Don’t field-dress that deer near your stand, or you’ll ruin it for the rest of the season! That’s conventional wisdom with the time-honored stamp of approval from the old guys in deer camp. But does that mean it’s true? Do gut piles really spook deer?
It’s something we can never prove definitively because we can’t ask deer how they feel about such things. In my experience, though, I don’t think the gut pile itself bothers deer much at all. This past season, my dad shot a good buck out of a box blind on our farm as it followed a doe into a food plot. That buck fell just 50 yards away, and he was a bruiser — bigger than we wanted to drag around for sure — and so we gutted him there on the spot, and then scooped him into a tractor bucket. Five days later, my buddy Miles hunted the same stand and killed another stud of a buck that was standing almost exactly where we’d gutted Dad’s deer. If the field-dressing site bothered him or the doe he was chasing, they sure didn’t show it.
That’s anecdotal of course, but I’ve seen similar situations play out so many times over the years that I’m convinced: Deer aren’t afraid of gut piles. Still, there are plenty of good reasons to field-dress your kill somewhere besides right under your favorite tree.
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The Elk and Bear Story
A few Septembers ago, I killed a bull elk on an aspen hillside in Colorado. We gutted and quartered him right there and hauled him out on horses. The next morning I went back to that same hillside with another buddy from camp, who hadn’t yet filled his tag. We got on a bull that was bugling hard, just out of sight and so close my buddy thumbed the hammer back on his muzzleloader. I remember whispering, That bull sounds like he’s standing in yesterday’s gut pile!
Just as it seemed we’d be hauling another elk out that day, the bull went silent, as if he’d evaporated into the clouds. We pleaded with cow calls, bugled, raked brush — and then finally couldn’t take it anymore. Let’s peek over that hill for a look, my buddy said. Ravens and magpies fussed and circled around the gut pile below us, and a chubby black bear was sitting on its rear, having a heck of a feast.
I don’t think the guts scared that bull, but the bear sure did.
Part of the gut pile debate comes from the assumption that game animals think like we do. See, if I walked into my own bedroom and came upon a pile of entrails there on the carpet, I’d be a little unnerved (and also annoyed at the prospect of having to clean it up). But I don’t think deer and elk have that same reasoning ability, to associate organs on the ground with danger. But gut piles will attract predators that can spook deer at precisely the wrong moment. They attract scavengers for days, too, and I can’t say the ambiance of any autumn sit has ever been improved by the presence of turkey vultures, opossums, or botflies. To me, that’s all reason enough to tend to the chore elsewhere whenever it’s convenient. If I can get my deer to a pond edge or creek bank, where I can wash up afterward, all the better. There’s something ritualistic and good about rinsing a bloody blade in a creek anyhow.
So, do gut piles spook deer? Maybe not — but maybe the old guys in camp weren’t totally full of it, either.
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