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Author Topic: Deer Trails  (Read 973 times)

Offline smithkl42

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Deer Trails
« on: September 17, 2017, 02:59:17 PM »
Newbie hunter once more - thanks all for your previous answers and suggestions.

I've been reading and rereading Boyd Iverson's "Blacktail Trophy Tactics", and one of the basic elements of the technique he recommends is that you find the deer trails that go between feeding and bedding areas. He has various suggestions for telling the difference between these trails, but in general, he indicates that they're several hundred yards long, and either go from general to specific (bedding -> feeding) or specific to general (feeding -> bedding). He also has a third category of "escape trails", which are maybe 50 yards long and disappear into deep cover.

That all makes sense, but I seem to be having trouble finding these trails in the first place. I've been doing a fair bit of still hunting out in the Marckworth Forest (GMU 460) and up above Skykomish (GMU 448). I've found two sorts of trails:

(1) Trails or old roads that are obviously and primarily human, which deer sometimes use (usually lightly, so far as I can tell).

(2) Trails that are obviously and primarily game, which peter out within yards and go nowhere but into impenetrable brush. I think the longest game-only trail I've found is maybe 100 yards, but most seem to be about 10 yards or so - and then they're just gone.

So I'm trying to figure out what's up. Am I just not looking in the right places? Or do deer up here in Washington behave differently than down in Oregon (where most of Iverson's experience came from)?

Related, I'm curious about how to *tell* that something is a bedding or feeding area.

With regard to feeding area, up above Skykomish, there's deer browse in some of the clearcuts - I presume that's the sort of thing to look for? In the the Marckworth Forest I've found deer-browse along some of the human trails, but I've seen precious few signs of deer anywhere near any of the meadows I've checked out.

And with respect to bedding areas, I've seen one or two openings/meadows in the Marckworth forest where deer have obviously been laying down, but a lot less than I would expect. (Maybe because I'm not finding the trails that go to them?) How obvious *are* bedding areas? Do blacktails herd, and all sleep in the same place? Or are they loners, and all sleep separately? Do they bed down in the same (small number?) of places, or do they have a large/infinite number of bedding areas? Do they sleep in the open, or in deep brush, or...?

Any suggestions on figuring out this puzzle?

Sorry again for being so ignorant...

Offline predatorG

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2017, 09:07:25 PM »
You seem to be on the right track. Are you currently hunting or just scouting for modern firearm ?

I'd love to bestow some great wisdom upon you that fixes everything, but unfortunately I've been getting stumped as well.

I was out hunting today in the storm and saw a couple deer but couldn't get a shot. As I was walking out at dark I looked over and saw a big spike at 15 yard looking at me, and I didn't have an arrow knocked  :bash: so he kinda hopped off and never came back in and my last bit of light disappeared.

I think the best advice is time in the woods. Also game cameras. Put a couple cameras on those "trails" and see if anything is using them. If yes, you've got s spot. If no, find next trail and repeat.

Good luck to yah man.
"All of my best elk hunts are the ones where I come home with a big buck!" -RadSav

Offline smithkl42

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2017, 10:14:35 PM »
Well, I finally saw a deer with a bow in my hand tonight :-). But it was a doe, and in Marckworth Forest, so I couldn't shoot. But I was able to get within about 10 yards of it. That was good, since I'd just about convinced myself that deer were mythical creatures up there with dragons and unicorns.

I'm trying to get as much time in the woods as my wife will let me get away with :-). And my first trail camera arrived today, so I'll be experimenting with that over the rest of the season.

Here's my theory about what's happening in Marckworth Forest. That's an area that gets a fair bit of human traffic, and I think the deer have figured out that to survive, they need to be almost exclusively nocturnal. Unlike the blacktail that Boyd Iverson talks about, I don't think the Marckworth deer have very distinct bedding or feeding areas. What I've been able to piece together is that they have dozens, maybe hundreds of daytime bedding areas that are deep in the brush, and each one gets used maybe... once a month? They then come out only at night, and feed along all the human trails and roads. (They seem to be eating Rocky Mountain Maple almost exclusively.) Many of the "trails" that I've spotted I think are just (literally) feeder trails that the deer use to get to the maples within 10 yards or so of the main human trails. There are also a ton of what sure look like bedding areas that are either right on the trails, or within 10 yards or so of it. I'm pretty sure that those are night-time bedding areas - basically the deer decide to take a break, and since there's nobody on the trails at night, they'll just lay down pretty much wherever they're at. But they're well gone by morning.

This would explain the lack of any real trails. There are so many individual daytime bedding areas that each one gets used so infrequently there's no chance for a real trail to develop to it. And they primarily browse off of the main human trails and roads, so there aren't any distinct "feeding areas" either. This way they can't get patterned by hunters, and (as Iverson says) they've got good open escape routes for night-time predators.

That's the theory I put together this afternoon out in the woods, at any rate. Still kind of an open question how to hunt deer in that scenario...

Offline fishnfur

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2017, 12:28:35 AM »
Gotta love the challenge of BTs huh?  Especially tough to find bucks in the early season.

It seems like you're figuring things out pretty quickly to me though. 

Notes:  The maple are either Big Leaf Maple (BLM) or Vine Maple in western WA.  There are no other native species.  From my observation, the deer love BLM leaves in the summer and will eat the fallen yellow leaves in the fall.  They browse Vine Maple more lightly than young BLM in the summer, and it is an important source of winter woody browse wherever it is available.  The bucks like to bed under vine maple in areas where it has grown tall enough to fall over and provide a arched hiding spot for them.  Never fail to glass under vine maples when hunting.

3 - 9 year old clearcuts are a major food source for BTs.  Look for one on Google Earth in the area that you hunt that has Christmas tree sized trees and a lot of ground cover brush, and if possible, a timbered hill (Fir or mixed fir/alder) above it on at least one of the sides of the cut.  This age of cut will attract a lot of deer.  They will bed anywhere from just a few yards inside the timber (does), and up to 400 yards or more (bucks) uphill of the cut, and typically in the sword ferns where they stay well hidden all day. 

Try to walk the circumference of the cut at mid-day, just inside the timber and look for deer sign, esp. tracks, recent browsing, and scat.   Make note of where the deer seem to enter the cut in the evening and where they leave in the morning.  Also, pay attention to what they are eating - it varies from area to area, but it is very worthwhile knowing what they eat in the area you hunt.  If trailing blackberry (or the larger Evergreen and Himalayan) is present, make note of it's locations as well, as it generally makes up about 60% or so of a BTs diet, if available.

So now you know where you stand a good chance of finding them in the early mornings or at last light.  Until the rut gets the bucks moving, that will be about your best bet of scoring at this time of year.  Trying to hunt them in their beds with stick and string is an exercise in frustration, though some relish the challenge.  The more you bother them in their beds, the more nocturnal they become, and the more tightly they stick to their core zones (travel less).  I'd recommend you take a stand close to where you expect them to travel through as they go to feed at night.  In the early morning, you'll need to be well into the woods before light, near the trails they use to go to their beds, (unless the reprod in the cut is big enough for them to hide in until later morning hours).  Once in your place, stay still and quiet and hope that luck is on your side.

Shoot straight!
“When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.”  - Will Rogers

Offline Skyvalhunter

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2017, 05:39:08 AM »
I would go where you have seen the deer and concentrate on that area. Learn the area well and where the does are the bucks will show up. The Marckworth Forest holds some big bucks.

Offline predatorG

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2017, 06:09:56 AM »

If trailing blackberry (or the larger Evergreen and Himalayan) is present, make note of it's locations as well, as it generally makes up about 60% or so of a BTs diet, if available.


 :yeah:

One of the things that makes blacktails hard to pattern is the amount of food readily available to them basically everywhere. If you see any of this trailing blackberry along the side of a trail you're hunting, look down at it and you'll notice that all the ends have been nibbled. You'll rarely find a shoot that hasn't been bitten off.

I am not familiar with where you hunt, but I do know that blacktails are smart. I hunt by a well used human trail and several deer have been shot within 30 yards from it. Deer know the difference between a predator and a hiker. Some deer will let hikers walk right by them even out in the open. They know the difference, and they also know that they have an advantage and that you can't see them. Many big bucks will just lay in a thicket or bedding area even if you are only 15 yards away, and you'll never see them.

If you manage to accidentally find a bedding area which results in you spooking a deer, don't move. Lots of bucks (and all deer really) will circle right back around to the same place in about 15 minutes. If you sit still you could end up with a very close shot.

Good luck again, I know the feeling about blacktails being unicorns. I've had several nights where I've come home complaining and pissed of, but seeing deer last night helped a little  :chuckle: hunt the storms and the nasty weather, they love that, and shoot straight  :tup:
"All of my best elk hunts are the ones where I come home with a big buck!" -RadSav

Offline wooltie

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2017, 06:14:38 AM »
I've hunted Markworth a lot.  Always see deer and bear.  Have a big bear on camera from a few years ago in spring.  I don't hunt that area anymore so PM me if you want more info.

Find clear cuts, walk the clear cuts looking for poop.  If no poop then I suggest moving onto a different cut.  Once you find a cut with sign, walk around the edges to look for the trails out.

I'd look to catch a BT:

Moving in or out of a clear cut at night or morning, so just around shooting light;
Bedded down in a clear cut next to or under something e.g. a stump, vine maple, fern; or
Moving on a well established trail.

Basically you should try more sitting than walking/hiking, unless you're walking a ridge line and glassing down the slopes for animals bedded, moving, or feeding.

I think those BT can see and hear you miles away, so unless you're good and sneaking super slow, making no noise, and glassing the bucks before they see you, then you're best best is to catch one moving.  That is my game plan this year.   I tend to confuse arch elk w/modern blacktails LOL, that is moving until I find them.

Offline fishnfur

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2017, 08:14:28 AM »
I forgot:  keeping the wind in your favor is the most important aspect of your hunt.  There is zero chance that you will have a shot at a deer downwind of you.  You might see them running away, but more often, you just see nothing.   You shouldn't normally even be looking in that direction.   Some hunting spots require a long hike to get downwind of the spot.  Some spots are just not huntable with certain wind directions.

...and back to your original question - trails:  Winter and early spring are great times to go out and find deer trails.  They stand out without all the vegetation hiding them.  That does you no good right now, but going out during those seasons is how you learn how and where the deer travel.  Right now, following trails in and out of the cuts will tell you most of what you need to know.  Remember that does use major trails that look well worn and often used by a variety of animals.  Bucks are more cagey and often use secondary trails downwind of the major trail so they can scent check for danger and/or does during the rut.  They typically will not bed next to a trail, but instead circle up to a point that gives them a view down below them and with an inaccessible or noisy area above them, and with the wind coming from their backside.  Think steep timber with ferns or other brush to hide in, 2/3rds -3/4ths of the way up the hill, or along hidden above a vegetation break that provides better visualization below them - fir to alder.

Edit:  Here's a good book that is based on topo maps and how deer travel in relation to geo features.   Lots of deer trail illustrations.   
https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0873495039/ref=sr_1_1_olp?ie=UTF8&qid=1505754449&sr=8-1&keywords=mapping+for+trophy+bucks
« Last Edit: September 18, 2017, 10:11:28 AM by fishnfur »
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Offline smithkl42

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2017, 02:27:42 PM »
Notes:  The maple are either Big Leaf Maple (BLM) or Vine Maple in western WA.  There are no other native species.  From my observation, the deer love BLM leaves in the summer and will eat the fallen yellow leaves in the fall.  They browse Vine Maple more lightly than young BLM in the summer, and it is an important source of winter woody browse wherever it is available.  The bucks like to bed under vine maple in areas where it has grown tall enough to fall over and provide a arched hiding spot for them.  Never fail to glass under vine maples when hunting.

I think this is the plant that I've been seeing them eat, and it's definitely located around here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_glabrum

It's in the Maple family, but it's neither big-leaf nor quite a vine maple. One of the sites I checked called it a "Rocky Mountain Maple", so that's what I've been calling it, but it may have other names.

Interestingly, I haven't seen them eating any blackberry plants, and I've been looking, as it seemed like an obvious source of food. But the BT in Marckworth seem to be fairly dainty in their appetites. (On the other hand, maybe I'm just missing it. I'll keep my eyes open.)

Offline smithkl42

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2017, 02:37:30 PM »
Find clear cuts, walk the clear cuts looking for poop.  If no poop then I suggest moving onto a different cut.  Once you find a cut with sign, walk around the edges to look for the trails out.

That's another weird thing. Before I started hunting this year, I'd always assumed that deer scat was the easiest way to tell that a deer had been there. But I've seen hardly any this season, even in places that are filled with deer browse. Can't quite figure that out.

Basically you should try more sitting than walking/hiking, unless you're walking a ridge line and glassing down the slopes for animals bedded, moving, or feeding.

I think those BT can see and hear you miles away, so unless you're good and sneaking super slow, making no noise, and glassing the bucks before they see you, then you're best best is to catch one moving.  That is my game plan this year.   I tend to confuse arch elk w/modern blacktails LOL, that is moving until I find them.

Funny, that I'd come to the opposite conclusion yesterday. I've tried quite a lot of sitting, and haven't spotted anything. (Maybe because the winds were weird?) I finally spotted my one doe yesterday when I was hiking the trails at night instead of just sitting. The good news with the rain is that walking quietly (at least on trails) becomes possible. And the winds finally settled down too - a good, steady south wind seems to come in with these storms, which means you can actually get downwind of a deer instead of just having the wind blow your scent every which way around the forest.

I'll keep that in mind, though...

Offline Special T

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2017, 03:12:03 PM »
The whole Forrest is a BY buffet. Wsu research facility in Tumwater did a study and found out they will eat more things than a Pigmy goat.

After season scouting is best. No leaves and much easier to tell where the trails are... it's also when I like to find treestand locations, and trim trails to access them... less brush and less noticeable to everyone.

I think wind and proper still hunting should be your current focus until you better learn an area. BT  move because of wind and nearly nothing else unless there is something they just have to have... Apple tree, etc.
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Offline wooltie

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2017, 03:26:28 PM »
Find clear cuts, walk the clear cuts looking for poop.  If no poop then I suggest moving onto a different cut.  Once you find a cut with sign, walk around the edges to look for the trails out.

That's another weird thing. Before I started hunting this year, I'd always assumed that deer scat was the easiest way to tell that a deer had been there. But I've seen hardly any this season, even in places that are filled with deer browse. Can't quite figure that out.

Basically you should try more sitting than walking/hiking, unless you're walking a ridge line and glassing down the slopes for animals bedded, moving, or feeding.

I think those BT can see and hear you miles away, so unless you're good and sneaking super slow, making no noise, and glassing the bucks before they see you, then you're best best is to catch one moving.  That is my game plan this year.   I tend to confuse arch elk w/modern blacktails LOL, that is moving until I find them.

Funny, that I'd come to the opposite conclusion yesterday. I've tried quite a lot of sitting, and haven't spotted anything. (Maybe because the winds were weird?) I finally spotted my one doe yesterday when I was hiking the trails at night instead of just sitting. The good news with the rain is that walking quietly (at least on trails) becomes possible. And the winds finally settled down too - a good, steady south wind seems to come in with these storms, which means you can actually get downwind of a deer instead of just having the wind blow your scent every which way around the forest.

I'll keep that in mind, though...

I look for poop instead of food, for reasons Special T said...there's food everywhere in the forest.  If you're not finding poop then keep moving until you find some, then find some more, then find some fresh stuff (e.g. less than a week old.)  I don't know an animal's defecating schedule, but I tend to find poop scattered throughout an area, like widely distributed throughout a clear cut, or narrowly distributed but quite dense in an area, or scattered throughout trails.  I think the more poop you find in an area means that more deer were there, and they are there more often.

Offline fishnfur

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2017, 04:49:45 PM »

I think this is the plant that I've been seeing them eat, and it's definitely located around here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_glabrum

It's in the Maple family, but it's neither big-leaf nor quite a vine maple. One of the sites I checked called it a "Rocky Mountain Maple", so that's what I've been calling it, but it may have other names.

Interestingly, I haven't seen them eating any blackberry plants, and I've been looking, as it seemed like an obvious source of food. But the BT in Marckworth seem to be fairly dainty in their appetites. (On the other hand, maybe I'm just missing it. I'll keep my eyes open.)
[/quote]

yup.  I mess that up.  My book says the Douglas Maple (Acer_glabrum) is primarily an east side and Cascade Mountains plant.  After Googling it, clearly, that is not the case.  I'm not sure if any of this has implications on your hunt. 

Regarding the lack of poo, I'd guess that even though you're seeing browsed plants, that area is probably a secondary feeding area, and a less attractive spot to hunt.  I'd go find some poo ( not just any poo, deer poo   :chuckle:) and focus my attention in that area.
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Offline E35alex

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2017, 05:58:57 AM »
Tagging this post. So much good info I'm actually flabbergasted! Thanks to everyone that shared!
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Offline smithkl42

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Re: Deer Trails
« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2017, 10:51:08 AM »
Regarding the lack of poo, I'd guess that even though you're seeing browsed plants, that area is probably a secondary feeding area, and a less attractive spot to hunt.  I'd go find some poo ( not just any poo, deer poo   :chuckle:) and focus my attention in that area.

That's a fine point. I'll keep my eyes peeled for poop :yike:.