Identifying Deer Tracks

Identifying the Presence of White-tail Deer
The moment you step foot in or around a forest, a White-tail deer population may just be a few feet away. Given their varied diet of common vegetation and their ability to thrive in winter or summer weather, it is extremely likely that you will have an opportunity to find these fortuitous animals. Whether for hunting or recreational means, there are numerous ways to track, recognize, or steer clear of their presence.

Recognize Topographical Hotspots
White-tail deer will almost always follow a trend of geographical features that become advantageous to their feeding or bedding. Tracking them along these landmarks will likely lead you to a deer family.

  • Rivers: Any large river or stream will likely harbor deer tracks and trails along its edge as they follow the path of the water to drink. The most advantageous area to spot deer is at a shallow point in the river where the deer are likely to cross.
  • Ponds or lakes: Much like rivers, establishing a campsite near a body of water will usually ensure a deer encounter as they will be attracted to the water for a drink, especially in the hotter, dryer months.
  • Open Fields or Clearings: If you come upon an open clearing near the woods it will likely become a spot to find deer as they prefer areas of woods to scan a clearing for danger while remaining hidden. Once the coast is clear, the deer will emerge into the clearing to forage for food.
  • Power Lines: Because power lines usually accompany a small clearing or lack of trees, deer will often congregate along a path parallel to the woods amongst the power lines.
  • Dips in the Terrain or Ditches: Look for changes in the landscape where it changes from flat to low areas. These are places where the deer may travel to avoid being easily spotted by predators.

Follow Scraped Trees
When traversing the woods, you’ll occasionally spot trees that have been stripped of bark or scraped very heavily on one side. These are most likely done by male white-tail deer that are in a rutting season, or the time of higher testosterone. During this period in a buck’s life, the higher testosterone levels will cause his antlers to grow and shed their velvet which is quite an itchy experience. The buck will scratch his antlers on trees along his path to relieve the itching and will, in general, be less cautious and much more active as they search for mates. This is one of the most perfect times to track and spot deer. Other helpful tips to track male deer during this time are:

  • Begin camping or hunting during mid to late September as this is usually when bucks begin entering the rutting season
  • The larger the tree that was scraped or “rubbed,” the larger the buck and his antlers will be. Search for thicker trees while tracking to uncover a larger specimen.
  • The side of the tree that was scraped indicates the side of the tree the buck was facing. Look for indications in front of the scraped tree, like deer tracks and bent grass, that may indicate the direction the buck was headed.

Locate “Staging” Areas
Most deer will not wildly run into an open field to search for food. Instead, they will journey towards a location and stop once they reach the edge of the wood-line. This is because most deer, especially bucks, are most active just after sunset and will wander around a wood-line at the beginning of a clearing to wait until it’s night to forage. While tracking deer, finding these staging areas just outside of clearings can be paramount in catching glimpses of entire families of deer. In particular, search for signs of disturbed dirt, broken stems, and deer droppings around these sites. If you wait until about 30 minutes before sunset, chances are you’ll encounter numerous deer.

How to Spot White-Tail Deer Droppings
Any forested location harbors hundreds of animals and many different droppings to decipher. Here’s a link to help you identify the animal based on the dropping you may find! The best tried and true method to establish what the animal was and how long ago it had appeared comes down to the appearance and consistency of the droppings.

  • Deer droppings will always be darker in color, tightly clustered together, and shaped like an oval
  • Fresh droppings will be dark brown to almost black when freshly laid. After a few days they will turn light brown and after a few weeks they will become a lighter tan color
  • Droppings that are less than 12 hours old will give off a shiny, moist appearance
  • If the pile of deer droppings found is of a considerably large size, it will indicate a much larger deer laid them. Sizable deer droppings are usually a sign of a mature buck

Identify Deer Bedding Areas
Signs that you may be near a deer bedding area will typically be consistent with areas that are higher in elevation and in much denser, wooded areas. When deer establish bedding areas, they’ll gravitate towards locations that lead downwards into prime feeding spots. When camping or hiking, look out for alfalfa or clover fields, orchards, or open areas surrounded by acorn bearing trees. Following trails that lead away from these locations into elevated terrain will likely lead you to deer bedding areas and, depending on the time of day, possibly multiple deer families.

Several medium or small depressions in the ground will indicate a family of does and fawns. Climbing into higher, denser terrain from this location will generally yield spots in the ground that are much longer and larger; these belong to mature white-tail bucks.

Identifying White-tail Deer Tracks
Once of the most common signs you’ll find of a deer’s presence in the woods is by their tracks. Particularly when traversing through swamp-like areas or locations that have just been rained on, tracks will often be plentiful and useful for identification when knowing what to look for.

  • White-tail deer prints have two hooves that typically form an upside down heart-shaped mark. The tips of the hoof marks should point inward.
  • The outside toe of the hooves will usually be larger than the inside toe, and the front hooves are typically larger than the back hooves.
  • Male white-tail deer prints may display more rounded hoof prints at the tips due to a buck’s proclivity to scrape their hooves into the ground or into trees to mark their territory
Hunting the White-Tail Deer
White tailed deer are one of the most commonly hunted animals in North America due to their huge population and the wide variety of geographical area they can cover. They can be easily taken down with a hunting bow or a rifle and can easily provide enough meat to feed a typical family for months! A single white tail buck can weigh up to 200 lbs, although the standard weight is closer to 150 lbs.