Every now and then I receive an email from a deer hunter who is troubled by my recommendation of using deer trails to get around the woods during hunting seasons. Back in the 1960s when I first began my hunting-related studies of wild whitetails, I also felt it was wrong, especially within 100-200 yards of stand sites. I therefore made lots of 30-inch-wide trails for my kids and I back then.
By the time it became illegal for hunters to make trails on public lands in Minnesota, I wasn’t terribly troubled by being forced to use the only other available trails that could provide the silence needed (most important) to get our stand sites, namely, established deer trails. The reason was, as I discovered over and over again earlier, many older bucks with antlers wider than their bodies (and other deer) didn’t hesitate to adopt my trails (man-tall and 30-inch-wide tunnels through cover), often beginning within a few hours after making them. The probable reason was, my trails enabled them to travel from place to place with much greater silence than their own deer trails. Via repeated passages, mature does and their young make most well-tracked deer trails (tunnels through cover) seen in the woods. Mature bucks, being much larger animals and often having antlers wider than their bodies, can find it very difficult to travel far with stlence on less-tall, less-wide tunnels through cover made by smaller does and their young—one of the reasons older bucks often travel off-trail. Older bucks therefore readily adopted my trails, despite being initially laced with my fresh trail scents, though with caution. Thus I knew most older bucks wouldn’t react with hunt-ruining alarm upon discovering I had adopted portions of some of their own favorite trails.
Nonetheless, I felt using deer trails should be kept to a minimum during a hunting season. What we needed, I decided, was a single looping series of connecting deer trails to be used often, even daily, as a main trunk route to get to our stand site approach trails in each square-mile we hunted. From this looping trail would branch our stand site approach trails, each of which would only be used once or twice per hunting season. These are the only trails we now use during a hunting season. This provides our deer with enormous areas in which they will not be alerted or alarmed by us or our fresh trail scents. This, plus stand hunting only, keeps our deer from abandoning their ranges and/or becoming nocturnal. We thus we gain the silence we need to get to our stand sites (dead branches tossed aside from selected trails while scouting two weeks or more before opening day) and the looping trail provides us with a means of finding fresh tracks and/or droppings made by mature bucks (vicinities of next stand sites) daily beginning on day three of a hunting season until we take our usual four mature bucks. By being predictable to whitetails in this regard—only using certain trails—our deer continue to do predictable things at predictable places (near stand sites) during predictable hours right up to the last day we hunt. What could be better? We therefore no longer have qualms about adopting limited deer trails for our own use during hunting seasons.