The ABCs Of Tracking Deer (Part II)

Posted on July 24, 2018



“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



(Here are but a few of the real-life experiences I’ve encountered while on the track of the white-tailed buck.)


A Bedded Buck

I have long since come to the realization that most bucks encountered during my tracking forays will be securely tucked away in their resting spots. This really should come as no surprise to the reader as 70 percent of the animal’s life is spent on his belly. As a buck matures he becomes less inclined to flee with each disturbance. Initially, he will lie in his bed watching and listening before deciding to bolt. He has learned from experience that concealment is his greatest ally. For this reason alone it becomes imperative that my eyes remain focused close to the ground. That act alone requires mental discipline. As a hunter moves through wooded terrain, his focal point quite naturally is head high. If you do not force yourself to lower your line of vision, invariably you will be looking over, or missing completely, a good deal of resting bucks.



A veritable wealth of information can be added to the huntsman’s logbook by knowing where a particular buck’s bedroom is located. Gaining this knowledge will serve to assist you in formulating a game plan even in the absence of snow. Here is one example of how beneficial this becomes.

I got dropped off at the end of a two-mile log road that ran its course beneath a towering ridgeline. Before my buddy’s departure, we talked briefly. All the while the truck’s engine continued to generate noise. I chose my entrance so as to angle my way up the first incline that eventually flattened out into a series of benches. From there, the ridge expanded even higher to the heavens and became steeper until the top was reached. The mountainside consisted of beech, maple, a few birch and an occasional hemlock until it peaked awash in softwood. As I climbed, my goal was to locate a set of deep-sinking, slovenly tracks that up till now had averted my sight. Reaching the first plateau, the ground flattened, providing for much easier walking and breathing. Following this lay of the land that ran parallel with the road led me to the slots I was looking for. The buck had come down off the top and was traveling along the simpler route as well. The five inches of snow contributed not only to quiet walking, but the medium for finding his sign. I instinctively knew he was still up here somewhere based on the lack of evidence in the road below we had just driven.



What I was unaware of and unexpectedly found was his bed, melted right down to the leaves indicating the duration he’d lain there. Disappointedly, I also realized that I’d been scrutinized from a long way off indicative of those long bounding imprints that a startled buck makes heading straight up to the top. This old veteran had laid up here with a clear view to the road below and had literally watched me as I left the vehicle.

I’d like to tell you I overtook him, but unfortunately, after many miles of up and down dogging, daylight gave out. Don’t assume for a minute that this resting spot was randomly chosen. That buck knew very well how secure a setup he had, but one thing he could never consider was that now I, too, knew of his hideaway. Due to the habitual nature of a buck, he will return to utilize this same location again as will I, only this time, from a direction that will favor me.


A Jumped Buck

As the result of any number of unforeseen circumstances, the buck whose trail you’ve diligently been following becomes alerted to your presence. His response to your intrusion will all depend on how panicked he becomes. When an otherwise content buck is disturbed, he has no other choice but to react. In those fleeting moments of uncertainty, the buck is reading his book, much like we have literally done on his track. He’s taken the time – although very little I might add – to weigh out all the possibilities.



The first escape mechanism the buck will attempt is to outdistance you. Getting far away from peril is his first line of defense. Two options can be exercised at this point: Take a break and let him settle down, or run on his track until you see that he has slowed his gait to a walk. I have practiced both methods with equal results. The time of day, conditions and how spooked I perceive the buck to be, dictates which maneuver I select. Whichever method you choose, don’t become disheartened because you’ve jumped your buck. All is not lost. He will not vacate the country.

One other tactic I’ve used on occasion when the misfortune of putting a bedded buck to flight occurs, is to run as hard as I can for 100 yards or so to the downwind side of the disappearing buck, stop, and visually search for him. The advantage to this strategy is it capitalizes on the buck’s inability to hear me running while he is doing the same. When he halts, his focus will be drawn to his back trail without the least bit of suspicion of my presence in front of or to his side.


A Pressured Buck

After several failed attempts by the buck to outdistance a persistent tracker, he will implement another line of defense. This entails a variety of subtle moves to rid himself of the constant harassment. In this situation, as long as time is on your side, it’s best to stop for a bit and let him wonder where you are. He will become curious to your whereabouts. His tracks will indicate where he has stopped, more than likely paced, exhibiting multiple prints as he watches for you.



Far too often, we fail to use this weakness against the buck and instead we fall into the trap of “run-and-gun”. Don’t feel guilty if this has been your plight. We have all fallen victim, including yours truly. “I can outdistance this animal, all I need to do is dog him. My will to overtake him is greater than his to live,” becomes a common misguided thought.

As the tracker’s inactive approach begins to unfold, the buck’s curiosity takes over. He is now scrutinizing his back trail, inquisitive as to where you might be. He has been keeping tabs on your whereabouts all the livelong day, and by pausing, you’ve thrown a monkey wrench into his rationale. I’m no deer, but if I was in his hooves I’d be thinking, where is he? How come I don’t see him? Has he given up and taken the back track to camp? Am I now safe again? And as a tracker, that is exactly what you want him to think. Ideally, I want that buck to be walking back on his track, hunting for me. About the time the realization that my bead is centered on his chest enters the space between his antlers, those ivory tips will be mine.



Confusion is your best ally. The buck simply cannot handle it. Put yourself in that same situation: Your life is on the line; the predator has done something different than what you’ve previously seen or expected; you stand quietly listening; every little noise now causes you alarm. Your eyes pick up anything that moves; your head jerks anxiously at the slightest disturbance; your mind is racing; your thought process becomes blurred; and panic has set in much like the flushed flight of a ring-necked pheasant.




Certainly these are but a few of the many tips and tactics employed by the deer tracker to bring a wary whitetail buck safely to bag. For as long as there are whitetail bucks to follow and huntsmen to take up their track, surely new twists and variations in this age-old game will be added.

(Join us in two weeks as we wrap up this three- part series.)

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer