Whitetails are generally active in only about 10% of their home ranges on any one day. Typically, this 10% is long, and shaped like a skinny, lumpy donut with a secluded bedding area and current favorite watering spot in two parts and one or two of several feeding areas in other parts. To be productive, therefore, a stand must be located somewhere within this donut. This 10% is easy to distinguish, being well marked by often-used deer trails, fresh deer tracks and droppings and other very recently made deer signs. The trouble is, depending on wind direction, needed cover, currently available foods, known locations of trails and sites frequented by hunters and hunting methods used by hunters, this 10% can change in location, shape and size as frequently as twice daily during a hunting season, confounding efforts made by hunters. For this reason, preseason scouting is generally most rewarding during the first 2–3 days of a hunting season. After that, most hunters must depend on luck.
This is only the beginning of this lesson on deer hunting.
During any one day during the course of a hunting season, where are deer right now? Unfortunately, If you’ve been making drives or wandering dark to dark through your hunting area, they’re likely somewhere else, perhaps miles away. At the very least, most mature whitetails in or near your hunting area are now nocturnal — active during darkness only. If you are a skilled stand hunter, however, one who does not ordinarily alarm deer while hiking to and from stand sites, beginning on day three of your hunting season, mature whitetails are likely living fairly normal, predictable lives out of sight and safe distances from the trails you use and your stand sites. Their current locations are clearly marked by fresh tracks and droppings of walking or feeding deer.
How to find and recognize these signs without spooking deer and how to successfully take advantage of such signs are book-sized subjects — soon-to-be published in my Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition. I plan to touch on these subjects piece by piece via blogs during coming months. Recognizing deer tracks and their meanings is now well covered in my recently-published, $4.95 ebook entitled Dr. Ken Nordberg’s 2016 Pocket Guidebook to Whitetail Tracks Fall and Winter which can be downloaded to any device.