Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on March 15, 2016


March Column


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

Q. – I am a shed antler hunter and was wondering how long after one antler drops before the other side is shed, and is there any way to accurately gauge when this will begin?
B. G. – Forestport, NY

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A. – It has been my experience that once one antler is cast, the opposing antler will be shed within 24 hours. However, that is not always the case. For example, the accompanying photograph is of a buck that had shed his right side four days prior to this photo. I have found when it comes to predicting what should be expected with whitetail physiology is to expect the unexpected. The problem we run into when dealing with animals, and no more so than with the white-tailed deer, is that behaviorally we tend to cast the entire species into the same mold. We don’t do this with humans; each is looked at as a unique individual with character traits all their own. I have found that each deer, like humans, has its own personality, traits, bents and disposition. Although extreme cold can certainly aid in expediting the shedding process, as is often thought, this is not the primary reason for antlers to drop. I indeed believe that each buck is predisposed to shed his antlers on or about the same date each year. But, and this is a big but, stress has everything to do with when these appendages ultimately fall. If a buck has been highly active during the fall rut, and depleted a great deal of body fat, he is undoubtedly under stress. Add to this falling temperatures, deep snow and difficulty finding food and you have all the ingredients for an early casting. The less stress on an animal the longer he will hold his antlers.

Q. – I realize how good a deer’s sense of smell is, but can they detect any odor from my boot prints in the snow and if so, does this alarm them?
T. S. – Holland, MI

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A. – Unquestionably, a whitetails nose is its greatest defense. I have maintained for years that if you could eliminate a deer’s sense of smell far more would die at the hand of hunters. Unlike humans, a whitetail can easily separate a variety of scents and quickly distinguish freshness and if it poses an imminent danger to them. Understand, there are certain atmospheric conditions that enhance residue odors better than others. For example, when the air is saturated with moisture scent becomes much more prevalent than when the humidity is very low. In fact, all animals find it difficult to detect scent in cold, dry conditions. The amount of scent that can be detected from your boot print in the snow would depend on the type of snow, how cold it is, how long the imprint has been there and how dirty the bottoms of your boots are. Personally I don’t give it much thought as I’ve observed deer walking in my very prints with their nose low to the ground curiously sniffing as they walked. In fact, I once killed a large buck that walked for several hundred yards in my tracks from the day before.
Can they detect odor in the snow? Yes, I believe they can seeing as most bucks who are cruising the woods looking for does routinely follow the spoor of their prospective mates. I’ve also tracked several bucks that ran their normal course across doe trails. A behavior I believe allows them to quickly establish, through scent, the breeding condition of the resident does.

Q. – I read the following excerpt written by a Maine biologist: “Temperature has little effect on deer in the fall. All of us humans are probably guilty of assuming what affects us also affects wildlife the exact same way. If we of the temperature-controlled indoor world are shivering, then its lore that “the deer will start to move”. When daily temperatures are in the 60s-70s, we wear T-shirts. When the temperature drops to 40 we wear jackets. It’s not wise to assume that deer, a creature that lives outdoors when its 30 degrees below zero in February, is going to change its ways over such a minor temperature drop.” My experience has been when temperatures rise; deer activity is reduced; could you clarify this for me?
T. M. – Portland, Maine

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A. – Although my response to your question will be in stark contrast to what you have read from the biologist, as a behaviorist that has spent the better part of my life in observation of this animal, under every conceivable condition, here is what I know to be factual when it comes to whitetail movement patterns.
During the months when whitetails are donning their heavy winter coats, (i.e. – hunting season), and the temperature rises to 42 degree or higher, whitetail activity shuts down. This is what is known as the ‘fur factor’. Unlike us, a deer cannot remove his coat when the mercury increases. They also have no sweat glands to cool down and therefore the only remedy to remaining comfortable under these conditions is for them to remain on their bellies in a cool location. If these temperatures persist during the breeding phase of the rut, whitetails will still breed, but the process will transpire under the cover of darkness when it is cooler. Whitetails, like humans, have a preferable temperature gradient when they are most comfortable and active.

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