Whitetail deer tracks are a great thing to come across, and its one of those important “signs” that there are deer active in the area. If you have snow that has just fallen, it’s even more encouraging to come across a fresh set of tracks.
Deer tracks “point” in the direction of travel
It seems like I googled this every season for the first few seasons I was hunting. It almost looks like either side could be the front / and the direction of travel. They key to remember is that the tracks almost look like an arrow pointing you in the direction where the deer went.
On a Mature buck, you may find that the front hooves of the track splay out. This is more comon in softer ground, and show that it’s older because the constant weight of that larger buck have splayed out the track. In this case it can almost look like a V in front with the two tips pointing away from each other.
This is part of a series of posts, discussing methods to track a deer from the moment you have released the shot, to recovery. For the whole set of posts, view here.
Where did you hit the deer?
Following a blood trail tells you alot about the shot that you made. In the picture above, you can see that my arrow shaved off some longer white hair. From that, we think about the areas of the deer that white hair is on, and that is on the chest, and belly. Neither are ideal shots. I tracked this deer for about six hours after the shot, and then again for days after. It was a very hard time to go through, not knowing how injured the deer was, and whether or not I would find it over the next rise.
Back hair is long, dark (often black-tipped), and coarse.
Neck hair is like short back hair except it is light-colored on the front of the neck.
Brisket hair is very dark and is twisted near the junction of the neck and the body.
Side hair is short and brown with dark tips.
Bottom of the rib cage is a mixture of white and dark brown hair that is straight, moderately long, and thick.
Belly hair tends to be white, long, fine, and sometimes twisted.
Tail hair is very long.
Hair on top of the tail is dark brown tipped with black.
Observation after time has passed:
Be aware of any wildlife activities in your area. Crows or ravens calling, squirrels barking, or vultures circling may indicate the presence of a downed animal. Look around the surrounding area for game trails, openings in fences, thick cover—anything that could attract a running animal.
Every year that I’ve been out hunting I see more deer. Last year I even walked up on a coyote, who thanks to scent control, and moving slowly didn’t even acknowledge that I was there. He just kept on walking. The key to seeing more when you are out in the woods is still hunting.
It took me a long time to “learn” how to “Still Hunt”. Not because it is difficult, but because it takes more patience than it sounds like. You have to force yourself to move slowly, and quietly.
In the big woods that I hunt, every time you take a step forward your view changes. You can now see around different trees, and can potentially see a deer. As you are moving I like to move 3 steps at most at once. This has a couple advantages, the first of which (counting) keeps me honest. Secondly, Deer most often take 3 steps when they are browsing food. This means that if a deer does hear me, then hopefully they think I’m another deer.
Each step as I put my foot down, my eyes are scanning the area around me. I’m also checking the ground for sign, and for things that are going to make noise when I step on them.
After the three steps, I take 30 seconds to scan the area, and see what has changed since my last scan.
Slowly, I gain ground. Its the best blend of staying in once place (and being quiet) and covering alot of ground (while being noisy and potentially scaring off deer).
Finally the last tip for still hunting is to look behind you. If you are good with your scent control, and are moving slowly and not making much noise, it is definitely possible to look backwards, and see a deer walking across the trail that you just cut.
Make it a goal of yours to start this season, and start seeing more wildlife, rather than bumping it before you see it.
It took me almost 7 years of hunting before I tried this. It seemed harder to hunt all day, and not go back to camp for lunch. Truth is, its way easier to pack a lunch, and not have to get all the way out of the woods, drive back to camp, and have lunch, then do it all in reverse.
The advantage of course is that you have all that extra time in the woods. I use it to change locations, get deeper into the woods, and and allow myself to then mid afternoon (if I want to ) then get closer to the truck again. This allows me to scout deeper into the woods than I can in a morning or evening. And it also allows me to hunt 3 spots in one day, rather than just two. I find i’m also more often in a deeper spot for the evening hunt. All of these things help increase my chances of getting that deer i’ve been dreaming of all year long.
If you are a hunter, asking this question, chances are you are more interested in when the most Daytime activity is during the mating season of the Whitetail Deer. Much of the Rut activity is nocturnal, and for hunters limited to daytime hunting, we miss out.
When is the Peak Rut in your area?
The peak of the rut is based on the diminishing light that occurs in the Fall. Every year as the hours of daylight of those golden summer days shorten, and become fall days, the mating season of the Whitetail deer gets started like clockwork. This is based on the time the sun is in the sky, which is the same every year. It is NOT based on the Moon at all. Let me repeat that – Decades of research tells us that the timing of the Rut has nothing to do with the phase of the moon.
Here is the output from a survey of state biologists across the country (click to enlarge):
More Importantly – What is Peak Rut considered by Biologists?
The way that Biologists figure out when the peak of a previous year’s rut was is by measuring the batch of fawns from that year in order to determine what avearage date they were concieved on. This does not mean that that date was the most ideal date to be hunting – in fact probably just the opposite. When two deer have paired up for mating, chances are they are in a protected, secluded area, and not out and about. Instead, its the days leading up to the peak rut day that are the days that Hunters most look forward to.
It’s those days before the peak of the biological rut that Bucks wander around the woods in the daytime looking for does, seemingly oblivious to sounds and smells that we as hunters make. One year, a buddy of mine and I were hunting on different sides of a small mountain, and both saw the same deer. He surprised me while I was fiddling with my GPS, and my less than subtle reaction had him running the other way. Less than 2 hours later I heard the shot that took him down as he was crashing through brush on the other side of the mountain, straight into my friends shooting line. He seemed totally oblivious to where we were on both occasions.
How does the Moon Factor In?
Deer are corpuscular which means that they move more at dusk and at dawn then they do at other times during the day. Research has been done to correlate these movements to the Phase of the moon, and the following has been determined.
New Moon – Large peak in movement just after daylight – then lower than average amount for rest of day and night.
First Quarter Moon – On average move less during the day. Not ideal for day hunting.
Full Moon – Greater than average movement during the day, and Greater than average moment earlier in the afternoon into twighlight. Get to your stand earlier on these days
Last Quarter Moon – Greater than average movement near twighlight in the evening
How should I plan my Hunting?
The combination of the Moon Phase, and the Rut date in your area should help you determine which days would be best for hunting. Ideally you would have a full moon a few days before the rut date, and with that you would have the most natural chasing behaviour of bucks looking for loving due to the Rut, and the most daytime activity due to the Moon Phase.
For example, up in Maine where I hunt, the peak rut is on November 20th, and the Full moon is on November 25th. That puts the full moon after the peak rut, when typically the younger Bucks and Does are mating. For the older Bucks and Does, the days just before the 20th should be the best, but the moon phase is not ideal. For me this year, it means that there will be less daytime movement for the deer, and I will need to be there before Dawn, ready to catch them at their peak activity time.
Researchers have proven that whitetail deer can see color, including colors in the long wave length range like Orange and Red during the daytime. There are a number of papers on this topic, all refuting the previous assumption that deer can only see in black and white. This paper from the University of Nebraska includes both Physiological Measurements (are their eyes capable of seeing color) as well as studies of captive Deer populations testing specifically for their color vision, which of course they found that Whitetail Deer do see color.
Instead of having three sets of color processing cones in their eyes, Deer only have two. The first is used for Blue / Green, and the second covers the lower wavelength Reds. Their vision in this second set though, is less strong than ours. That means that the hunter orange color, although bright, is not as bright as we see it. Their Blue / Green color detection though, is much stronger than ours, meaning that if you are wearing Bluejeans, it’s almost like wearing hunter orange is to us. The blue jeans will be reflecting blue light (thats how colors work) and the Deer’s eyes are much more sensitive to Blue, so that light will have more of an impact in their vision.
What does that mean for Hunters?
Well, most likely, you are required by law to wear a certain amount of Hunter Orange while you are hunting (at least during firearms season) and you probably don’t want to not wear the Hunter Orange for your own safety. However that does mean that in addition to all the noise, and scent that can be giving you away when you are hunting in the woods, your blaze orange vest is probably also giving you away. I know how easy it is to spot another hunter out in the woods, even as the blaze orange flickers between the trees when the other hunter is hundreds of yards away. Chances are, the deer in your area are also just as aware of your presence.
For me, this year, I’m going to try out a Camo orange patterned vest, hoping that the breakup of the solid orange will help to make me less visible in my tree-stand, or when i’m slow-hunting.
Whitetail Vision Weaknesses
Horizontal vision: Because of the elongated nature of the Deer’s pupil, their eyesight is taylored for viewing 310 degrees horizontally, and for Night vision. However because of this, they are not as well suited for viewing things above them. The Tree-stand provides an opportunity here, where your movement will be less apt to be noticed by them.
Movement: Deer are also better at detecting movement than they are at perceiving things in their environment, because they can’t focus on individual items. Instead their eyes see everything in focus, rather than how our eyes work where we focus on individual items. Their ability to see movement outweighs their abilities to see color.