deer sign – a primer

Well, my friends! This is it! The time to learn every thing you ever wanted to know about deer sign, but were afraid to ask! A few posts ago, I wrote about recreational companionship. Over the last 28 years I’ve learned quite a bit about white tail deer while spending time with my husband! I can spot them at dusk at the edge of a field, I can locate their trails and bedding areas. I can even cook some delicious venison roasts and grill marinated venison kebabs! So, here is a little primer on what to look for in order to find deer.

If you were a bow hunter, learning to read the signs would be vital to your success. (I’m just a wee bit prejudiced against gun hunters because of the unfair advantage to gun hunting. But, maybe that should be a discussion for another day.) A bow hunter has to be very covert in order to get his prize, because he/she needs to get very close to the animal in order to take a good shot. They have an amazing sense of smell and can know you’re there before you ever know they are!

If you were an exceptional hunter, you would visit the woods frequently to observe patterns in deer behavior and movement. You’d look to see where they are eating. Is there a corn or soy bean crop nearby? Then they are probably visiting in the evenings to enjoy some good eating! Where is a water source? Animals need to drink. Is there a stream? A pond? A river?

Where are they bedding down? They will usually bed down to chew their cud. A bedding area will have flattened down grass usually under trees for shelter. Deer particularly like cedars, so I’d look there for starters!

Look for trails (paths of worn down grass or dirt) that lead to and from where they are eating, drinking and bedding.

Look for their droppings. When they eat, they poop. It’s just biology!

As you walk through the woods, notice if there are hoof prints pressed in the ground. How big are they? That will give you an idea of the size of the deer. Also, you’ll be able to tell what direction they were moving.

Your eyes have to become adept at looking at the ground right in front of you, while you are scanning the trees and ground ahead of and around you. Both things at once. When you are looking farther off, you’ll be trying to find rubs and scrapes.

A rub is a place on a tree where a buck has rubbed the bark off of the tree trunk or lower limbs close to the trunk with his antlers. Look at about the height that a set of antlers attached to a deer head would be. During the rut (time of mating for deer) bucks have a lot of pent-up energy and also want to alert other bucks that this is their area and they’d better stay away! The size of the rub tells you how big the deer is usually, and how aggressive he’s feeling. I imagine that these rubs also let the doe know there’s a buck nearby as well.

A scrape is a place on the ground, usually at the base of a tree, where they have scraped up the ground with their hooves. I’m not exactly sure why they do this, it may be similar to why my little male rat terrier goes rigid and scrapes up the grass with his claws whenever he’s urinated in the back yard. It must be a male thing!

So, in review, if you are wanting to spend some time out-of-doors and find where deer are hanging out, you need to be looking for the following deer sign:

Look for food and water sources, and where they may be bedding down. Locate their trails and look for hoof prints, poop, rubs and scrapes. It’s a bit more difficult than it sounds, but once you’ve done it a few times it gets easier! Try it! It’ll be fun.

Here are some pictures of deer sign from our recent walk in the woods! Remember, it’s all really about spending time with your best friend!

deer trail

deer track

deer doo

deer doo

deer fur

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One Response to “deer sign – a primer”

  1. Nicolette Says:

    When they developed our neighborhood in the fifties, the block we live on was built around a large meadow. It’s probably about 1,000 feet in length and 500 feet wide give or take a couple of inches. Over the years, growth from the original farm property has come and gone and other shrubs and growth have come in so that the meadow is now surrounded by trees and brush.
    Throughout the winter we have deer and other wildlife who live in the meadow. We are close enough to Fontanelle Forest and the Missourii river that I am sure that is how they originally found their way here. We can sit on the deck or look out the windows and count them, watch them napping, chasing each other, pawing for food, etc. (along with all the other wildlife a more undevloped piece of property offers). Warmer weather will find us out in the meadow spotting much of what you have described here– even the occassional antler or two, a real prize for a ten-year old boy đŸ™‚
    We are repeatedly grateful and blessed by our location as indivuals and a family. You would never know the sanctuary we have from the street. Thanks for your educational comments and photos.

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