Food, water, fear and sex are forces that motivate deer and determine their behavior. Here are some ideas from longtime deer hunters about where deer like to hold.
* Realize deer often overcome many obstacles to feed on their favorite foods. Empty white oak and water oak acorn shells directed my friend and avid deer hunter Allen O’Dell to a hardwood bottom in a southern river swamp one year. O’Dell knew the deer were feeding on the acorns in this particular bottom, because he had found many tracks, droppings and cracked acorns during pre-season scouting. But heavy rains fell before O’Dell could hunt. The flats where the deer ordinarily fed were flooded with 3 to 8 feet of water. Most of the ridges out in the water were very narrow, and there was little food on them. But the ridges were the only places where the deer could have gone.
As O’Dell started to wade across a slough toward a ridge, he saw some movement in the water out of the corner of his eye. At first, he thought it was caused by ducks. However, as he stood motionless, he spotted a doe standing chest-deep in the slough 20-yards from the bank, feeding on floating acorns. “Apparently, when the water came into the bottom, fallen acorns had floated-up and formed a ring about 20-yards from dry ground,” O’Dell told me later. “The deer stuck her nose into the water, picked up floating acorns and then let the water run out of her mouth before popping the shells.” For the next 2 weeks, O’Dell hunted the slough and, though he saw many deer, he didn’t get a shot. “I would see as many as 20 to 30 deer in a drove moving through the slough,” he reported. “They were eating the acorns out in the water, but bedding on the ridges.” Normally, hunters wouldn’t expect to find deer in water, but because this region had had floods, deer went after and ate their preferred food, until they exhausted the supply.
* Find the trails whitetails travel to their main food source, which is what O’Dell did. “There were three places where the deer crossed the bottom,” he explained. “After some investigation, I found three crossings where they forded the slough in comparatively-shallow water. They could cross on these fords and only be in 3 or 4 feet of water. In 2 weeks of hunting, I shot three bucks, which was legal in my home state of Alabama, and saw between 150 to 200 animals by taking stands near the fords.”
The trail the deer utilize to go to a favored food source is often the best place for you to take your stand. Sometimes, there are several trails leading to a particular food source, and many hunters try to guess which trail is used most. “One of the best methods I’ve found to determine whether or not deer are using a trail is to check the place where the trail goes under a barbed-wire fence,” Dr. Ross Shelton, former wildlife specialist for the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service, explains. “There will be deer hair in the barbs of the fence if the deer are using the trail. Remove the hair each day. Then check daily to see it new hair is stuck on the wire.” A heavily-used trail will have many deer tracks on it, and you’ll find a large amount of fresh deer droppings there. The freshness of the droppings can be determined by squeezing a few between your thumb and index finger. A fresh dropping is soft, but an old dropping is hard and dry, unless there’s been rain recently.
By: John E. Phillips, longtime muzzleloading deer hunter.
Question: Do you use trail cameras to find bucks, and what have you learned from them that’s strange and unexpected? Let us hear from you.