Stop Waiting For Them! Here's How To Track Deer
If all you do is drive out to your property, sit in a tree stand and wait for our furry friends to appear, then you're missing out on a whole world of fun and enjoyment. The country is just too big, too remote, too rugged, and too vast to sit in a tree waiting. Let's talk about how to successfully track a deer.
Phase 1: Scouting For Signs Of Deer
Deer tracking is a great way to see the animal in its natural habitat. However, it is essential to work within the core territory of a large deer population. This will make it much easier to find tracks and follow, especially when you first start developing your deer tracking skills.
Deer populations are always relative to things like food availability, shelter, and water. For example, a deer population will thrive in an area with plenty of water and cover to provide them with food and shelter. They are also more likely to succeed near urban areas where there is an abundance of trash or garbage for them to eat.
Finding The Ideal Location To Track Deer
Deer are known as edge species, which means they use the cover & safety of sheltered woodlands during the daytime. Still, they also enjoy the abundant lushness of marshy meadows at night. These two habitats are typically divided by a field, hedge, or other feature separating woodland cover from open areas where deer live most of their lives.
In the forest, they can be found in areas with a lot of ground cover and tree coverage. On the other side of the spectrum, deer seem to do well in agricultural zones or open fields edging up against sheltered forests with a small creek flowing through and then more agricultural zones on the other side. This is because the landscape is a patchwork of abundant food while still providing lots of nooks and crannies to hide in.
Use Google Earth To Find Deer Habitat
If you find a spot that's super open but doesn't have an edge to it, you'll likely see some deer but not as many as a territory with a nice edge to it. The population of that open field won't be nearly as high, and the territory sizes will be much larger, resulting in their movements being much harder to predict.
With this in mind, simply go through a list of possible locations you can hunt and look at them one-by-one looking for field edges with lush greenery that deer like to eat around dawn & dusk. Once you get those locations nailed down, it's time to get off your damn computer and move on to phase two.
Phase 2: Boots On The Ground
Phase 2 of our deer tracking quest is to actually get outside and start visiting your chosen locations and look for some real-life deer tracks & signs. Our goal here is to figure out where exactly in this big world our favorite furry friends are living so we can make a plan of attack; maybe set up a series of cameras to keep an eye on where the deer are feeding.
Identification, Location & Population
You've found tracks!!! Here's what you need to ask yourself:
Where are these tracks located?
One of the most helpful things you can do when you first find a track is to look around at where exactly you are located on the overall landscape. Are you in the deep forest? Are you in an open field?
Where are the tracks headed?
Remember, this is just a recon mission. You have time to follow tracks and make notes about the behavior you notice. Take your time. It'll pay off in the end.
Deer tracks in forests, open fields, and other types of litter are much more challenging to spot than in sand or mud. Still, because deer have such hard and heavy hoofs, it is absolutely possible to track deer in these conditions. Often it sort of looks like someone jammed a hard stick into the ground along a line. You might be able to spot areas where the ground looks darker or lighter than the surrounding substrate.
In addition to tracks, you'll also want to familiarize yourself with some of the most common signs of deer-like scat, feeding & bedding areas. These signs can often be much more evident than deer tracks, which means they're an excellent way for beginners to become more alert to the presence of a recent trial. They also give you unique clues about deer behavior, so you can start to determine feeding and sleeping locations.
Deer scat is quite a common thing to find. They sometimes show up as small pellets, but deer scat can sometimes look like an amorphous patty if their diet is super fresh and moist. Rabbit scat can often be confused by newer trackers, but it's more rounded in shape and much smaller. So that'll help you keep on track.
Get into the mind of a deer. Deer take shelter during the day on sheltered hills where they have a decent view of the landscape, and it's easier for them to hear longer distances. You may find some of them making space under a big tree, protecting them from rain. Ridge-lines and hilltops also get more wind, which helps keep the insects away.
So What Does All This Tell You?
Now we need to look at our map! With all these deer observations collected in one place, we can try to see the story of what's going on with these deer. Based on your notes, pay attention to how you can piece together some generalized patterns about how the deer are using this landscape to survive. Where do you see the most activity?
Next time we'll cover getting into position and how to maintain your stealth, but for now, this should get you started scoping things out before the season begins. Happy Tracking.