A successful deer hunt is when you know everything about the animal including its behavior, patterns, habits, and more. After you’ve got the big game animal down, it’s about time to figure out where and how to find deer. That is when you need signs, tracks, and trails to help you out.
Among the top things to carefully look for, how to read deer trails is one of the most important. Imagine having trails all around you but you fail to interpret them. To determine deer trails, you should look for the tracks in a long, narrow path with all four feet of the animal.
These trails are quite visible and one cannot miss them if knows what they look like. To help you with scouting a deer and knowing if the trails are by a buck or a doe, our experts have compiled a detailed guide.
Scouting Tips – How To Read Deer Trails?
Identifying the fresh tracks of a deer marks the beginning of an amazing scouting journey. When done right, it easily leads you to your target. To excel in this regard, you should understand deer habits, deer movement in wind, various signs that they leave behind, deer activity in rain and where they move.
Above all, understanding what these signs and patterns mean is foremost.
Following are some of the best signs that will help every hunter determine and understand how to pattern deer.
To figure out what are trails, you should know how to read deer tracks. These are the most obvious signs that trophy bucks leave behind. Wherever you see hoofed toes, it indicates that a deer has been around. Now, to differentiate between buck vs doe tracks as well as yearling’s feet, you must know the orientation.
These tracks with other signs like droppings and scrapes will give you an estimate of how far do deer travel.
Track sizes measure between 1 to 4 inches in length and about 1 to 2 ½ inches in width. Since bucks are the biggest and heaviest, they have the largest size and leave deeper impressions with dewclaw imprints. Whereas, does have relatively small and less deep tracks followed by fawns/yearlings.
Sometimes, larger does also leave dewclaw imprints with wider strides, mimicking those of a buck. Therefore, look for other factors as well to determine the specie. Typically, the strides of bucks are nearly a yard apart from one another.
If you notice a track with a big chest and small rear, it is that of a buck. Because of such orientation, buck’s back tracks overlap their front tracks. Does on the other hand leave prints of their back tracks outside the front tracks because of big rear and small chest.
Another great way to further confirm the specie is the width. In case you don’t have a measuring scale with you, use your fingers to determine. Following are some easy measurements of tracks and to which animal they belong:
- 4 fingers or more wide tracks = Fully mature buck
- 2 to 3 fingers wide tracks = Yearlings or fawn
- 2 fingers wide tracks = Sub-adult deer
Speaking of big buck tracks in snow, these have similar lengths and widths but are a lot deeper. This is because big bucks are relatively heavier hence, their feet sink much deeper in soft snow.
Big trophy bucks are likely to drag their feet in snowy terrain because they lack the same strength as younger deer. So, large and dragged hoofs are also a great indication of buck’s tracks in the snow.
A deer trail is seen as a narrow path with the animal’s footprints. These are highly visible and hunters can easily trace them. Trails are found between the deer daily routine travel routes of bucks i.e., to and from feeding areas to bedding sites. Learn how far do deer travel and their travelling patterns.
Some trails can also lead to terrain features such as a funnel with an incredible number of deer. Such places provide great opportunities in abundance to the hunters.
Remember, some trails could be old and already tracked by other hunters. Make sure to look for fresh tracks and other signs in the surroundings to avoid following old trails.
Once you understand how to read deer trails, you can easily figure out the direction in which they move. The sharper tips are present on the front side of the hoof through which you can figure out in which direction the animal moved.
You can easily judge a deer bed, these are the places where these animals lie down to rest. It leaves an oval or kidney shaped groove on the surface. Bedding sites are usually between large fields or places that provide thick covers. Also, these are near the water and mineral sources. We use some of the best mineral licks near water sources to keep bucks and does on our hunting lands throughout the year.
Majority of the time, bucks create scrapes while does make them less often. These are triangle or oval shaped grooves on the ground that deer make by whisking the leaves and dirt away. It reveals the soil and the trophy animals would urinate while squeezing both of its rear legs together.
The tarsal glands release the useful scent molecules that are picked up by the buck’s urine and fall into the scrape. It creates a unique smell that attracts other deer nearby. Doe usually creates scrapes to alert the bucks of their presence.
When looking for scrapes, you will mostly find these under an overhanging branch from a tree. If there are rub signs on the tree trunks, it indicates that the scrape was made by a buck. Generally, these are 1 to 2 feet wide but some created by big bucks can be 3 feet wide too.
Rubbing is a common process that bucks indulge in. They do so for various reasons such as to shred off the velvet or to strengthen their neck muscles before the rut season starts. They also rub the antlers to attract other deer using the scent that a gland produces on their forehead.
The bucks would rub their antlers on any tree nearby. Be it big or small, an individual tree or a line of them, all of them could have rubbing marks. As the bucks rub their antlers, the sap from the tree trunk oozes out.
Therefore, a tree or branch slightly moist would indicate a fresh rub. Also, look around for the shavings on the ground above all the other things. Leaves keep falling from the trees but tree shavings on top surely indicate that the buck just rubbed its antlers and must be nearby.
A lot of hunters overlook the browse sign however, it tells about what the trophy animal is consuming in a particular area. Leaves, buds, and twigs are collectively known as browse.
Deer lack incisors on the upper side hence, they rip off the browse to eat it. If you find ripped-off leaves or twigs with saliva on them, there would be a deer nearby.
While it can gross out many hunters, deer scat helps a big time in determining where they have been eating. These are black/dark brown colored, pill-shaped and about ½ to 1 inch long.
When deer munch excessively on greens containing great amounts of water, the droppings look like loose watery clumps. Whereas, when they consume woody browse such as branches containing fiber, the scat is sticky, and looks like a larger clump of small pellets.
Considering the type of deer dung, you can know what they have been feeding upon and search for the site. In case you find lots of droppings in one place, you are probably in a feeding area.
If the droppings you find are moist and look shiny, these are fresh. Whereas, if there is no shine but looks dry and dull, these are most likely to be old scats.
There is no possibility to determine the buck vs doe poop difference. That said, you should check for other signs that can figure out.
Deer Patterns In Marshy Areas
Sometimes, deer can also leave trails in marsh areas that are relatively harder to read. What you think looks like a trail in water might not actually be it. Deer trails in the marsh are usually seasonal and can be watched out through tree stands. Make sure you get a broader view and glass a wide marsh terrain.
In case you don’t hunt from a tree stand, simply climb up a tree to check for the trails and come back. The ideal trees could be pines, oaks, and maple. Spend a few hours there are carefully determine the trails that deer make especially during hunting hours.
You can either shoot from your treestand or from the ground with good covers. It is suggested to use ambush sites or natural vegetation to hide and take your shots from.
Hunting and learning how to hunt an incredible adventure that can get you some great trophy bucks. The key to a successful chase is a deep understanding of how to read deer trails. There are numerous variables involved in the process.
Alongside trails, you should also look for signs such as deer tracks, beds, scrapes, droppings, etc. Once you have understood the factors associated with reading trails, you can easily determine the gender of deer. Also, trails tell you the direction in which the animal has moved.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
Finding deep tracks up to 3 feet wide, larger beds or scrapes, and aggressive rubbing signs are some of the indications that tell if a big buck is in your area.
Once you determine all the fresh trails and signs, set up your tree stand at the right place such as near feeding sites or traveling routes between bedding and food areas. This strategy will help you see more deer for hunting.
Some hunters also rely on topo maps to figure out the traveling patterns of bucks and establish tree stands accordingly.
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