situation and decide what protocol to follow — what’s happening, what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to proceed. But it’s like Cody said. My archery tip is to give him time. Walk up and survey the scene. Try to find the signs. Try to find your arrow. If you’re not finding anything, it’s time to start your small circles. You’re looking for any indication that bull was hit.
The Shot: You saw the hit. Heard the hit. You’ve given the bull 45 minutes now, but you find nothing at the scene. No blood. No hair. Nothing.
Ayer – I’m trying to think like a wounded animal. They try to go downhill. They try to find water. They try to get in the thick stuff. If I can track him, I’ll do that, but without any sign, the only thing you can do is think like a wounded elk and go where he would go.
Additional archery tip: Ayer and McCarthy agree that in this situation, it’s all about persistence and attention to the smallest details (e.g., any type of disturbed dirt, leaves, or vegetation, broken foliage, or game trails). A good search may require a circular or grid search pattern — a methodical and often excruciatingly slow process. Hands and knees? Been there and done that. Orange flagging, preferably biodegradable flagging, marks the last bit of blood. Tuft of hair. Anything.
The Shot: You arrive at the shot location, walk three steps, and find bright red frothy blood … and lots of it.
McCarthy – If you see frothy/foamy blood, you’ve done something right. You made a good shot. You just need to keep following that blood until you find a frothy, bloody elk.
Dark blood with flecks of yellow or green or maybe brownish material in it?
McCarthy – Here, you’re going to assume you made a poor shot. You want to give him more time, but you want to follow up on that blood, too. Did you find your arrow? How about tufts of hair? Brown hair? Super blonde hair?
When elk are shot too far back, they’re going to die. The thing is, you have to put yourself in their position: You have a tummy ache. So what do you want? You want water and rest, and that’s what they’re going to do. If there’s a creek or a wallow nearby, they’re going to put themselves where they’re comfortable, because they’re not feeling well. Maybe you need to give it three or four hours. Hike back to the truck. Mark it all out with ribbon. But give it time; the last thing you want to do is bump that animal.
Then you’re going to go back in with your bow ready. Consider it a new hunting situation. Go in the direction of that last sign. Search out the water. Move slowly. Make circles.