Deer hunting tips

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Once you get boots on the ground in a potential hunting area, look for deer sign and food sources. Once you locate these signs you may decide to monitor the area with a trail camera.

Deer Sign

Deer sign can tell a hunter a lot about the deer’s habits, travel routes, and the size and sex of the animal.

Deer tracks are the first thing to look for. Deer will often use the same areas and trails repeatedly, leaving deer runs and tracks behind. Tracks can reveal the direction the deer was traveling as well as the approximate size of the animal—the bigger the track, the bigger the deer.

Deer tracks.

Deer tracks. Photo by Troy Gipps.

Deer runs are paths that deer frequent. They will become easier to spot the more time you spend afield looking for them. Try to find muddy or soft areas where deer hoofs will sink in, leaving deep tracks and distinct runs. If deer enter and exit food source areas in different locations, it is likely that deer will be active at the entry point in the evening and active at the exit point in the morning. Other deer runs will have tracks going both directions which could be productive in the morning and evening. In addition to hunting near food sources, you may consider setting up at a place where two or more deer runs intersect.

Deer scat looks like the candy Raisinets (chocolate covered raisins) poured in a pile. Sometimes the individual pellets are stuck together forming a clump. Fresh scat will be wet and shiny for several hours. After a few days it starts to dry out and after a few months it will have started to decompose. An ideal hunting spot contains many tracks and scat of all different ages indicating that deer spend a lot of time in this area. Places with only fresh scat or only old scat means that location is seasonal and may only be productive for a few week a year.

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You can learn what deer are eating by examining fresh scat. Scat with a greenish tint means the deer is feeding primarily on green vegetation like grass, clover, or similar leafy greens. Grayish scat indicates that the deer is feeding mostly on acorns or beech nuts. The more commonly occurring brown scat means that the deer is using a wide variety of food sources.

Food Sources

Deer browse on many different things within their habitats, but during certain times of the year deer will key in on essential food sources as they become available.

Acorns and beech nuts are favored by many species when they are available in the fall. Learning a few tree species will help you find these sources. White oak acorns are always preferred and often drop to the ground earlier than other species making a productive white oak tree a good location for the early archery season. Red, pin, scarlet, chestnut, and other oaks drop acorns well into the fall hunting seasons. Beech nuts are another great food source used by deer.

Agricultural fields are a great place to hunt if you get permission from a landowner. Deer frequent fields of grass, hay, clover, soy beans, standing corn, cut corn, and pumpkins, as well as apple orchards. If hunting in these areas, look for deer runs where they enter and exit the fields. It is often better to hunt in the woods adjacent to the field or orchard, than to hunt on the edge of the field itself. Find the entries and exits and follow the deer run away from the food source to find a place to hunt.

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Browse is something that is often overlooked. Deer often alter their travel routes to and from a major food source in order to browse along the way. Look along the edges of swamps and the re-growing edges of logged areas for the nibbled and chewed ends of young woody growth and other types of tender vegetative growth.

Deer tracks.

Signs that deer have been browsing in the area. Photo by Troy Gipps.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>