A simple look
As hunters enter the woods, be it an older hunter, or a younger, less experienced one, we are usually looking in front of us for deer either moving around, bedding down or just standing there. But this is just part of how to look around for deer, the other part is looking for the signs left behind by them that tells the inside story and gives us the best option of finding them.
Lets take a brief look at most predominate signs left behind in the woods by the whitetail deer.
Deer tracks in general are one of the most looked at signs as we enter the woods. Best seen in the snow, they also can be carefully read in the moist or dry dirt. Determining the age of tracks is a so-so call. In the soft dirt, the edges of the print are sharp, as opposed to the sharp edges that have fallen off into the print itself, and in snow, which is easier to read, the tracks will have freshly, fine powdered snow around it. Following tracks after determining the age of the track is something of a personal call.
Sometimes following fresh tracks could lead you to the deer that made them, as in my case a few years back, I had followed a track of three deer only to catch up to them about two hundred and fifty yards later. So some times this method works, also, trailing tracks will also show you patterns of deer for feeding or bedding habits, but this is more than likely not always full proof in catching up to a deer or even seeing them. But still, it gives us the opportunity in letting us know there are deer around are spot of hunt.
Some also believe that the difference between buck tracks and doe tracks can be determined by either the back track width compared to the front, because of the wider hips of a doe, or, the depth of the two back imprints of a hoof, being that of a buck, or even the roundness of the print can determine the sex of the deer. There really isn't enough research or truth backing these up to be 100% certain. But I do think that the larger tracks with a deep imprint of the back of the hoof shows it to be a buck.
Some research in the size of a deer print has come pretty close in showing the age of a deer. To the right is a chart used to determine an approximate size of a deer print compared to age and/or possible sex.
This sign is a very exciting one indeed to stumble across in the woods. Though some might not agree with me on hunting these well layed down paths through the woods, I had stumbled across one nine years ago after a snow storm that told me the deer were traveling through this area very frequently, and since then, I have been shooting deer in rifle season off of this trail. Though some other signs helped me in my decision, like laurel for cover, it still gave me a good sign that the deer were using it heavily. One thing I always do when I come across a deer trail is to stay off of it. The last thing you want to do is leave your scent on a path that is used often.
Although deer use these trails more predominately at night for travel, mostly the trails left on lower flat areas, they also will use these without hesitation for quick escape, even on deer drives. Most of the time when deer travel along these, they are used because they are the way of least resistance and they donít use up their energy that they have saved up. The trails that tend to move upwards on hillsides, are used in the mornings because the deer take advantage of the thermal currents. This way as they move upwards they can smell their way up. Look for compressed leaves, and worn down dirt with lots of droppings along the way, and in the snow, this will show as expected, lots of hoof prints in a well defined path.
Another exciting sign that hunters enjoy finding, is a deer bed. They are a real positive sign to find and are usually within a good feeding area. These are good hot spots to either tree stand hunt or even more, a spot to still hunt in the afternoons. A deer after feeding will look for what they have determined to be a _ Safe Zone _ to bed down and absorb the nutrients they have consumed during the afternoon or evening hours. A bed is an oval deer-sized depression in the ground, with the hoof prints sometimes seen as tucked under the animal as a deeper impression in the middle of the oval.
Though really not much of a major factor for hunting, the deer droppings, also called pellets, are worth mentioning in all of the signs here. They help you in determining sometimes the age of tracks that have been found, but they really are not much help most of the time at which they were dropped. Some also believe that you can tell the difference in droppings from a buck or a doe, but there is not much truth in this. Some findings do show that size or consistency of the droppings are determined by what the deer are feeding on and not the sex of the deer.
This is a very wide subject to be incorporated into the signs of deer, but as I had the experience in the woods a few times, it is worth mentioning.
Deer feed on some forage(browse)in the woods in certain areas pretty heavy sometimes, and if you have the luck to find one of these spots, it is one to keep an eye on throughout the hunting season. These areas are seen as spots where the leaves and ground are all dug up and thrown aside, and lots of tracks are visible in the dirt, along with a lot of droppings, and the browse will be chewed up pretty good. Most of these times, acorns are abundant in these areas, which is reason for the deer to dig into the ground coverage and kick it up real good.
This is an area where, during the rut, a buck so called, paws the ground to the point of clearing a small area down to the dirt. Size does vary with these, then, the buck urinates on the ground. Most of the time, you will notice a small branch over hanging the scrape, also called ,a licking branch, a buck will chew on this and rub the gland on his face against this. This lets the doe know in the area, that he is in there looking for a mate. As doe come along, they will also urinate into these scrapes. The buck will visit these spots often to smell for a doe along the way of his markings. This will also be a good area for rubs most of the time.
This is one sign that really gets the blood pumping in the hearts of the hunter who is in search for a buck. Just about every experienced hunter could write a book of the rubs they have seen in the woods, but I would like to briefly break it down into two simple explanations.
The first rub sighting is that of what I call the cleaning rub or polishing rubs. This kind of rub comes from the bucks milling around the woods at no set points, either cleaning the velvet off his horns or polishing them up and strengthening his neck muscles for future challenges. It is a sign that a buck is in the area, but not really having a area for which he has interest.
The second rub sightings are called territorial rubs. These occur once the buck is in full rut. These rubs are always in a straight directional pattern in a length of four trees or more, and are sometimes associated with scrapes. These are rubs from bucks making the statement to other bucks that, this is my territory and stay away or you will be challenged. This is an awesome area to rattle horns together to draw the buck in, or use the buck grunts. I have done this with rattling with great success in bringing the buck out that has made the rubs. The buck checks these rub lines on a daily basis.
These are some of the most predominant signs of deer in the woods that most experienced hunters use to gather information about how the area is looking for a good chance at a whitetail deer. These signs are great starter points for a combination of information that should tell you about the deer in the area, so as you enter the woods to hunt the deer, donít just look for that moving deer, or just sit and wait for them. Get out and read the signs listed here. You will become a better and more experienced hunter for it.
BY Henry Weatherwalk
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