These main eight deer signs can tell you a lot about your hunt.
When it comes to deer hunting, the waiting game is almost half the battle.
We spend so much time sitting in our treestands, biding our time until whitetails wander by, that it’s difficult not to wonder precisely what else we could accomplish in those hours.
In order to be a truly successful hunter, you need to be able to read deer tracks. Whether you are scouting your property in the spring in order to better establish a hunting season plan, or chasing down a buck you already took a shot at, reading the eight tracks on this list should absolutely be part of your skillset.
View the slideshow to see the eight deer signs.
1. Simple hoof prints
The first and most obvious type of deer tracks are the actual hoof prints that deer leave behind when they walk. These tracks – ovular in shape, with small claw prints making an independent dot below the hoof – are most easily seen in snow, but can also be tracked in mud or softer ground areas. Hoof prints are helpful for two primary reasons: first of all, they help you see where deer are traveling. They are perfect for figuring out deer traffic patterns on your property, for locating bedding, feeding, or drinking spots, and for ultimately choosing a profitable hunting spot.
Secondly, hoof prints can give you insight into the size and gender of the deer you are hunting. In general, hoof prints can measure anywhere between three and six inches in length – measured from the top of the ovular hoof print to the small dot of a claw print on the bottom. Fawn tracks are usually shorter than four inches, while mature bucks will come more in the five to six inch range.
With this information in mind, you can decide whether it’s worth it for you to track a deer or not, just by looking at their prints.
Sometimes, between dirt, fallen leaves and pine needles, and plenty of traffic, it’s not always easy to pick out individual deer tracks in the woods. Luckily, you don’t always need them to locate common deer traffic pathways.
Just as human walking, biking, and skiing pathways are beaten down into clear trails, deer following the same general “roads” from bedding areas to food plots and back again will beat down the earth and grass enough to leave behind visual proof of their movements. These trails won’t always be as obvious as the one in the picture above, but they’re always worth looking out for.
If you are tracking a deer, you are going to have to keep an eye out for more than just hoof prints and clear trails. Deer droppings can add a good deal of information to your hunt, as judging the freshness of the droppings can give you insight into how recently a deer passed a certain way.
Since it’s not always easy to tell how recently hoof prints were made, droppings can give you an idea of whether or not the buck you are tracking is nearby or long gone, in turn saving you precious time following old tracks. A large concentration of droppings in one place is also a good indication that you are getting close to a bedding area.
It’s no secret that bucks will make rubs on small trees with their antlers as a means of marking their territory and exerting a bit of excess aggression.
If you see a rub, it’s a sign that a buck has been in the near vicinity, with the relative freshness of the rub obviously giving you an idea of how recently it was made. A number of rubs scattered in the same area, like a high concentration of droppings, can let you know if you are close to a buck’s bedding area.
However, the most valuable information you can learn from a rub is the size of the buck that made it. Higher rubs on bigger trees are the work of a bigger and more mature buck, while smaller trees and rubs closer to the ground are usually the work of younger bucks.
Speaking of buck calling cards, if you are going to look for rubs, you also need to be able to understand the science behind scrapes.
Many hunters hold scrapes to be the most important deer tracks to look for during the rut, and they have a point. Scrapes are made when bucks paw the ground at the foot of a tree, creating a bare patch of earth on the ground, and then urinating on it. In order to leave behind the most obvious sign of his presence – which is important, since scrapes are a tool used to attract does during the rut – the buck urinates down his rear legs and onto his tarsal glands, which create a stronger and more pungent odor.
In addition to the scrape, the buck will also rub his head against the tree and lick a low-hanging branch above the scrape, thereby leaving behind even more of his smell. Usually, you will smell a scrape about as soon as you will see it, and when you do, it should tell you one thing: a buck is nearby, and he’s probably worth your attention.
Speaking of urine, there’s no easier way to spot deer tracks in the snow than to look for urine stains. Usually, you will see these in addition to hoof prints rather than instead of them, meaning that they are good more as tracking supplements rather than standalone sources of information.
However, urine stains can tell you the gender of the deer you are tracking if you can’t tell from the prints: bucks urinate in between their tracks, while doe urine will appear behind the tracks.
7. Bedding areas
When you map your deer property in the spring, it’s especially important to take note of bedding areas. Doing so can not only help you to draw out deer travel patterns and pick optimal stand locations, but can also give you the information you need to establish sanctuaries on your property that keep pressure to a minimum.
In looking for these spots, look out for concentrations of droppings or rubs (as mentioned above), as well as for small, subtle depressions in the grass, leaves, or pine needles.
8. Blood trails
If you manage to land a shot on a buck, the hope is obviously that he will drop dead on the spot and give you no further tracking to do. If the buck bolts, however, you need to know how to read a blood trail.
You will see different types of blood trails depending on where your shot made impact. Pink and frothy blood is the hallmark of a lung shot, in which case, even if your buck bolted, he won’t make it far. Bright red blood can indicate a wider range of things, from a hit near the heart to a shot in the leg. The more rich and red blood you see, the more likely it is that you landed a lethal shot