The only bad deer sign is the sort that fools you. And I’ve been deceived badly. I’ve found those scrapes you can smell and rubs so fresh that they’re dripping sap; I’ve cut buck trails gouged deep into the dirt. But when hunting some of this seemingly slam-dunk spore, I’ve been repeatedly skunked–or worse, bumped the very buck I was after.
Identifying hot deer sign is a fundamental skill of our sport. But every bit as important is being able to determine which sign is going to leave you twiddling your thumbs, and which will have you squeezing your trigger. Here are five examples of each:
GULLY RUB LINE: Except in rare conditions, the bottoms of gullies, ravines, hollows, or steep valleys will have irregular winds that will reveal your presence to bucks.
RIDGETOP RUB LINE: You can count on a consistent wind here. Get downwind of the prevailing breeze–if the buck shows, he’s yours.
FIELD-EDGE SCRAPE: A scrape in open cover is almost certain to receive nocturnal visits only. There’s little point in hunting over one like this.
STAGING-AREA SCRAPE: Bucks that wait until dark to feed will dally in a staging area (50-200 yards off the feed), making and checking scrapes while there’s still shooting light.
FLATLAND BED CLOSE TO A FOOD SOURCE: Bedding areas are always tricky to access on morning hunts without bumping feeding deer. In this case it’s virtually impossible.
HILLSIDE BED: These are much easier to approach, as you can use the far side of the hill or ridge to stay hidden. Head out early, while it’s still dark, to beat your buck to its bed.
FIELD TRAIL: No matter how heavily used an open-cover trail appears to be, deer generally venture there only at night. If it is active during the daytime, you won’t be able to avoid spooking deer.
PERIMETER TRAIL: A path that skirts the perimeter of a field–just inside the woods–isn’t difficult to set up on. Focus on the downwind corner, where bucks stop to scent-check the field before entering.
EXPOSED FEEDING SIGN: Tracks, droppings, and disturbed vegetation tell you deer are feeding. But if they’re within sight of a road or houses, or along an ATV trail, don’t set up nearby–your buck won’t likely show up until after dark.
SECLUDED FEEDING SIGN: The same sign located on oak flats, secluded fields, or hidden clear-cuts is much more promising. Bucks feel safe hitting these areas during daylight to feed and look for does.