Deer Hunting: Myths, Fallacies & Fantasies - Part 1
In the course of the past quarter century or so, we've turned our store of deer hunting lore upside down with new knowledge and insights into deer biology and behavior and, in the process we've debunked and discarded many of the old left-over truisms. We no longer determine the age of a deer by counting its tines and we no longer talk about bucks gathering harems of does.
However, at the same time, the new knowledge about deer behavior has generated a new set of skewed lore resulting partly from a misunderstanding of the facts and partly from an oversimplification of some of the new information. In essence, what we have learned or think we learned can also get in the way of a successful hunt. Here are the first two myths, fallacies and fantasies to steer clear of the next time you head afield.
Doe See Doe
You've probably heard it said often enough that any time you see a doe you need to hunker down and watch her back trail because, chances are, there will be a buck following her. Follow that advice blindly and you'll waste a lot of time waiting for a buck that will probably never show up, even during the peak of the mating period.
That's not to say the lore is complete bunk, but rather that there is a missing element. First, there's a question of timing. Though there's no rigid structure to deer populations, the mature bucks tend not to mingle with the does, fawns and yearlings between early summer and the fall mating period. So, yes there is a chance that a buck might come wandering down a trail previously used by a doe, but this is entirely coincidental for most of the year.
The mating period, however, changes everything. Come fall, the bucks deliberately drift into the home range of the rest of the herd and demonstrate an active interest in does starting about three weeks before the peak of the mating period when most of the breeding females are fertile-November 17 in my area-and for three weeks to a month after. During this time, the bucks will indeed trail does, particularly those which may be on the verge of becoming fertile.
Yet even at the peak when the majority of the females are receptive, not all does have a beau in tow. Fortunately, that's something you can quickly determine. If the doe is casually drifting along without showing inordinate interest in her backtrail, the likelihood of a trailing buck is small. Generally, an accompanied doe will spend a considerable time looking behind her or off to the side and listening intently with her ears perked in that direction. It generally means that there are other deer in the vicinity, perhaps her fawns or another doe with or without fawns. Or there could be a buck. It's worth keeping an eye on her to see what develops.
If the doe moves along at a hurried pace, stopping often to look back over her shoulder, ears cupped in that direction, chances are good she is being trailed by a buck. A solid clue is in the way the doe carries her tail. If it is down in the relaxed position, the buck might be some distance back, if it is up at halfmast or higher and flared, she has likely been mildly spooked by a hunter or predator. However, if the tail is straight out or at about 45 degrees down with the tip crooked, she is on a mating run and the buck is less than 100 yards behind her.
A tail held at half mast or lower and not flared is a good indication that the doe might have a buck nearby.
However, when the tail is flared and held at half mast or erect, it signals that
the deer is spooked about something it has seen, heard or scented.
Creatures Of Habit?
I've often heard it said that the prime hunting time is within an hour and a half of daybreak and the last hour and a half of daylight. I couldn't agree more. For two reasons. One is that those are indeed the periods of greatest activity, particularly when the weather is mild. However, as fall progresses and the days remain crisp, perhaps with a few inches of snow on the ground, the deer seem to ramp up their level of activity. Whether I'm stillhunting or spending my time in a stand, I see plenty of movement right through to noon and again from mid afternoon to last light and, while I've taken good bucks at first light and at near dark, I've taken many more during the full daylight hours.
Once the weather cools, deer remain active all day long.
Another aspect to the myth that deer spend the daylight hours bedded down in the seclusion of some dark and forbidding thicket is that deer are most often spotted in numbers in roadside pastures early and late in the day, but only on rare occasions during the day. Deer are forest creatures and they feel most at ease in the forests where they are active most of the day.
But why do I see no deer between noon and mid-afternoon? There's an easy explanation for that. It's when I wander back to camp, have lunch and sneak in an hour's shuteye. I tend not to see a lot of deer while I'm wolfing down a sandwich or snoring in my bunk. Only those intangible ones that saunter through my dreams.
The other reason why I agree with the early-and-late-prime-hunting premise is that I find fewer hunters wandering around my hunting areas, spooking the deer and interrupting my hunt.
In Part 2 we'll look at some myths and fallacies surrounding deer scrapes and rubs.
George Gruenefeld has been hunting big game for over four decades and his travels have taken him to several continents. Most of the time, though, he concentrates his efforts on the Prairies and mountains of Western Canada.