Those hunters talented enough to pick up the tracks of a big buck and then to go after the animal are worthy of much praise.
In my earlier years, when hunting in fresh snow in the Northeast Kingdom, in northern Maine and in the Adirondacks, I would sometimes take up a track and see if I could follow that deer in the big woods and then deliver a fatal shot.
It never happened. I guess I just didn’t have the stuff — the instincts to run after a deer up and down those big ridges, trying to find a chink in that buck’s defenses. And I admire anyone who can accomplish this feat; it just happens that I am not one of those hunters.
Even on those occasions when I would push the woods, very slowly, I didn’t find much success. My guess is that I have killed two or three bucks over more than 50 years while still-hunting.
My approach to deer hunting is fairly simple: I spend a good deal of time, preseason, scouting for deer and buck sign, for tracks and droppings, for rubs and scrapes, particularly in or bordering thick cover.
And when I find a place that I believe might be productive, I usually sit in a spot that offers some concealment or build a rudimentary ground blind. This usually consists of finding a good, thick tree to sit against, preferably on a ridge, and then assembling a menagerie of logs, limbs and brush (all dead) and building up enough cover so that the only thing sticking above, say, shoulder-high, is my head. The cover is important because I want to be able to move my aching legs from time to time to take a drink or a snack without giving away movement and working a grunt call when the time is right.
One important note to make here is about wind direction. I make this point again and again because failure to pay attention to which way the wind is blowing is probably the biggest mistake deer hunters make. You want the wind in your face, or nearly so. Another important note is movement — keep all movement to a minimum if you want to see deer.
I know that after two or three hours in one place the tendency is for the mind to wander, to not be focused on the silence and stillness of the woods. It is no easy task to stay alert for hour after hour. I know this. It is hard, but important, to stay focused.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that, even though you have found clear sign of buck activity, there are no guarantees that a buck will show up in due time. That said, it is important not to spend too many days in one location, with one big exception: If you are seeing does on a regular basis, stick it out.
While seeing does is clearly a great sign, there is something even better to be on the lookout for — one lone adult doe, on the move. One morning, perhaps 15 years ago, I found a place in the New York woods not far from my home. I sat back against a wall of slate and settled in, just as morning was breaking.
Maybe an hour later, I watched a doe come down from a small ridge to my right, and she displayed something that all hunters should be on the lookout for: Her big tail, which normally hangs straight down, was flipped over to the right and held there as she moved through the woods, a clear sign that she was in estrous. Then, perhaps 50 yards away, she bedded down.
I vowed to stay there all day, if possible. Two hours passed and, while I let my eyes slip left and right for any other deer activity, my attention was riveted at that place, off to my right, where I first saw that “hot” doe. Maybe an hour later, here he comes, rambling down the ridge at a good clip, his long, black nose maybe 12 inches from the ground.
At 50 yards, with him on the move, I hurried the shot and made a clean miss. There was perhaps 2 inches of snow on the ground and, of course, I went over to make certain that I did not hit that buck. He took off, and, after looking for a good 15 minutes, I was certain that I blew a great opportunity at what was probably a good 8-pointer. It happens.
One final note about the buck season: Right now, as mid-November approaches, eager-to-breed bucks are probably near the height of the rut (the high point of breeding activity among bucks seems to occur around Nov. 15), so it is imperative to hunt at this time as often as you can.
Stay focused, stay in the woods and approach the hunt with a positive attitude.
Contact Dennis Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org