Whitetail Magic – Part III

Posted on April 14, 2020


“It is worthwhile, when picking up your deer track in the morning, to attempt a careful stalk until the animal is jumped. If conditions for a quiet approach are ideal, this should not be overlooked. Under situations not conducive for a quiet approach, the tracker might best follow the slots rapidly until he jumps the deer. From there on, it is merely a case of putting on unrelenting pressure. After being flushed a few times, the deer becomes nervous and starts losing his poise. Individuals of the species differ greatly, and the pursuer never knows just what to expect.” – George Mattis



There will always be a buck to throw a monkey wrench into an otherwise simple trail to follow. This holds especially true when snow cover is found to be spotty. That old buck will purposely find ground to trot through that lacks a covering of white to reveal his course. If he is rambling on the north side where the sun finds difficulty penetrating or in the open hardwoods, this usually won’t hinder you too much, but where the cloak of dense tree cover becomes his walkabout, it will take a discerning eye and much circling to maintain his trail. Tracking under these less than desirable conditions ultimately will slow your pace. Each time the track seems to end my first move is look ahead in the same general direction his path has been leading me. I am trying to relocate his imprint in the most logical place, hopefully with a little more snow cover to help in the process. If that fails, I will then begin making increasingly wider circles starting where I last saw his print until I’m locked back onto the buck. This time-consuming affair may have to be repeated several more times during the day if the buck continues his course through terrain void of snow.

Small bodies of water such as streams have aided countless crafty, antlered critters. As you follow his path up to the edge of a shallow brook expecting him to cross, your eyes gaze to the far side only to be met with disappointment. If he hasn’t crossed here, then which way did he go? That is the natural question bouncing around in your noggin. It is at this point an educated guess is called for. In whichever direction you go, it is best to walk the stream keeping a sharp look out on either bank for his exit.



If after a few hundred yards, no sign of him appears, head in the opposite direction. I realize this becomes an exacting process that eats away at precious daylight but there’s no other option.

On the rare occasion that you are unable to locate his trail in either direction, go back to where his tracks entered, or you thought he entered the stream. Carefully walk back on his imprints and see if he didn’t jump the track. I’ve only had this happen to me once but what an invaluable experience it was. The buck came to a crossing point and then his tracks just vanished, as if he grew wings and flew away. Realizing that this buck was not a member of Santa’s extraordinary team of flying reindeer, there had to be an explanation. Back tracking him, I discovered a slight discrepancy in his track forty yards back. Looking out to the side, there imbedded twenty feet away were his deeply sunk in tracks where he landed. “Why had I not noticed this before?” I asked myself. This is one of those least expected maneuvers that could not have been anticipated. A buck literally back pedaling, stepping perfectly back into his own tracks, and then jumping off was an experience I’d never encountered before. Before daylight gave out, I was fortunate to overtake that grand old wizard that sported a wide crown of ten points and dressed 250 pounds.



When it comes to waterways of thigh depth or greater, it has been my experience that bucks will cross when no other avenue of eluding you has worked. All who have read my first book, The Deer Trackers, would know that this type of obstacle is no deterrent to me when a good buck track lies beneath my boots. The chance to catch him is on the other side; without crossing there is no chance. Archibald Rutledge wrote about such chances,

“In fact, it has been my experience that a man in the woods gets the chance he wants if he keeps in the game long enough. To me, a chance is all you can ask for. But in hunting, a man has to take the rough with the easy; and not infrequently it is the poor-looking chance which yields the luck.”

It seems that deer view water as safety; no scent is left in their wake and few predators other than an occasional feeble-minded hunter who has more determination than sense will follow; and it restores a calm to their demeanor. No matter how stressed out the buck was prior to his amphibious trek, once reaching the safety of the opposite bank he will revert back to a leisurely, carefree pace. That should tell us he’s not expecting company to come crashing this party as an unwelcome guest, which suits me just fine.



When encountering a buck’s trail that leads into a sea of tightly knit, dwarfed conifers, where twenty feet of clear vision feels like a mile, you’ve got your job cut out for you. He can walk you around in that maze for days on end with not so much as a snapshot being presented. You’ll hear him okay, but try as you might, laying an eyeball to his hide is another matter entirely.

We once had a buck that entered into one such expanse. The area was approximately three miles in length and a mile-and-a-half wide completely covered with 15-years of green growth. Pop quickly assembled the troops and laid out the game plan. My son, Dwight along with my long-time hunting partner, the Silverback, would approach from the backside, Pop from the far end and I was to stay on his track. With booming confidence, we set our ploy into operation. Our hope was, that one of us would intercept this buck by silently still-hunting. Not one time did I come across any of my comrade’s footprints nor did the buck exit his bailiwick. When we emerged at the designated time, Pop was convinced the buck somehow snuck out despite my reassurance he was still in there.

Pop, not to be outdone, particularly by a whitetail, sent the troops back in again. Picking his trail up from where I left off, the buck methodically picked his way around in this labyrinth. By day’s end, no one had seen neither hide nor hair of this beast and Pop was now certain beyond any doubt the buck had slipped through our fingers like the thread of a beautiful dream. I on the other hand thought differently.

The following day being Sunday, we couldn’t hunt but we made two trips driving the roads on either side to try and locate his exit to no avail. That night, four additional wet inches of snow fell curtailing around midnight. Before first light we were back examining the virgin blanketed road where low and behold, the old artful dodger’s clear imprint was stretched across the travel lane. He had finally emerged from his sanctuary and was now heading up onto a hardwood ridge where come first light, I eventually would follow.



In a situation such as this, you can only hope he eventually comes out or allows you a glimpse of him under tight quarters.

Certainly, these situations are by no means all of the possible Houdini like tricks known to benefit a whitetail’s escape. They are what I have found to be the most commonly used. For as long as there are whitetail bucks to follow, and huntsman to take up their track, surely new twists and variations to his elusive bag of tricks will only be added.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer