Ordinarily, whitetail watering spots — sites with a deer trail leading to water and fresh deer tracks at the water’s edge — are not notably great stand sites. One reason is, whitetails mostly water in darkness before they begin feeding in the morning and again after dark in the evening. Perhaps it’s because they feel vulnerable while their heads are down, drinking, while human hunters are afoot. After mid-October when mature bucks are normally most active during daylight hours — feeding, making or renewing ground scrapes and antler rubs, dominant bucks are searching for and chasing lesser bucks from their breeding ranges and searching for and accompanying does in heat — whitetails frequently make use of multiple and previously ignored sources of water, including secluded springs, mere puddles of water and snow. For these reasons my sons and I normally pay little attention to spots where whitetails have obviously been drinking.
While scouting in October four years ago, however, my son, Ken, discovered a streamside watering spot that could not be ignored. The edge of the water was loaded with very fresh (sharply-edged) tracks four inches long, making it obvious a very large buck had been drinking there. Moreover, because the stream was unusually shallow at this site with a gravel bottom, as the buck’s tracks further revealed, it often crossed the stream here from a high, adjacent hill with steep slopes (some older bucks prefer to bed near crests of high steep hills) to feed in a narrow section of a recently logged clearcut (narrow clearcuts are much preferred by whitetails over wide clearcuts) beginning about fifty yards from the stream. Furthermore, that clearcut was virtually red with the favorite browse plants of our northern whitetails beginning in early November — red-bark dogwoods and red sugar maple saplings. Never in his life had Ken discovered a spot with as many visible reasons to believe he would take a big buck there during a coming firearm deer hunting season. Imagine, then, Ken’s disappointment when he awoke in deer camp on opening day to discover the wind would be blowing on his back if he hiked to that stand site. Imagine his joy the second morning when he discovered the wind would be blowing on his face instead. Imagine how he felt when he spotted a huge buck coming down that steep slope toward the stream 20 yards beyond his well-hidden stand, just as he had daily imagined would happened during the three weeks before the hunting season began. My accompanying photo says it all.