As I stated in my previous blog, fresh tracks of walking deer in or adjacent to feeding areas can ensure hunting success if properly taken advantage of. Fresh tracks can also enable a hunter to key on specific classes (5) of whitetails, including mature bucks. The reason is, little deer have little hoofs, bigger deer have bigger hoofs and the biggest deer, mature bucks only, have the biggest hoofs.
Throughout my first decade of studying wild Minnesota whitetails (beginning in 1960), I measured countless tracks of various classes of Minnesota whitetails that were actually seen and identified, plus hoofs of deer taken by hunters. Eventually, my track research enabled me to very accurately identify five behavioral classes of whitetails by their hoof lengths all over America (deer classes and their hoof lengths are smaller in southern states). Today, I do not include indentations made by dewclaws when measuring hoof prints. The five classes of northern whitetails and their identifying hoof lengths are:
Fawns with live weights of less than 90 pounds have hoofs measuring 2 to 2-3/8 inches in length.
Yearling does, smaller than their mothers but larger than fawns, weighing about 120 pounds, have hoof prints measuring 2-5/8 inches in length.
Yearling bucks, spikes or fork-horns 1-1/2 years of age, and mature does 2-1/2 to 14-1/2 years of age are about the same size with a live weight of 140–150 pounds. Both have hoof prints measuring 3 to 3-1/8 inches in length.
Bucks 2-1/2 years-old, 6–8 pointers with an inside spread of 12–14 inches, weigh 170–195 pounds and have hoof prints that measure 3-3/8 inches in length.
Bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years old (though few are taken by hunters, few live longer), 8–12 pointers with inside spreads of 16–21 inches weigh 195–305 pounds and have hoofs measuring 3-5/8 to 4 inches in length.
What this means is, if you skillfully use hunting tactics designed to avoid alarming whitetails and key on very fresh identifying hoof prints made by any class of whitetail, your odds of taking that class of whitetail will be enormously improved. If you key on very recently made hoof prints 3-5/8 to 4 inches in length, your odds of taking the most wary and elusive of whitetails, namely mature bucks, will also be greatly improved.
This approach to whitetail hunting is most applicable when and where snow covers the ground during hunting seasons. Without snow (more common these days), my hunting partners and I commonly key on different deer signs (see my next blog).