Bob Humphrey photo
By Bob Humphrey
There’s an old saying among deer hunters that you can’t eat tracks. True enough. But you can sometimes learn enough from tracks, and other sign, to ultimately put some delectable venison on the table. In a previous tip I offered some general advice on scouting. What follows are some more detailed tips on what sign to look for when scouting out a deer stand location.
We may as well start with the obvious: tracks. If you’re looking for any deer, you’re looking for any deer tracks. They’ll tell you where the deer have been, and the fresher the tracks the more recent the use. More abundant tracks obviously mean greater use. It may be tempting to set up on deeply-rutted trails. It may even prove productive in areas of light hunting pressure. But in areas of heavy hunting pressure, deeply rutted trails are more often used at night. If you’re not sure, you can always set up a trail camera.
If you’re looking for bucks, you need to look for buck tracks; and distinguishing them from doe tracks is an oft debated topic among deer hunters. Can you tell the difference? Sometimes. Bucks, in general, are bigger than does. A bigger track has a greater likelihood of having been made by a buck. However, relative size varies considerably over the whitetail’s broad geographic range. In the north woods of Maine, no tracker worth his salt would follow a track unless it’s at least as long as a 30-06 cartridge. In the south, deer just don’t grow big enough to make a track that size.
Another thing to look for are beds. In the absence of snow, they may be little more than a slight impression in the grass or leaves. Beds in an open field are more likely than not night beds. The thicker the cover, the more likely it’s a place deer use during the day. Once you find beds, try tying that in to some other sign, like tracks and trails, or feeding areas.
To find feeding areas, first find food. Deer eat a broad variety of food but your best bet is to try to ambush them where there’s a concentration of preferred food. This could be something like acorns, apples, persimmons, agricultural crops or (obviously) food plots. Once you find the food, look for the sign. Are the leaves turned over and pawed up? Are there distinct trails entering and leaving the corn or soybean field?
All these are signs you can take advantage of throughout much of the season. There are other signs that may have a narrower period of application, particularly the rut. We’ll look at those in more detail in a future installment. Til then, ride safely.