Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on February 12, 2019



February Column


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


Q. – Some years I find lots of tree rubs while other years there seems to be very few. Is there any explanation for this and why do bucks engage in this behavior?
C. F. – Housatonic, MA


A. – Buck rubs are another of those visual signposts that we have little understanding of. As a behaviorist, I can share my observations, however, until I have the ability to carry on a conversation with a buck, why they do this is merely theorizing on my part. There are several external stimuli that prompt a buck to rub. The first of which is to distribute his own personalized scent. The forehead of a buck contains a number of glands and as the buck shreds the bark he is depositing that scent onto the tree. Also, a buck will actually lick the rub he made. This is to either leave additional scent or derive some satisfaction from licking the chemical being left. Secondly, these rubs act as a buck’s signpost to other bucks traveling through. Whether or not the buck utilizes them for directional navigation is still a mystery, although I have tracked many bucks whose trail led past rubs that I believe were made by the animal I was pursuing. Thirdly, a buck seems to intensify his rubbing activity when he is agitated by another male’s presence or when he becomes frustrated by a doe that is not quite ready to breed. And of course, sometimes it seems that a buck will rub just because he can.



The reason for the absence of rubs some years can be attributed to a trickle rut, a high doe-to-buck ratio, warm temperatures or the simple lack of bucks. All bucks will rub, but how much and how often predicates on the external circumstances, the disposition of individual bucks and the competition amongst the males.


Q. – I am new to tracking whitetails, but I can tell you that it is a fascinating method of hunting. I am hooked and despite not catching up to any of the deer I trailed last year, I find myself more determined than ever to continue this pursuit. What are some of the signs that indicate that you are getting close enough for a shot, yet not so close that the deer is busting out ahead of you?
H. K. – Amsterdam, NY


A. – Tracking whitetails is fascinating. In my opinion, there is no more gratifying way to hunt whitetails than to track one down. This is a game that will not be won by the swiftest or those of impatience; it is best played by a very observant tactician who best knows whitetails behaviorally. When you start the track, wherever that may be, you must begin to read it like a book. The buck is leaving a detailed chronology of what he is doing, and if read correctly, will lead you to an educated guess as to what he is about to do.



Seldom will a deer stop right in its track and bed down, especially a buck. They will begin to circle, and bed in a position that allows them to view their back trail. If a deer is going to feed, the trail will begin to meander. What you are primarily looking for is when the deer trail you are following begins to divert. This is when you stop and assess what the deer is doing and then proceed accordingly. If you even think the animal is close, within 200 yards, it is much better to go slow, place your steps carefully and do a lot of watchful waiting. Unlike us, a whitetail doesn’t have an agenda, schedule or a specific destination that it has to get to.


Q. – I understand that you track deer primarily in the wild backwoods and follow a buck wherever he may lead you, which can encompass many miles in a day. My question to you is, at what point in the day do you decide it’s time to relinquish the track and head for your vehicle?
K. B. – Brattleboro, VT



A. – Unfortunately, I have no set answer to your question. My quitting time is determined by several factors, chiefly, how close I think I am to the deer I am tracking. At times, my reluctance to give in has cost me a long walk out in a darkened forest, something that I’m not at all fond of. As a rule, I try to allow myself a full two hours of daylight to get out of the woods. This window of opportunity hinges on how far in I am, and the distance to the nearest road.


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