Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on February 2, 2016

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February Column

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Editor’s note: Anyone wishing to send a question for future Ask The Deer Tracker posts can e-mail it to, rgbernier@gmail.com

Q. – I understand that you as a deer tracker cover many miles while following a track. This, in and of itself would preclude you from carrying anything other than what is necessary. With all of the products available to today’s hunter, besides your rifle what exactly do you carry while hunting and why?
T. A. – Pittsburg, PA

A. – My philosophy when it comes to hunting accoutrements is, and has been akin to my ancestral forefathers: one bullet – one gun – go light. However, with that being said, there are a few things that I tote with me that are indeed essential, at least to me, and some that others would deem a waste to even consider. Within my coat pockets and a small backpack I carry a couple of small flashlights and extra batteries in case I’m caught having to leave the woods in the dark. I carry three sources to start a fire if need be. One is an Alaskan, wind proof lighter, another is a small Nano Fire Striker, and third is a MatchCap: a waterproof match-case filled with paraffin matches. I carry a flat, tin drinking cup that opens into a cone. In another pocket is rolled up toilet tissue, just in case of an emergency situation, and a few paper towels to wipe a fogged or snow filled scope. I also carry a handkerchief and an extra pair of gloves should the ones I’m wearing get wet. In the past few years I have begun to carry a small, handsfree buck/doe call that has been instrumental in stopping a fleeting buck (when used at the right time during the rut). I carry three compasses, one is worn around my neck, a second ball type is pinned to my coat and a third is stored in a coat pocket. Around my waist I have a leather cartridge belt holding 15 rounds, a drag rope and my knife.

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As far as what I’ve added in recent years that may or may not be absolutely necessary is a water bottle, a GPS and my camera. Toting the camera is almost as important for me as carrying my gun, so I endure the extra burden to ensure I get the shot.

 

Q. – When the snow is falling, the wind howling and temperatures plummeting, I can’t help but think of whitetails and how they endure such hardships. My question to you is, to what extent do deer feel the cold, and how does it affect them?
B. B. – Derby, VT

A. – Often, we view wildlife under a microscope of human perception, which may distort our understanding of how a species copes with environmental conditions. Whitetails are perfectly adapted to flourish in their environment. While I’ve never actually gotten a verbal response from a deer to verify this, I have observed and photographed them in some of the harshest winter weather imaginable. Do they feel cold like you and I? I’m sure they do, at least to some degree. Does that cold make them uncomfortable? Of course it does. The only difference between us and them is the way that we go about warming ourselves. After all, I’ve never heard of a deer actually freezing to death.

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Each autumn, whitetails grow a winter coat of hollow hair over what is known as undercoat. There are approximately 2,600 individual hairs per square inch. On an average size adult deer that would mean there is 1,200 square inches of skin to cover. When you multiply the numbers, a wintering whitetail has roughly 3,120,000 hairs in its coat. Because the hair is hollow and filled with air, deer have remarkable insulation, protecting them from the cold. The key to understanding just how protected they are, is to observe them when snow is falling. Snow accumulates atop a sedentary whitetail without any melting. This proves that little – to – no heat is escaping from their body. The snow pack on the ground actually acts as an insulator for them as they bed in it. Obviously some body heat is lost from the underside of the animal; compressed snow that has melted and then freezes in a vacant bed establishes this fact. However, it does not seem to have any effect or consequence on the deer’s ultimate comfort level. Like us, who huddle next to our wood stove, whitetails head for locations that keep them sheltered from extreme conditions.

 

Q. – When you’re scouting out a new mountain or potential hunting grounds, is there a particular “formula” you use to locate the sign quickly? Any info would be appreciated.
G. B. – Williston, VT

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A. – Prior to walking/scouting a piece of ground these days I take a look at it from above using Google Earth. This saves me countless hours, steps and frustration. Knowing whitetail behavior and propensities for certain types of terrain, I look for features that will be attractive to them. The first on that list is water; be it streams, rivers, remote ponds or bogs. That is where I will initially begin my search for deer sign. Following that I head to where the land begins to elevate; bucks will bed and travel high. Once on top I look for benches, saddles and land features conducive to holding bucks. Verifying that deer in general, and bucks in particular, actually reside within that particular area can then be ascertained quite quickly by discovering any deer sign. However, knowing that a big buck resides there is one thing, to locate him and put the animal in your sights is quite another, which is why it is called hunting, not killing.

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