Bow hunting leafless concealment

Making Sense of Mystery Hits

Jul 2, 2019

Courtesy of Bill Winke

After all the discussion that arose from my hit on the Big 7, and my failure to recover him, the topic of a second dead zone has come up. I am going to open this discussion and we will see where this leads.

I am aware of five bucks that were hit low behind the heart. I hit two of them and I know of three others hit by my friends. Of those five, only two were recovered and both after long, multi-day chases. One was a hunt featuring Chad Lathrop that we captured on video back in 2013.

Mystery hits is a new concept that we have never really dove into here. Should make for an interesting debate.

Differences in Anatomy

I believe in all these cases, the arrow went behind the heart, not hitting brisket, but actually going through the body cavity. I also believe that in the case of those bucks that were recovered, the hit was slightly farther back, resulting in a forward paunch hit.

After field dressing hundreds of deer over the years, most of them does, I also think that not all deer are formed exactly the same. They may start out the same, but some have a lot more connecting tissue between the organs and the side of the body cavity than others.

With those deer, it seems like you have to literally rip the lungs free from the rib cage. I have seen dozens like this, maybe 10 to 15% of the deer I have field dressed.

I am sure those lungs don’t lie in the exact same place in the body cavity as those of deer where they seem almost free floating.

In some cases, I really believe the vitals are shifted slightly. So, if it is possible for the exact location of the lungs to be a variable, is it also possible for other organs to find a different place and shape in different deer?

Soft Tissue Hits

I have seen broadheads pass through the middle of deer without killing them and I know other people who have too. I know they lived because I have seen them the next year!

I have also seen (when dressing deer) where the broadhead traveled through the paunch area and didn’t cut the stomach or intestines. Apparently, there was not enough pressure against the blades to cause them to cut, or the head created a shock wave in the organs that moved them aside slightly as it passed.

I don’t know why for sure; I only know I have seen it.

Puncturing the Diaphragm

This brings up another question: will a diaphragm hit kill a buck?

To find out, I contacted a veterinarian who specializes in livestock, including cattle, sheep and goats. He told me that a cut through the diaphragm will not always kill a mid-sized animal. Unless part of the paunch projects through the hole, there is a high likelihood that a punctured diaphragm will not kill the animal. He sees it in his office all the time.

A Strange Case Study

I was on in Montana many years ago where I saw something that left me scratching my head. Another classic mystery hit.

One of the hunters in camp came back at night with a strange story and the video to back it up. He showed us a perfect 12 ring shot on a broadside whitetail buck at 20 yards. It was the perfect hit – you could not have placed the arrow better. The shot was from a 20-foot-high stand and the angle was perfect for both lungs.

The buck jumped, ran a short ways and then stood behind a bush at 40 yards for more than an hour before walking off.

We went back the next morning, several of us, and did a grid search of the river bottom cover. One of our group found the buck, still alive in his bed.

The hunter who originally shot him, dispatched the buck with another arrow. Interestingly, the buck had enough energy left to jump up and run 100 yards like he had never been hit.

I am not sure if that buck would have died on his own or not. It is possible he would have laid there and then eventually got up and walked off.

This opened my eyes to the fact that even perfect looking shots can sometimes produce very strange results. Somehow, that deer was different – his vitals had to be in a different position. I don’t remember what we learned on dressing him. I think the arrow had passed through both lungs but had not collapsed them or hit any blood rich areas.

The Takeaway

I am now convinced that anatomy is not a given. A marginal shot on one deer may not bring the same results as the same marginal shot on a different deer. This has to be the reason for these mystery hits. I also think that old bucks are super tough and they have been through some hellish battles in their lives and it just takes more to kill them.

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