The ABCs Of Tracking Deer

Posted on July 10, 2018



Part I

“For every buck killed there will be a dozen failures. This type of hunting demands the utmost in perseverance and patience.” Larry Kollor – Shots at Whitetails 1948



Time had now become my enemy as light was quickly fading on a day that initially began with great promise. The providential blanket of snow that greeted me at dawn revealed with great detail each move this buck had made through the course of the day. His well-inscribed slots, tracks of immense proportions which led me to the place where I now stood, appeared to be only moments old. “This buck is close”, I thought, but there were other variables to consider as to my next move. I was a long way from where my vehicle was parked, darkness would be upon me in less than an hour, and based upon the duration that I had been on this buck I didn’t know if I could indeed catch him in the final minutes of the contest. Despite weighing out all of my options, I knew deep down what my resolve would be. Moments later, immersed in a tightly knit grove of snow-laden fir, the silence was broken as fire scorched from the end of my carbine. It would be a long, yet satisfying evening as I would drag my hard-won prize out of this sequestered primeval forest. . . .

The Basics

Acquiring the necessary skills to silently stalk behind the imprints of a whitetail and get close enough for a shot at an unsuspecting target is crucial for this mode of hunting. I do not believe one can become a good tracker without having solid still-hunting techniques; the two go hand in glove. The most significant difference between these two methods is when tracking you are now following a definitive trail being left by the animal at the end of those prints, a deer you are purposely pursuing. In order to succeed at tracking down a particular deer and close the deal at some point along the trail there are four basic, yet essential elements that all trackers must master: aging, assessing, memorizing and reading.



Aging – It would not make much sense to track a buck for endless miles without any real expectation of ever catching up with him. If we are to have a reasonable chance of getting a shot before daytime turns to night it becomes imperative that we follow a fresh set of tracks. Based on the texture of the snow (wet, granular, powder), what the temperature has been prior to locating the track, how the track has been effected by the elements and when it stopped snowing will provide clues as to the age of the spoor. I’m primarily looking for a cookie-cutter imprint and routinely compare my own boot print with the outline of the deer track I’m studying.


Assessing – If you only have a buck tag in your pocket, or are persuaded to only pursue a buck, it would be incredibly disheartening to follow a set of tracks for miles only to find your sights fixed onto a doe. There are clear indications differentiating between the tracks of bucks and does. (See side bar) Also – at least for me – there is a specific size animal that I am after; I want a buck that will dress out over 200 pounds. In order to ensure that this is indeed a buck meeting this criteria I must know something about the attributes of his track.


Memorizing – Just as soon as you find a big, fresh track your first impulse will be to bust out of the gate like a horse competing at the Kentucky Derby. Whitetails are gregarious and will intermingle with other deer. Once the animal you are following does this his track can quickly get lost in a maze of other tracks. Find something about one of his impressions that stands out, a cracked hoof, one cleft broken etc…the most effective means that I have found to maintaining the right track is by breaking off a stick at the widest point of the animals track. That stick will only fit into that particular deer’s track.


Reading – I don’t know of anyone that starts reading a book from back – to – front, they begin where the book starts. Where you locate the track is your starting point, and from there is where you begin reading what the animal is doing. By understanding deer behavior and being able to decipher what the animal is doing will give you the necessary insight as to what to expect the deer’s next move to be.



The best way to describe how this tracking game actually works is to provide some real world experiences from bucks that I have tracked. This won’t provide all of the possible situations that you will encounter while on the track but will add substance to the tracking skeleton I have outlined thus far. Stay tuned for the next installment in two weeks.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer