The Lure of A Track

Posted on January 23, 2018



Within the imprints laid out before you is a mystery to be solved, a charm to be experienced, and a prize to be had should you play it right.



The snow was soft, temperature cold and there was very little wind as we set off into an abyss of birch, aspen and fir. Having found great deer sign on the opposite side of the road two days prior, the mission today – at least initially – was to do a big walkabout, gathering information about the comings and goings of the whitetail occupants.

My hunting partner of 11-years and I had not traversed far when we intercepted the trail of a wanderlust buck. His track was not overly large, but it was indeed fresh. After a bit of scrutiny, I turned and whispered, “this is probably not a buck I will want to shoot, are you interested?” Big Daddy, with a thoughtful glance provided a one-word response, “Possibly.” And with that, we were off like two school boys who’d just received notice that school had been cancelled for the day.



Following the spoor of this buck certainly wouldn’t be for naught. He would show us real estate, reveal deer sign and provide insight into how the rest of deer were using the terrain, which always proves to be much quicker scouting method than hiking through without it. It was not long before we found where the buck had stopped to rub. Based upon the tree he selected, it would seem his antlers were not large. However, I’ve seen behemoth bucks sporting heavy antlers rake diminutive saplings for reasons known only to them. So, the chase was on as we became voluntary slaves to the whims of this particular buck.



Typically, I try to out-guess the a hounded beast’s next move and its direction of travel, based upon the sign he is leaving, but with this buck all of that went out the window. As he meandered about circling the far end of the top, I predicted he’d continue that course. Nope. Instead he descended in the complete opposite direction, and rather than staying in cover he walked straight across a large opening.

Once we were back in the timber I stopped to consider what his next move might be. “Pay careful attention to the left,” I whispered to my pal, “There is no way he is going to attempt crossing the water.” Yet, onward his track led straight to the mouth of an elongated pond. Thankfully we did not have to go swimming, as he took a hard left upon reaching the swale grass along the pond’s edge. Apparently, he had nothing else on his agenda other than to take a pleasant stroll around a very picturesque landscape. Who knows what is on the mind of a wanderlust buck?

Straight up along the edge of the water he strolled, all the way to the very front door of a beaver house. I’m not sure if he was stopping for a neighborly visit, curiosity or happenstance, but it was not long before he reached this spot that he made yet another hard left. It actually reminded me of the visitors to the beaver house in Narnia that was brought to life in the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, although I doubt any conversation transpired between the beaver and buck.



Following a few camera shots and a snack, we were back on the track. The trail did not appear any fresher, which would be understandable due to the lack of moisture content in the snow. However, believing this imprint was only a couple hours or less old, we continued slowly and methodically.

And then, where only seconds ago there were just vertical trees, a brown apparition erupted from his snowy lair not 40-yards distance. Instinctively, from decades of muscle memory, my carbine was shouldered, safe off and target centered in the scope.



But the quietude remained. No booming or banging. No shot was fired, not by me or Big Daddy, only a wry grin. Why you wonder? As we viewed the antlers from either side of his upright flag, they barely extended beyond the tail’s width. A nice 2 ½ year-old buck that will make a much better target following another year of age.



Now what? We continued to use this buck in order to accomplish our original intent, discovery of resident whitetail movement patterns. And guess what? This guy did not disappoint.

After running in a straight line for a few hundred yards – further than I thought he would – the buck jumped onto a deer trail littered with doe prints going in both directions. He followed that trail for a bit before swinging right and making a loop parallel to the trail he’d just traversed. That path came to an abrupt halt, which is when he observed us coming I’m sure, and once again left bounding prints in the opposite direction. It was time to let him settle down, and conveniently, it was the lunch hour, one of my favorite parts of the day.



Not long after resuming the trail, the buck walked us past an incredible rub, which was made by a much larger buck with some heavy antlers. How do I know that? The tree was a 5-inch poplar with the shredding going deep into the heartwood.



From this point forward deer sign increased dramatically revealing where several does had fed along the edge of a beaver swale, their beds and additional buck rubs; all helpful insight for us going forward in the week’s hunt that otherwise would have remained unknown.

Nears day’s end, as we looped off the track to begin making our way back to the truck we stepped onto an old woods road, a path that conveniently led in the direction we needed to go. It was on this by gone two-track that we came upon a major deer crossing with numerous tracks going both ways. And, right in the midst of all that traffic sign, was the huge track matching what I’d found two days prior on the opposite side of the road. Although no buck was in tow when we reached our vehicle, much insight into the land and how the deer were using it was. That wold be valuable information for days ahead.



What we find at trail’s end doesn’t always match what we expect or anticipate. The day’s work certainly won’t always end in a dead buck. If it did, where would be the intrigue, mystery and charm? The prize is the opportunity of being a participant, fully engaged in the most primitive of challenges, walking down a whitetail buck and a great story to fill your memory.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer