As skilled as we are at approaching and using our stand sites, my studies have long proven most bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age discover us between the moment we first arrive at a stand site and the morning we depart from it two or three consecutive half-days later — during the evening of the first day or the morning of the second day. Very few bucks of these ages ever fail to avoid once-discovered stand sites throughout the rest of a hunting season (not always true of younger bucks and other deer). The buck hunting rule that evolved in our camp because of this discovery is as follows: if a hunter stand hunts downwind or crosswind of very fresh, 3-1/2 to 4 inch-long tracks and/or very fresh 5/8 to 1-1/4 inch-long droppings made by an unalarmed buck (not trotting or bounding) but fails to see that buck during a half day of stand hunting, the buck knows the hunter is there and is already avoiding that stand site, meaning it is time to move to another unused stand site near such tracks and/or droppings 100 yards or more away. This is a viable rule because upon discovering a typically silent, stationary stand hunter free of strong odors, most mature whitetails (not shot at) including the most wary of big bucks will not abandon the area. They will only begin keeping a safe distance away from the site where the stand hunter was discovered until the hunting season ends.
The necessity to move to a new stand site each half day is the reason we devote an hour or so midday daily to searching for more fresh tracks or droppings made by mature unalarmed bucks or does hopefully in heat to hunt near later that day and the early the next morning.
The way we search for fresh deer signs during a hunting season was inspired by years of observing wolf packs hunting vulnerable deer. A pack (annually formed about November 8th in my study area) only needs to kill one mature whitetail a week to be adequately fed. Having hunting ranges 100 square miles or more in size, their impact on deer numbers in one square-mile is therefore usually minimal in winter. Normally, wolves find it very difficult to catch healthy whitetails 1-½ years of age or older, such deer being up to 10 mph faster than they are and able to leap over obstacles while bounding that wolves must detour around. For this reason our grey wolves spend considerable time cruising along specific trails or frozen watercourses in search of deer made slow for some reason: deer that are old, very young, arthritic, sick, crippled, wounded or fallen on slippery lake ice and can’t get up. While cruising in search of a prey, upon discovering very fresh trail scents of a potentially vulnerable, unalarmed deer (meaning it is near), rather than immediately give chase (unless unexpectedly jumped at close range), the wolves continue walking past (single file) without pause and without turning their heads toward the deer, acting as if unaware the deer is near or not interested in pursuing it, doing nothing to warn the deer it has actually been selected as a prey. When finally out of sight, crosswind or downwind, the alpha male or female wolf will turn to sneak back while the rest of the pack circles downwind until directly downwind of the prey where they wait. Meanwhile the alpha wolf stalks cautiously crosswind until very near the unsuspecting deer or until the deer suddenly spots it and realizes it is a selected prey, at which point the wolf will immediately give chase and drive the deer downwind toward the waiting pack, then spreading out a bit. This doesn’t always work, but it apparently works often enough to satisfy our wolves.
After having witnessed this several times, it occurred to me our whitetails were not fearful nearby wolves unless it appeared the wolves had selected them as a prey. Upon seeing one suddenly halt to stare at them, display a lot of interest in their tracks or trail scents, suddenly turn and begin moving directly toward them, cautiously stalk toward them or appear to be hunting in their direction — sneaking, often changing direction and often halting to listen, sniff the air and scan ahead, the whitetails of my study area rarely hesitate to sneak quietly away or flee with all possible speed whether such behavior is displayed by one or more wolves or a blaze-orange clad human.
After my wife and I often successfully used this wolf ruse of pretending to have no idea a deer is near or pretending to have no interest in them to get close enough for full frame photos of wild whitetails (the first photo taken upon halting usually featuring a deer standing, feeding or bedded and the second photo taken usually featuring a deer bonding away, tail erect), I finally introduced it to my hunting partners in deer camp about 20 years ago.
Since then, walking non-stop at a moderate pace while keeping our heads pointed straight ahead has been standard technique without regard for wind direction while cruising selected deer trails in search of fresh deer signs during hunting seasons, standard technique while hiking into the wind or crosswind only while heading toward a stand and site and standard technique without regard for wind direction while hiking away from a stand site. Subsequent studies in snow revealed most deer along the way approached in this manner merely moved aside, watched us pass while hidden by intervening cover and them resumed whatever they were doing after we were out of sight and hearing. This wolf ruse has not only enabled us to see more deer near our stand sites, but it has greatly increased to number of deer, including older bucks, that remain our hunting area throughout a hunting season, giving us reason to believe each time we head to another stand site our odds for success are as favorable as they were on opening weekend. Since 1990, including that year and last year, we have taken quite a few mature bucks, several now on the wall, during the final two days of our hunts.