Most deer hunters will sooner or later in their hunting careers wound a deer and not recover it. It happens.

The causes differ. A rushed shot. Buck fever. A gun with an inadequate caliber. A bullet’s impact or trajectory compromised by a tree limb.

Often, particularly with inexperienced hunters, shots at a deer are taken that should not have been. This is called the unethical shot. Losing a wounded deer is not a good feeling, either, as the hunter is haunted by the realization that his mistake has left an animal crippled or to suffer a slow death.

My 50 years in the deer woods have taught me a couple of things in this regard. First, if you take the shot and the animal runs off, don’t assume a miss just because you can’t find blood or hair. In fact, too many hunters, especially beginners, are too quick to assume a miss. The ethical assumption is that you did hit the deer you aimed at, unless there is a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. You owe it to the animal and to your own self-respect as a hunter, mindful of his heritage, to exhaust all search avenues before giving up.

If you know that you have a wounded deer and you lose the blood trail or the animal keeps moving, there is a good option. Contact a Maine member of the United Blood Trackers. This is a highly reputable national tracking organization whose mission statement is simple and straightforward: “… the ethical recovery of wounded big game animals.” These are proven, experienced and woods-wise folks with trained dogs whose ability to stay on the track will surprise and amaze you. The handlers are all licensed by the state and love what they do.

Susanne Hamilton of Montville and her Dachshunds Buster and Meggie have been in on the ground floor of tracking wounded big game animals in Maine. A few years back, I spent the day with Susanne and her dogs trying to find a wounded buck in the Old Town area. We never found the buck during our all-day track. After 8 miles, it was quite apparent that the buck would survive to rut another day. Not the outcome the hunter wanted, but at least he knew that his quarry would probably make it.


To say that I was impressed by this tracking team’s dedication and professionalism would be an understatement.

Hamilton is not the only state-licensed tracker at your service if you wound an animal. There are five in Maine. They are, in no particular order: Susanne Hamilton, Montville, telephone 249-8078; Lindsay Ware, Ellsworth, 664-0843; Scot Clontz, Mechanic Falls, 831-0872; Adam Coop, Gray, 657-2324; and Paul House, Lee, 570-4806.

Hamilton is available 24/7 and does not charge for her services. Ditto Lindsay Ware. They do accept donations to cover their gas and expenses. If you call them, expect to be questioned thoroughly before they agree to come to assist you. If your search site is more than a two-hour drive for either of these trackers, you might want to try contacting some of the other trackers on the list.

Hamilton and Ware want me to tell you this: If you lose your wounded animal’s blood trail after a reasonable search period, or it keeps moving, it is best not to call all your friends and relatives to help you grid search. All that will do is “muddy the waters” for the scent dogs. When you abandon your search, it’s best to mark the sight with an orange ribbon and then get on the phone to the tracker of your choice.

Of course, as hunters, our ethical obligation is to avoid wounding a deer in the first place. The difference between a clean, ethical kill and wounded unrecovered deer often boils down to a simple case of shooting proficiency. Too many of us wait until the day before the hunt to practice our marksmanship or to sight in that scope.

The bottom line is that, as hunters, we can all do better and must. We owe it to the remarkable animals that we hunt, and to the heritage on which we place so much value.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at

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