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Lying Deersign
 

Deer Sign that Lies
EDITOR'S NOTE: Larry Norton of Pennington, Alabama, a frequent participant in turkey-calling contests and an avid deer hunter for more than 30 years, hunts both deer and turkeys each year. Norton lives in a section of the South where he can take more than 100 deer and six turkeys each year. A couple of years ago he found what looked like a slam-dunk bag-a-buck spot where he felt positive a buck deer had visited before and would show up at again. But after three days of hunting, Norton realized the deer sign he had read had lied. Often the lands containing the most deer sign won't produce a buck. Any hunter who continues to hunt where he sees deer sign may never take the deer making the sign.
Every deer hunter must answer the question at some time in his hunting career and often every season about what to do when deer don't show up at the deer sign they've left. Where does he look next for the whitetails? Here's some ideas from experts on why deer don't show up during daylight hours where they leave sign and some tactics you can utilize for taking these phantom bucks.
"One season I hunted an area with several white oak trees where I knew the deer were feeding, because I'd spotted acorn hulls and fresh deer droppings under the trees," said Norton. "I also had seen several small trees and even some large trees where bucks had scraped their antlers." For three days, Norton consistently hunted this feeding site in the afternoon. Even though he spotted fresh deer sign in the area every day, he never saw a deer. He concluded the deer fed only at night, either arriving at the trees after he left the woods or feeding in the mornings before he arrived. Norton changed his hunt tactics, reached his stand site just before daylight and hunted until 11:00 a.m. Still Norton saw no deer.
"I scouted the surrounding region and found a thicket about 3/4-mile away from where the deer fed," Norton reported. "A creek ran between the thicket and the white oak trees, actually closer to the thicket than to the trees. I found where deer crossed the creek on their way to the acorn trees. I decided since the early part of deer season that year had had warmer-than-usual temperatures and deer wouldn't want to move during hot weather, the deer probably waited until just before dark. Then they would leave the thicket during the cool of the evening, move to the acorn trees and feed at night." Norton set his tree stand up where he could see the creek crossing. He planned to take a buck crossing the creek, headed for the bedding area before dark. Norton resumed his afternoon hunting pattern, arriving at his stand about 2:00 p.m. "Just at dusk I started seeing deer coming out of the thicket and crossing the creek," explained Norton. "In the last few minutes of shooting time, I spotted a nice-sized 9-point buck approaching the creek. When he stepped into the creek, I took the buck."
Since deer feed nocturnally throughout much of the year, many times they won't appear during daylight hours where you see deer sign. To bag a buck, you'll have to see the deer as he goes to or comes from a feeding area, rather than meeting him at the feeding site.
Thick-Cover Hunts
EDITOR'S NOTE: Often the lands containing the most deer sign won't produce a buck. Any hunter who continues to hunt where he sees deer sign but no deer may never take the deer making the sign.
"During the early part of deer season one year, I found a spot where deer were feeding heavily on water oak acorns," Larry Norton of Pennington, Alabama, an avid deer hunter and guide, said. "I knew that in our part of the country, deer didn't usually start feeding on white oak acorns until November. The deer seemed to be feeding heaviest on two water oak trees close to a thicket." Norton assumed that if he took a stand near the trees the deer would come out of the thicket during daylight hours and feed under the trees. However, after three days of hunting this area and seeing no bucks, Norton examined his hunting log to study notes he'd made on this property in years past.
"You can take more deer each season if you keep detailed notes about the places you hunt every year," Norton commented. "Many times the history of an area will tell you where you'll locate deer at the time you plan to hunt a certain section of land." From his notes, Norton learned that the landowner had clearcut this region about six years earlier. He noticed some hardwood strips remained along the edge of a small creek running out into the thicket. Because the clear cut had grown into a young pine plantation, Norton couldn't spot the hardwoods in the young pines. "I found where this small creek came out of the pine plantation," Norton explained. "I waded the creek into the pines. After I'd gone about 100 yards, I located a spot where the loggers had left eight or 10 water oak trees. Since I discovered plenty of deer sign around these water oaks inside the thicket, I set up my tree stand there. The next day I took a nice-sized 6 point and saw eight other deer in the thicket just before dark."
Apparently the deer would remain in the thicket and feed on the water oaks until dark and then move down the creek and into the open woods to feed on the water oaks after dark where Norton first had set up his stand. "If you find sign that lies about where deer should appear during daylight hours, follow them from their feeding sites and back to their bedding areas," Norton recommended. "If you can locate any sign between the feeding and the bedding region where deer may eat before they come to their primary feeding area, more than likely you'll take a buck there."
Greenfield Hunts
EDITOR'S NOTE: Often the lands containing the most deer sign won't produce a buck. Any hunter who continues to hunt where he sees deer sign but no deer may never take the deer making the sign.
You'll often find bagging a big buck with your gun or your bow over a greenfield a difficult task. You may see a nice-sized buck in a greenfield early in the morning or late in the afternoon before the season begins. But during hunting season, you very rarely will see the buck if the greenfield receives any hunting pressure at all. You may spot that buck only after dark, although you may find his tracks and bushes he's hooked around the edges of the field. To locate a tree stand site that will produce that buck the next deer season, you must begin your hunt this year as soon as deer season ends.
"Deer season ends the last day of January in Alabama where I mostly hunt," Larry Norton, a longtime deer hunter and guide, mentioned. "I scout at least two weeks after the season and particularly the day after a rain for a trophy buck I haven't been able to bag during the season but that has left plenty of sign that he's feeding in that greenfield at some time." Norton knows that after a rain, deer will feed in greenfields and get their feet muddy. When they leave a greenfield, they'll carry the mud on their feet and make a well-defined trail from the greenfield to their bedding area. Norton follows the trail of mud until he pinpoints the spot where the trail of mud intersects with a second or a third trail and runs into thick cover where he believes the deer will bed.
"I keep extensive notes on deer movement, because I'll need this information eight or nine months later when deer season begins," Norton explained. "I'll never remember exactly where the trail goes without keeping meticulous notes, since I hunt many different lands for several days each season. But the beginning of the next hunting season when leaves cover the ground and the bushes still are green, I can use my logbook to return to that trail. Otherwise I may not have been able to spot the trail because of the ground cover and foliage. Then I set up a tree stand -- either near the area where I've found the trails crossing after the season or close to the bedding site." Norton knows older age-class bucks will come down a trail and wait in the woods away from the greenfields until dark before going into the greenfield to feed. By having studied deer's movement patterns after the season, Norton usually can bag a buck going to a greenfield early in the following season either at a trail crossing or close to its bedding area.
With the advent of GPS, a more precise way to keep up with deer trails has evolved. You can walk the trail and mark and log it in your GPS receiver. Then the next year when you go to the same greenfield, you easily can pull up the trail's name or number. You can use your GPS receiver to guide you back to the spot or places where you've predetermined you need to put a tree stand. The GPS receiver doesn't eliminate the need for keeping a hunter's daily log of deer sightings, weather conditions and deer sign seen. However, it will allow you to follow an invisible deer trail back to a tree stand site a year or five years later, once you log the trail into your receiver.
To scout for deer quickly and easily, ride up and down roads, and search for deer and deer trails. If you see a buck cross the road, you know the deer has come from one location to move to another place and will leave some type of deer trail. Begin your scouting at the edge of that road, and follow the trail into the woods on both sides of the road. "Remember too that not all deer cross roads," Norton advised. "I've found some of the best places to scout bucks are close to roads under bridges. Since older age-class bucks like to remain out of sight, many times they'll go back and forth from one woodlot to another under bridges by walking the edges of creeks. Then those deer never have to cross a road and expose themselves to that open terrain."
If you locate good buck sign like big deer tracks, large trees and bushes with scrapes and rubs and deer droppings in or near thick cover close to the road but can't pinpoint the trail the deer utilize to get to the area, look under the nearest bridge. You may find a deer trail and the route of travel the buck takes. By following the trail back to the buck's bedding area and setting up a tree stand near there, you often can see and bag the buck you'll never spot around deer sign you've found close to the road
Deer-Movement Patterns
EDITOR'S NOTE: Often the lands containing the most deer sign won't produce a buck. Any hunter who continues to hunt where he sees deer sign may never take the deer making the sign. Hank Hearn of Vicksburg, Mississippi, manages Tara Wildlife, located on the Louisiana/Mississippi border. Hearn has logged thousands of hours studying deer-movement patterns to learn where to put his hunters to allow them to take deer where deer leave no sign. According to Hearn, many factors cause deer to move. However, he's found that food, sex and hunting pressure will make bucks move more than any other factors, with hunting pressure usually the strongest influence.
Hearn once showed one of his hunters a small hardwood flat less than 40 yards off a woods road between a pine plantation and an agricultural field. In the dark he whispered, "We've been hunting the field where this buck feeds early in the morning. But I believe hunting pressure has caused the buck to leave the field before daylight and come into this thicket to bed. Since we've pretty much run him out of the area where he wants to feed during daylight hours, I believe he should come through this draw just at daylight. Get ready as soon as you can see to get a shot off." As the sun started to rise, the hunter looked over the area he had to hunt. He saw no trails, no food, no scrapes, no hooked bushes or trees and absolutely no sign anywhere that a deer ever had walked in this spot or ever would walk there. Then the hunter used his binoculars to study the terrain but still saw no evidence of deer from his tree stand.
But at about 7:30 a.m., the hunter heard a noise behind him as he stood on his tree stand, watching the direction from which Hearn expected the deer to come. He then turned to see a nice-sized 8-point buck meandering through the woodlot. The buck didn't walk down a trail, and he didn't feed. He simply passed through that area. When the buck came to within 15 yards of the hunter, the buck stopped and looked at the road where the truck had dropped the hunter off an hour before. With the buck's attention distracted, the hunter took aim and bagged the nice buck.
"The older a buck, the quicker he responds to hunting pressure," Hearn said. "I use hunting pressure to put bucks in areas where my hunters can take them." For instance, if Hearn's hunters hunt bucks at a food source and at a particular stand two or three times without seeing deer, Hearn knows hunting pressure has caused the deer on that part of the property not to feed during daylight hours. Because he studies his hunting land so intensively, he knows where the deer will go when they feel the effects of hunting pressure. Probably he'll already have tree stands set up in that new area. To bag a deer, you may have to hunt a site that shows absolutely no deer sign.
Alternative Food Source
EDITOR'S NOTE: Often the lands containing the most deer sign won't produce a buck. Any hunter who continues to hunt where he sees deer sign may never take the deer making the sign. Hank Hearn of Vicksburg, Mississippi, manages the lodge at Tara Wildlife located on the Louisiana/Mississippi border. Hearn has logged thousands of hours studying deer-movement patterns to learn where to put his hunters to allow them to take deer where deer leave no sign. According to Hearn, many factors cause deer to move. However, he's found that food, sex and hunting pressure will make bucks move more than any other factors, with hunting pressure usually the strongest influence.
"Another way to have success is to know what food source deer will utilize after they've eaten the food on which they're presently feeding," Hank Hearn emphasized. "Although you may find a tremendous amount of deer sign under a food tree or around a honeysuckle patch or some other food source, the deer already may have depleted that food supply and are feeding somewhere else. To consistently take deer, especially with a bow or a black-powder gun two times when you must have a deer at close range, you must know where the deer will go to feed next after they've depleted one food supply. I'll set up tree stands in areas where I see no deer sign but spot a food source the deer haven't started to feed on yet. Many hunters waste their time hunting where the deer were instead of hunting where the deer are going to be. Once you find a food source and determine deer feed there, then locate another food source deer will go to once they leave the one with the most obvious sign. By hunting ahead of deer's movement patterns and being at a spot they'll come to instead of a place they're leaving, you more consistently can bag bucks."
Most hunters assume when they pinpoint a place with an abundance of deer sign that they've found a good spot to hunt. However, remember, the more hunting pressure deer feel and the hotter the weather, the more likely that the deer will move and feed at night. Therefore if you hunt during daylight hours over deer sign, including a food source, a scraping area, a rutting region, a creek crossing or a deer trail, you may not spot deer -- although you do see deer sign. Deer sign lies when you assume that a buck has made the sign you see during daylight hours or that the deer making that sign will return to that same area during daylight hours. Remember these tips when you take your bow or your gun into the woods to look for deer sign.

John Phillips

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