It’s 9 AM on day three of our hunting season. I’m sitting on my stool, well hidden ten yards back in the woods downwind of the edge of a whitetail feeding area I studied well while scouting two weeks before opening day. I haven’t seen a deer. At this time of the day, they are obviously feeding somewhere else, a place where I’d most like to be right now.
Between 11 AM and noon while whitetails are normally bedded (the best time to scout during a hunting season), I planned to swing past the browse area 200 yards north of where I sat and then take the deer trail past the east side of the narrow clearcut where I took a buck two years earlier. I don’t have to see deer feeding to know where they are currently feeding. It’s actually best if I don’t see deer at this time. The way I travel on foot when searching for one or two spots to stand hunt next is very unlikely to alarm unseen deer along the way — walking non-stop at a moderate pace on deer trails without sharply changing direction and keeping my head pointed straight ahead, all without regard for wind direction. All I need to see to determine where deer are currently feeding is some very fresh, sharp-edged tracks and/or soft and shiny droppings somewhere within 20-50 yards of an edge of a known feeding area (previously discovered).
Fresh tracks of walking deer entering the browse area north of where I sat that morning were made by two does or a doe and yearling buck (both deer having 3-inch-long hoof prints). Very fresh, nearly-four-inch-long tracks made by a big buck walking from the narrow clearcut into the surrounding evergreen forest past a freshly pawed ground scrape were more interesting, though paradoxical. Should I hunt the nearby browse area where the other deer were feeding, hoping one is a doe in heat, should I hunt the narrow clearcut where the buck is likely to feed next unless attracted away from the area by a doe n heat or should I sit where I can keep an eye on that freshened ground scrape? Rarely discovered ground scrapes that have been very recently freshened while breeding is in progress in November can be amazingly productive buck stand sites. During the past decade, I have taken three big bucks and should have taken a fourth within fifteen minutes to several hours after sitting down on my stool downwind of such a scrape.
Something of importance that should be explained here is the fact that I never stop to measure hoof prints or droppings while searching for fresh deer signs (next stand sites) during a hunting season because displaying an obvious keen interest in a whitetail’s tracks or droppings is very alarming human behavior when witnessed by a mature whitetail, likely to cause it to soon quietly abandon the vicinity and thus destroy the otherwise great hunting value of the fresh deer signs. Also, because of my long experience measuring deer tracks and droppings, I rarely error while estimating their lengths on the fly, walking steadily past them.