Many deer hunters, myself included, tend to measure success based on antler size, or sometimes amount of deer tags filled. Once in a while, however, I am reminded that there is so much more to hunting than inches of antler and pounds of meat. I recently had one of the most interesting and memorable days of hunting of my life so far… and I didn’t even see a deer.
It started when I went out to my mom and step-dad’s farm for some deer hunting. Its mostly rolling fields of prairie farm land, which usually means whitetail heaven. I was, unfortunately, a little early in the season and wasn’t seeing much moving and the few people in the area I was able to ask said the same thing “there just doesn’t seem to be as much action this year.” Never the less, I decided to do a few laps around the fields to try and spot something. On the second day my mother and I decided to go for a quad ride, mostly because she wanted to and she wanted me to open the gates for her. While on our ride she showed me something she had found earlier. Two thick trees, about 12 to 14 inches in diameter and both dead but still standing, had been torn apart. The first had mark that looked like a deer rub but far too high off the ground to be a white tail, our best guess is a moose rubbing his big paddles. The second was far too low and gouged too deep to be antlers rubbing, which led us to think maybe a bear digging for insects. It does seem strange that they are only about 10 yards apart, but that does seem the most likely scenario.
The first few days the weather was just above zero with no snow on the ground, but then the mercury plummeted and the snow began to fall. Many old timers firmly believe that the deer mating season, referred to as the “rut”, is triggered by a cold snap. I was excited about the cold snap and the possibility of the rut starting. The rut is characterized by male deer running around desperately looking for females to the point of apparent stupidity, much like myself in high school, except I think usually deer find a mate. That reminds me of a funny story, but I’ll save it for when I’ve had a bit too much to drink. I’m rambling… let me get back to this story.
On the second to last day of my hunting trip, it snowed about three inches, and then went calm…dead calm. That day I went out and saw a lot of wildlife; 3 whitetail does (running away at full speed), 2 mule deer does (bounding passed in the woods), and 3 coyotes. I didn’t get a chance at a shot on the whitetail does as they were running away at top speed and the coyotes were in nice tall grass so I couldn’t take much of a crack at them either. I ended the day in a small patch of bush in the middle of a field so I could watch what appeared to be a rather active game trail. Sadly nothing showed.
The next day I overslept and missed my chance at a morning hunt (deer tend to be most active around sunrise and sunset). I grabbed some breakfast and decided to donate some more of my boot leather to the landscape before I headed home and possibly back to work. I opted to walk what we refer to as “The Loop” which is exactly what it sounds like, a big loop around the entire section of land. As I reached the the most northern part of the trail, this is also the farthest from the house, I spotted some deer tracks. I had just been reading up on deer hunting and had learned that male deer, bucks, tend to walk with a wide gate, while females will leave foot prints almost in a straight line. These tracks belonged to a buck, the quick fall of snow followed by calm weather meant that the tracks were well preserved and visible. On a whim I decided to follow them. First they led me north east to the farthest corner of my parents land. It was a heavily treed patch that, despite my years living on the farm, I never bothered to explore too deeply. As I wandered deeper and deeper following these tracks into the woods I discovered that what I thought was a patch of spruce trees around a swamp, was actually four swamps buried in the trees. I later found out that it used to be one large pond. The tracks led me out of the swamp southbound along the eastern fence and into another quarter section of land where the spruce was replaced with willow trees. For a brief time, his tracks overlapped mine from the day before, I lied to myself and day dreamed that it was tracking me, just like I was tracking it. I followed the tracks along the old game trails. I had been going for several kilometers now and the trail was separated from my old tracks and was beginning to narrow. Suddenly my belief that I was following a buck was confirmed, there were scrapes along the trail. Bucks, before and during mating season will scraped dirt with their paws and antlers and urinate on a patch about the size of a place mat, they will also rub a scent gland, located just below their eye, on an overhanging branch. This buck I was following left nearly half a dozen in about a one kilometer stretch. He was really trying to establish dominance over this area, and all the ladies in it.
As I wandered through the narrow paths, losing and picking up the trail every time they crossed the bent-over, snow-less, slough grass, I could feel my heart pounding and my hands freezing. I knew it was a long shot, especially since I was making so much noise against the willows leaning in on the trail, but I was keeping my rifle ready and partially shouldered just in case I wasn’t that far behind, or if he doubled back to make sure the noise wasn’t another buck moving in on his turf. Eventually the trail doubled back on itself and I lost the bucks track in a mess of cattle tracks. I searched closely but all I could see was over sized bovine prints. I guess the interest and excitement of following a deer’s every move had to end somehow, though I’ll admit it was a little anticlimactic. But that’s how hunting goes I guess. I do think it was really neat to see how many scrapes that deer left and just to study where and how it moved. Even if I didn’t get a deer, time spent hunting is never wasted (though some days it can really feel like it). Plus if I get time to hunt some more this year I know exactly where to look for an ambitious buck that will probably come running to the sound of a doe bleat… Ill let you know how that goes.
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