The Value of A Deer Track

Posted on December 4, 2012


 A Whitetail’s Imprint Leads to The Following Result During My 2012 Deer Season.


“It’s one thing to hunt a stag, and it’s another thing entirely to bring him safely to bag. I do not know a hunting achievement quite equal to out-guessing an old white-tail.” 

–     Archibald Rutledge



The morning star was beginning to peek over the crest of the tabletop plateau in all its orange splendor. I was 50-yards below the summit, slowly and methodically easing along a deer trail cross-cutting the southeasterly breeze. It had taken me more than an hour to reach this location having traversed along a diminutive brook, around a pond and up through heavy green growth.

To this point I was not entirely enthusiastic as very little deer sign was evident in the patchy three-day old snow.

And to make matters even worse, I was thinking about another area that I’ve named “Narnia”. My partner, ‘Big Daddy’ and I were there yesterday and found over 30 huge scrapes, multiple rubs and one of the largest deer tracks I have ever seen. So, you may be wondering right now, and rightly so, why aren’t you back there? Two reasons, I make it policy to never hunt the same location two days in a row, and secondly, it is a 2 ½ – hour drive to reach this destination.

Every now and then I find it necessary to lecture myself and this was indeed one of those instances. “Bernier, forget about Narnia today, pay attention and effectively hunt this piece of real estate.” Moments following that personal reprimand I noticed a slight movement above me; did something move or was it just my imagination? Backlit by the rising sun, the movement I perceived was indeed a deer, a really big deer with lots of antler attached. Instinctively, I readied my rifle…

Why This Location?

A week ago to the day as I was driving out from another hunting location, I spotted fresh tracks crossing the road. Upon closer examination the spoor was of a very large buck that was obviously closely following a doe. Within seventy five yards of where the pair had entered the pine plantation I found where the buck had stopped to make a huge rub. Note to self, “You need to come back and hunt this buck!” But, which side do I hunt, where he came out of or where he crossed into? And, is there a way to access where he was heading without having to navigate through the tightly knit pine plantation?


Having five other mature bucks located at this point, (pleasant problem to have, I know) all in different locals prevented me from returning to this spot before now.


 Sitting on my hotel bed after breakfast staring at a map, Big Daddy asked, “Where are we hunting today?” My immediate response was, “I’d love to be back hunting in Narnia.” He cautioned me about the wisdom of that choice and reminded me of what I had repeatedly told him about not wearing out an area. That’s when it hit me, “We need to go hunt the buck whose track I found a week ago.” Studying the map further revealed a road that would get us in beyond the plantation and afford great access. Topping off the entire plan was a providential wind direction…game on.

Big Things Happen From Small Beginnings

Due exclusively to the fact that a week ago when the buck had crossed the road, it was during the middle of the day rather than late afternoon, the pendulum swung towards hunting for him on the side he’d crossed into. As we parted company at first light, Big Daddy elected to go ½ -mile further down the road and work along the edge of a beaver flowage; that is until he heard the report of a single rifle shot east of him.

In the apt words of Rutledge, “Then it happened. Suddenly, silently, spectrally, out of the thick woods before me, there appeared the buck for which I had waited (forty-four) years.” Incredibly, above me and only forty-six yards away, the buck nonchalantly fed along a route parallel to mine. Calmly, I looked for the best opening out ahead of him. He approached a large pine with wide sweeping boughs – this would be the spot. Once he clears that last limb I will have a great shot opportunity, I thought. But he didn’t completely clear the limb before stopping. In Rutledge’s poetic inscription, he best described my situation, “Motionless, the thrilling apparition of one of the Old Men of the Woods-a burly stag, shaggy and wild, with what looked like a record rack on his head. His neck was somewhat outstretched toward me, and his black nose was twitching as if he had winded me.”


With my crosshairs squarely on his massive neck, not wanting to risk him detecting me I squeezed the trigger. At the report the buck dropped instantly and for good. Over the years I have learned to be prepared for a follow-up shot and stood ready if need be. That would not be necessary today as the buck was essentially dead before he ever heard the shot.

Rise To The Prize

As I ascended towards the downed beast my eyes got wider and wider; I could not believe what I was seeing. The closer I got, the larger he became and all I could mutter was, “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, what have you done Bernier!” I stood there for a long time admiring this giant. In silence with moist eyes I thanked the God of all creation, Jesus, for the incredible blessing He had had just bestowed upon me.


Following this reflective time I radioed Big Daddy. I’m not sure how he accomplished this, but he covered nearly a mile and made it to me in forty five minutes. After hugging and congratulating me, he revealed, “When I heard the shot I knew it was you, I knew it was big and I knew it was down.” When I inquired how he deduced all of that from a single rifle shot he just grinned and exclaimed, “I just knew.”


The Aftermath

After hauling out a mammoth buck last fall alone, having my partner there to share in the drag was both welcomed and appreciated. Upon Big Daddy’s suggestion, we attached two drag ropes, which proved to be the most effective way for the two of us to drag in tandem. With that, it still took us 4 ½ -hours to get the behemoth out of the bush.



As deer tracker, imprints made by deer are vital to me. Most times in order for me to follow the spoor to its maker. However, those same tracks in non-tracking conditions still have the ability to reveal tons of information by which to capture the buck that made them. This hunt more than proved the value of a single impression in the roadway dirt. That, coupled with knowing the terrain, understanding deer behavior and guessing right all made for one extraordinary experience.


Each hunt and each captured buck holds a special memory for me. Every one is uniquely different with varied circumstances and results. No two hunts can be compared, nor should one overshadow another. However, trust me when I state that this one was indeed very special on so many levels.

With that said, I’m also acutely aware that size and score are important parts of the entire hunting experience, and so, in order to satisfy the inquiries of how “Big” was big, the following is how this buck measured up.

He dressed out at 260-pounds with one front leg still on the ground; we couldn’t hoist him any higher. His heavy ten-point 160 class rack scored 155 5/8, and based upon tooth wear compared with jaw bone samples it appears that he was 8 ½ – years old. (Understand, the only reliable method of aging a deer is through cross section of a tooth under a microscope. Thus, my guesstimate of his age is based solely on comparison.)


After forty-four years as a hunter, I have been and continue to be – A Truly Blessed Man!

(Editors note –We have reformatted as to the frequency of blog posts; each new article will now appear bi-weekly rather than weekly. Look for a new post every other Tuesday morning.)

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer