Getting Schooled by the Animals

Posted on June 22, 2021

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“Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach you; and the birds of the air, and they shall tell you.”  –  Job 12:7

 

 

I could hear her coming long before she vaulted into sight. Branches were snapping, and the thud of her hooves hitting the forest floor reverberated along the valley. Of course, I had no idea it was a deer coming at me like a freight train, but I indeed knew it was bigger than a squirrel and definitely smaller than an elephant.

Effortlessly, or so it seemed, she bounded into view, escaping the confines of the forest and whatever it was that was chasing her. When the old gal hit the lush green field, dotted with purple fireweed and yellow goldenrod, she paused to catch her breath. Her tongue hung to the side; nostrils distended as her sides heaved with each breath. The doe had run for a long distance, further than she would have liked. Deer are more sprinters, making short, quick bursts and stopping often to survey their backtrack.

 

 

Once she had regained her composure, the doe was off again, gracefully bounding another 75-yards before stopping to watch her trail. I was watching as well. Something of significance had obviously spooked this deer and by the way her brow was furrowed, ears cocked forward, and eyes completely fixed on where she had emerged, she was expecting company. And sure enough, before long out dogtrotted the culprit: a silver coated coyote with black highlights running along its back. The dog didn’t need to see the deer to know it was still on the trail; the scent being left in the dewy grass was enough to keep him on course.

The instant the doe saw the coyote she was back into full gear, but instead of the long ground-gobbling bounds she’d taken before, her gait resembled that of a pace horse trotting in front of a field of harness racers. She was now playing a game of cat and mouse with her pursuer, staying just far enough in front to feel secure and high enough to visibly keep tabs on the dog’s progress. It amazed me to see how well the doe used the terrain features and the currents of the wind to her advantage, the hunted was cleverly outfoxing the hunter; or was she?

A story is never over until the final scene is played out and this one was about to take an unexpected twist in the final act. Reaching the highest plateau the field had to offer, abutting the wood line, the doe stopped to watch the progress of her shadow. She was partially hidden within the chest high goldenrod that was rocking back and forth in the early morning breeze. With ears cupped forward and gaze intently staring at the dog, which was at least 100-yards below her and seemingly in no real hurry, she paced in place.

 

 

It appeared from my vantage that this little game was about over and as is usually the case, score another victory for the whitetail, when suddenly to my – and the doe’s – surprise, another coyote sprang from behind the doe, and before she could get her wits about her, the dog had her rear legs firmly grasped within his teeth.

Was this coincidental? Hardly. This duo of hunters used terrain, wind, and diversion to their benefit to reach the prize.

 

Tracking in Pairs

Tracking a whitetail has traditionally been a solo hunter’s game; find the specific animal’s spoor and hound the beast until either you get him or daylight relinquishes to dark and a long march back to the hunter’s shack. Many an otherwise unassuming deer has met their demise from the bullet of a persistent tracker who used everything at their disposal to complete advantage, including wind, snow, sleet, rain, quiet walking, and a good bit of cunning. However, as effective as this methodology of hunting is, and as gratifying an experience it produces, there are countless days where the end game is nothing but an empty sack at the end of the trail.

 

 

By teaming up with another proficient tracker and using good strategy the success rate is often doubled when compared with going it alone. The most effective method to use is what I call stitching. The hound dog – the tracker that stays right on the deer’s track – works the animal just as he would if going it alone. He reads the sign and makes decisions as to how fast to move, when to stop etc…based on what the animal is doing in front of him. The second tracker follows the first anywhere from 100-yards to as much as ¼ -mile back. This tracker is not merely following the deer’s imprint; he or she is making wide half circles, downwind of the trail paying close attention to seeing the deer.

 

 

This works especially well once a deer has been jumped and knows for certain it is being trailed. All of the deer’s attention is now focused on the pursuer. The more pressure that is brought to bear on the animal the higher the probability the animal will start making mistakes, getting careless. A whitetail does not operate well when pressured. As the persistent tracker continues to pursue, the hounded animal will circle upwind in order to catch the scent of its pursuer. Oftener indeed that will be to the uphill side. As the rear tracker continues to stitch in and out from the trail being left by the hunter and hunted a pattern of what the deer is doing becomes established. As the deer stands statuesquely still, with ears cupped forward watching the tracker come along the trail, its rib cage becomes an easy target for the second tracker that has been silently circling. There have and will be occasions when in the process of circling the lead tracker, the second tracker will have the opportunity to place his sights onto the front chest of the oncoming beast – a story book ending that every team taking up the chase hopes for.

 

End Result

 

There is indeed much that can be learned from observation and no more so than to watch nature as it is plays out in front of our very eyes. In the end, the doe escaped the clutches of the coyote’s jaw, but just barely and lived to see another day. If the hunters had bullets instead of teeth, I fear the outcome would have been much different.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer