by Bill Vaznis
When a buck fools you, are you finished?
Learning How To Track Deer: If You Lose the Track
Sooner or later it happens to every deer tracker. You lose a big buck’s trail in a maze of other deer tracks, especially around feeding or known bedding areas where lots of deer congregate. However his wide stance and long gait coupled with any track abnormalities such as a worn outside edge of his front toes may help you differentiate his trail from all the others. Start by making a wide circle in the hopes of picking up his trail when he exits the area.
What most hunters don’t realize is that the buck will go to the other tracks in the maze, one-by-one, until he is certain none of them are the product of a hot doe. Unlucky at love, he will then continue on in the same general direction he had been traveling. Usually this route is the shortest pathway to the next concentration of does, so if you are familiar with the territory and where the nearest doe bedding or feeding area lies, you will soon pick up his trail.
This tactic has usually worked for me, but one year a buck fooled me. I knew he had entered an abandoned orchard, but when I circled the area I could not find his exit point (it helps if you have not walked on his tracks obliterating them from further study). When I entered the orchard I heard him crash off, but I could still not find his exit trail. On a hunch, I revisited his entry trail, and sure enough learned how he had secretly left the orchard. He purposely walked out on the same trail he came in on, and I confirmed when I stuck my fingers in his tracks. Now, at the place where he entered the orchard, his toes were pointing away from the orchard!
Another trick to keep in mind when learning to track deer is that a buck will sniff-test every deer track he comes across, and if the snow is deep he often leaves his antler imprints in the snow. Look carefully and you may be able to discern the width of his rack, the mass of his main beams and sometimes even the length and number of tines he is sporting. Finding where he sniffed another track will confirm you are on the right trail.
If You Spook the Deer Herd
One deer season I picked up the snow trail of a doe with twin fawns traversing a mountainside. A larger set of tracks zigzagged behind the trio. I surmised it was a mature buck using his eyes, ears and nose to keep tabs on the doe. I got a little too close, and the buck hi-tailed it over a nearby ridge while the family group sped on along the mountainside in a different direction.
It might seem logical to pick up the buck’s track and dog him, hoping for a shot. That could work if the buck was not terribly spooked and I had all day to hunt, but I figured my odds would be better if I let things calm down and after twenty minutes or so slowly trailed the does. A half-hour later I heard the buck grunting like a pig as he searched the hillside for the does. I slugged him at 75 yards, dropping him in his tracks.
Since then I have used this technique several times, in the archery season during the early rut as well as the late season when bucks are looking for one last doe to breed. When you spook a rutting buck away from a hot doe, you want to wait a bit for things to calm down… and then hunt that doe. That’s what the spooked buck will be doing, and you can find him when he finds her!
Have you read Part 1 of this article?
A Master Tracker Reveals His Secrets, Part 1
About Bill Vaznis
A lifetime of hunting and outdoor writing has put Bill’s byline in every major outdoor magazine in North America. He has published over 1,000 articles and columns plus thousands of photographs on bowhunting, big-game hunting and freshwater fishing. Today he owns and edits a rapidly growing digital magazine for bear hunters named Bear Hunters Online. He has also published three how-to hunting books: Successful Black Bear Hunting, 500 Deer Hunting Tips and Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails. He lives on a farm in upstate New York with Grizz, a 30-pound woodchuck with a voracious appetite for the neighbors’ gardens.
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