I always look forward to the first good snowfall of the deer season. Snow on the ground not only makes the deer easy to see against the white background it also makes for easy tracking. The story of where the deer moved and what they did is very evident in new snow. So when we got 6 inches of snow on November 26 I was out in the woods, not hunting, just looking, yet anxious to find and follow the trail of one of the bucks in the area.
I decided to check near one of the primary scrapes that was regularly visited by several bucks. The scrape hadn’t been reworked because it was after the rut. A buck had meandered through it, evidenced by the drag marks and large tracks. When I saw the tracks I began to follow. At first the tracks were blown over with snow, they had probably been made before the snow quit in the early morning hours. As I followed the tracks for a quarter mile winding through the oaks and pines I realized they were getting fresher. As they entered a thicket of buckthorn I was sure the deer was somewhere ahead of me, as yet unaware that I was following.
The wind was in my favor and the snow muffled the sound of my footsteps, but there was no way I could get through the brush without a deer hearing me if it was near. I didn’t know exactly how close I was but because I wasn’t hunting I didn’t care. I just wanted to follow the trail to see where the deer went and hopefully where it bedded. The trail wound through the brush, up the side of a wash about fifty yards, and then into still thicker brush. I had to get down on all fours to crawl under the low-lying limbs and small openings the animal had gone through. I was amazed at how small the openings were and wondered how a buck could get it’s body, nonetheless it’s rack through the brush without getting hung up. Then I saw four of five long outer hairs and a tuft of shorter insulating hairs hanging from a long, downward pointing thorn. I guess the deer did get hung up once in a while.
As I examined the hair and then the tracks beneath I knew I was close, there was no new snow in the tracks. They were well defined, and the snow in the bottom looked like it had just been compacted by the hoof. I crawled beneath the bush a few more yards up the hill and stopped. The imprints in the snow were no longer the regularly spaced tracks of a walking deer. There was the bed, one set of tracks where the deer had stood and three feet away a cluster of four tracks where it had bounded out of it’s bed. Still curious I followed the bounding tracks for another hundred yards before they gave way to the tracks of a walking deer, the drag marks again evident in the snow. I probably spooked the deer when I first entered the brush, breaking twigs and letting branches snap back behind me as I went. Once the deer got up the hill it felt more secure and began to walk again.
I searched the woods carefully before me, trying to spot the deer before I jumped it again. I continued to follow the tracks as the buck walked down a regularly used deer trail. Walking slower because I was close, trying not to make too much noise and stopping to scan the woods for deer, I found myself looking at the tracks of a bounding deer. I had spooked the deer again, probably as I had come over the rise at the top of the hill. The buck had either heard or seen me. As I followed the bounding tracks I knew I was only minutes behind the buck. It was probably within a hundred yards of me, likely closer. Fifty yards farther along the trail, which ran along the top of the ridge where the buck bedded, the tracks led into the buckthorn again, the same patch of brush where the buck had bedded. It had circled around and gone right back to the security of it’s bedding area.
Knowing I was close and now knowing where the buck bedded, and not wanting to jump it again, I decided not to follow the trail any farther. I knew where the buck’s daytime bedding area was, which would help me locate him later. As I crossed the ridge on the other side of the wash I realized that with the snow on the ground, and if I got in the right position with a pair of binoculars, I would be able to see the buck when it was bedded in the buckthorn patch. That would make it much easier to know when and where to hunt him. Because of the tracks in the snow I now knew where the buck entered his bedding area and the route he used for escape. Even though I hadn’t been hunting and probably wouldn’t have been successful if I had, it had been a very productive day. I would know right where to find the buck next time, and I would be ready.