Don't Follow That Deer

Why going the other way may up your odds of getting a shot.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The freezing rain turned to flakes overnight and draped a light blanket over a sheet of crusted snow. I followed the fresh tracks on the skidder trail, scanning the open beech ridges where the buck had headed.

But with the crusted snow crunching noisily beneath my feet, I changed my mind-and my direction. Turning around, I started tracking in reverse.

Late-season snow brings a perfect opportunity to find a buck's track and follow it. But there's no rule saying that you have to follow it forward. Doing so, of course, is a traditional tactic that has produced its share of bucks. But it's also a bit of a crapshoot. Depending on weather conditions, there's often no telling whether the sign you've found is minutes or hours old. You may or may not catch up to your buck. And if you do, there's usually as good a chance that you'll spook him as shoot him.

When fresh snow covers bare ground, by all means, follow tracks forward. But when it covers existing snow, going backward can reveal critical information about your buck and a better opportunity for you to get him.

Starting with a single set of fresh tracks, proceed in the direction from which they came. Typically, you'll come across intersections, where one or more older sets of hoofprints meet the recently made one. Eventually, what began as a solitary track becomes a heavily used trail.

What you've found is a primary travel corridor-one your buck takes regularly before heading off to various destinations. What's more, in some cases you'll find tracks going in both directions along this trail, suggesting that your buck uses it to get to and from a bedding area. In short, you've found a hotspot-and one that you know, because of the presence of fresh sign, is hot right now.

How hot? Well, I can only offer anecdotal evidence, but I backtracked the prints I found on that skidder trail not more than 100 yards before it became a well-trodden deer path, which led to small opening where tag alders and raspberry canes flanked a tiny brook. I was looking for a place to sit when the buck showed, trotting virtually in my footsteps.

That is, until my bullet hit home.