Off-trail Scouting (for Whitetail Deer)

Where does a mature whitetail spend most of its time each 24 hours? Generally (there are exceptions influenced by weather, phases of the rut, changing foods and hunting), it will spend one six-hour period in one or more feeding areas beginning about 4 AM, the next six-hour period in a bedding area beginning about 10 AM, the next six-hour period in one or more feeding areas beginning about 4 PM and the final six hour period in a bedding area beginning about 10 PM. Between these destinations (and one of several a watering sites), it will spend little time on deer trails. Depending on wind direction, cover needed and a knowledge of trails and sites known to be frequented by hunting humans, a well-experienced whitetail will have a dozen or more trails to use to travel safely to a bedding or feeding area, reducing the odds of seeing a deer on any one trail to I in 12 or less. If the deer is a buck 3-1/2 years of age or older, during hunting seasons it will characteristically travel off-trail more than 50% of the time, reducing the odds to 1 in 24 or less.

Where do whitetail hunters spend most of their time while scouting and hunting? On or near deer trails. There are five reasons: 1) deer trails are easy to identify, 2) easier to travel on foot on than on off-trail routes, 3) they reduce the likelihood of becoming lost, 4) today’s hunters spend much of their time trying to lure antlered bucks to sites along trails marked with ground scrapes and 5) other than farm fields and clear-cuts, most hunters are unable to identify whitetail feeding and bedding areas, generally located well away from much used deer trails. It’s a shame because feeding areas are hubs of all whitetail activities. The odds of seeing unsuspecting deer moving about there via skilled stand hunting are much greater there than anywhere else. Moreover, feeding deer are generally easy targets.

The trouble is, all whitetails have several feeding areas, their selection on any one day influenced by wind direction, available approach cover and previous discoveries of hunters along the way. A mature whitetail will readily abandon any feeding area after one or more hunters are discovered nearby — likely occurring within hours, or at best, within a day and a half. To enjoy superior odds for hunting success, then, the hunter should locate several feeding areas while scouting and plan to hunt each no longer than ½ to 1-1/2 days, always cautiously approaching well concealed stand sites 10–20 yards short of edges of feeding areas from downwind in the morning and crosswind in the afternoon. To set up all this, the serious hunter should spend plenty of time scouting off-trail 2–3 weeks before the opener.

More About Whitetail Deer Danger Scent

Soon after gaining a safe distance following a harrowing encounter with a hunter or large predator, a bounding whitetail will generally pull up to settle its nerves, assess its back trail to determine whether or not it is being pursued or stalked and lick its tarsal tufts to halt further emissions of the ammonia-like odor released into the air while it was greatly alarmed, thus making it more difficult for a rapidly trailing predator to keep to its trail via scent alone.

About Whitetail Deer Danger Scent

Do you realize an ammonia-like odor is released from tarsal glands of alarmed whitetails that can act as a deer repellent up to four days?

Take a look at the erect tufts of dark hair on the insides of the bounding doe’s hind legs in my accompanying photograph. Whenever a whitetail becomes alarmed enough to raise its tail, snort and/or bound away, the tufts of hair overlying its tarsal glands become erect. While erect, the underlying glands release an ammonia-like odor into the air. While airborne, this odor silently warns all downwind deer (up to 200 yards away) something very dangerous is upwind. It also creates an easily followed (easily smelled) scent trail for less fleet accompanying fawns and other deer to follow. Wherever emitted, the odor persists up to four days (or until it rains or snows), meaning anytime a whitetail bounds from or past your stand site, the persisting odor acts as an effective deer repellent for four days.

Do You Greatly Alarm the Deer You Hunt?

Nothing alarms a mature whitetail more than seeing or hearing a hunter sneaking toward it, halting often to scan ahead. Simply halting suddenly within sight of a deer and gazing toward it or suddenly changing course and walking directly toward it can be equally alarming, whether the hunter actually realizes a deer is there or not. Such are typical actions of wolves that have selected a deer as a prey or much more easily detected human deer hunters making a drive, still-hunting or stalking. The consequences are generally severe, whitetails reacting by bounding away as rapidly as possible through forest cover, becoming extremely difficult targets. Worse, most mature whitetails then quickly flee to off-range areas seldom invaded by hunters, swamps or posted lands, for example, or they become nocturnal (move about in darkness only).

If on the other hand you area a non-aggressive stand hunter, unless your silhouette is obvious against the sky or a snowy background, you are spotted or heard moving or a deer is downwind and able to smell you, not only are you far less likely to be discovered by an approaching or passing whitetail, but even if you are discovered, a whitetail is unlikely to become alarmed enough to abandon its range or become nocturnal. Thereafter, generally occurring without hunters realizing it, the deer will simply stay out of sight or keep a safe distance away from the spot where the hunter was discovered. To effectively counter this evasive action, move to a new stand site at least 100 yards away daily.

New Winter Deer Hunting Boots

The only boots I’ve ever worn during my 70 years of Minnesota whitetail hunting (4 pair) were pac boots, beginning with a hand-me-down pair from L. L. Bean at age 10. Leather uppers annually smeared with mink oil kept my feet dry but lots of homemade woolen socks with red toes and heels found under Christmas trees back then were needed to keep my feet from freezing during our late November hunts. My last two pair came with insulating liners, but the combination was awfully heavy. At age 80, that heaviness was a common complaint at the end of each day in deer camp. A few days ago I decided to see if I could find some new lighter boots at a reasonable price. I discovered a whole new world of exceptional winter hunting boots in one big outfitter’s store. It took more than an hour to try on boots there. Besides being a bargain, the waterproof boots lined with 2000 gram Thinsulate™ I finally settled on weigh a mere one pound each. That is absolutely amazing. This November, this old man is going to feel like a teen-ager again while hiking up and down the boulder strewn, spruce and pine covered hills where a certain big buck lives.