Most stand hunters agree deer trails are great sites for hunting whitetails. Deer trails are easy to identify and their mere existence implies they are being used by whitetails, at least some of which are likely to be big bucks. All the hunter has to do to take a big buck, then, is patiently wait near a trail until one comes along. Right? Well, maybe. Certain trails are better than most. There’s a lot to know about deer trails.
To begin with, a deer trail is more than a path. Much of most of them are tunnels through forest cover created by repeated passages of deer. Typically, a deer trail is clear enough of obstacles to enable whitetails to travel from place to place with relative silence. The ground of most that are recognized as deer trails are typically well-eroded by the sharp-edged hooves of whitetails, turf flattened, chopped up or completely destroyed by long use, and covered with deer tracks (and occasional droppings), most visible visible in snow or soft soils. Most deer trails are made and more regularly used by does with one or more trailing fawns and one or more yearlings — small doe family deer herds. Yearling does without young and yearling bucks remain on ranges of their mothers, under her tutelage and leadership throughout most of their yearling year. Doe home ranges are dense mazes of deer trails (a distinguishing characteristic) that provide a dozen or more ways to travel to any destination such as a feeding area, watering spot or bedding area. Few deer trails cross buffer zones separating doe home ranges. During hunting seasons, trails used by whitetails change as often as every half-day to take advantage of current wind directions (to avoid ambushes), currently available foods (various greens, browse, nuts or other foods while in season), cover needed to hide travels (before or after leaves have fallen) and to avoid recently discovered locations of trails and stand sites used by hunters.
Mature bucks are loners much of their lives. As such, they create few trails. Many they use are inconspicuous, unlikely to draw the attention of hunters. Because 2–6 doe home ranges are located within larger home ranges of mature bucks, they often make use of trails currently favored by does and their young, trails thus proven currently safe. While mature bucks travel along doe trails, their noses constantly search for traces of the ammonia-like odor emitted by the tarsal glands of alarmed whitetails that passed before them, their ears constantly alert to detect snorts and/or pounding hoof beats of deer fleeing from danger and their eyes constantly scan ahead for rapid movements and fanned white fur of tails and rumps of alarmed deer. Such precautions are characteristic of mature bucks: using other deer ahead like radar to avoid danger.