Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on September 25, 2012




Editor’s note: One week each month we will run the, Ask The Deer Tracker post. Anyone wishing to send a question for future posts can e-mail it to:



Q. – I am a working on becoming a better deer tracker and would like to become more   proficient at determining which track to follow. What qualities do you look for in a specific track that sets it apart from other deer tracks?

T. C. – Hinesburg, VT


A. – The first aspect that I look at is the age of the track. Regardless of how large the imprint may be, if it is too old, there isn’t much sense in following it. Aging a track becomes an acquired skill that takes time to develop. My self-imposed standard is that track must have been made no more than three hours prior to me locating it. Some of the more distinguishable features of a fresh track are cookie cutter sharp edges, imprints devoid of any snow, leaves or ice in the track and relatively comparable to my own boot print.


Once I have established the age of the track I then take note of how wide the hoof print is. Average measurement for a buck dressing 200 pounds or more is 3-to-3 ¼ inches or about the length of a 30-06 cartridge. My next visual clue comes from how deep this particular buck is sinking into the ground. How firm the soil is provides the necessary information to gauge this. One very important point to consider is, like humans, not all whitetails will have a foot size that matches their body mass. I’ve tracked and shot bucks exceeding the 250-pound mark with hooves far smaller than 3 inches in width. The last and most critical analysis is the width of his gait from side-to-side and how long is his stride. Scrutinizing a series of tracks the animal has left is the only way to gain this insight.

Q. – Reading and listening to a whole host of contradictory information regarding scrapes and licking branches leaves me wondering what to believe regarding whitetail behavior in making scrapes – where they appear and why – and whether a licking branch is always necessary, and if so, why?

L. V. – Lancaster, PA


A. – I would have to agree with you when it comes to the amount of print material that has been devoted to scrapes. It seems that after someone has a positive experience on or near a scrape and they instantly have all of the answers to this mystery. I am a behaviorist and have devoted most of my life to studying the whitetail and short of my personal conjecture as to why scrapes are made, the behavior still remains an unknown. The best I can come up with at this point is that scrapes are utilized as a form of advertisement. Each buck has his own distinct odor, and because most of a whitetail’s communication is done through scent, this becomes a viable way of letting other bucks know of an individual male’s presence.

Having a licking branch above that scrape is far more important to both the deer and the fortunate hunter that locates such a spot. This is a scrape that will be routinely used by multiple bucks and even an occasional doe. I have photographed several bucks using the same licking branch on several occasions as well as a doe. More time is devoted to the branch hanging over the pawed out leave litter than the scrape itself. Each individual animal sniffs at the limb initially, as if to check on who has been by, and then gingerly  rubs the branches across their pre-orbital glands, forehead and mouth. The licking branch, in my estimation, is the key to unlocking which scrape to focus on.

Q. – How do you feel about bug spray? Do you think it spooks deer? I hunt the early September archery season here in Maine and the mosquitoes are still out in full force during this time.

B.B. – Wells, ME

A. – I am a big proponent of playing the wind and thus do not utilize any type cover scents in an attempt to disguise my human odor. Until some manufacture can come up with a way of capturing my breath there is nothing that is going to completely cover my scent. Biting insects are a discomfort to me whether I’m photographing or bow hunting and if I’m being bothered by these bloodsuckers my attention to the task at hand will certainly be compromised. When needed, I use an unscented bug repellent and take my chances.  If deer smells the bug spray, more than likely the animal is also going to be able to quickly determine there is a human attached to that smell as well.


All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

© 2012 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.