You have all heard my say time and again that in good mast years the deer don’t have to move, resulting lower kill rates, fewer sightings, and heavier deer. Case in point is the video we got a month ago of a button buck eating while laying down at Stand #2 (click the image to watch the video).
Button Buck Eats While Laying Down
That theory was also dramatically proven this weekend. On Saturday morning, Tony went to Buck Knob while I hunted towards him on my normal trails. The still hunting conditions were awful. The snow that had fallen the night before was now crusted with ice from the falling rain. I reached Tony after a few hours without ever cutting a track, and he never saw one either all the way to his stand.
We decided to split up. He would head towards Stand #3 and I to Stand #2.
Just a few feet from the Tunnel, I was greeted by a loud snort. It caught me totally off guard as I still had not seen a track. I radioed Tony to make him aware and then proceeded to Stand #2. The place was filthy with sign. I knew there were at least three or four deer that I had spooked. I got it down to three and started tracking them towards Mtn. Rd., but one turned east. I hoped Tony would see that one or its track. I followed the other two to the highest point on Mtn. Rd., where they crossed, and called Tony to meet me there.
Track Crossing Mtn. Rd.
When we met up, I suggested that he take up the track. My days of tracking deer up the mountain under those conditions, after 70 years, are now behind me.
He said that he never saw the third deer’s track as he started after the other two. We knew that one was a buck, but we didn’t know whether it was legal size.
Tony tracked the two deer uphill for two miles. He hiked over five miles Saturday morning.
Tony’s Exercise for the Morning
Those two deer took him past a couple of rubs.
Eventually, he caught up with them, getting within 50 yards of them, where they met up with a third deer. Tony couldn’t see the head of one of the deer. The other two were not legal. Tony tried to follow the largest track, but got confused when the three of them scattered through two sets of moose track. He continued following what he thought was the biggest track, hoping to see some droppings to determine whether it was a doe or a buck. Eventually, the smaller track met up with the larger track. They ran for a long time before they slowed down, always heading uphill. Tony kept Paul’s advice in mind: “When the deer run, you run. When the deer trot, you trot. When the deer walk, you walk.” He determined from the track that eventually, after crossing a wide gully, they slowed down, turned towards him, saw him coming, and continued running. This is where the larger deer finally left some droppings.
Bigger Deer Droppings
Were they droppings of a nervous doe or a buck standing and watching for his pursuer? Was the smaller deer a doe running with her mate, or the button buck running with his mother? About 40 yards later, the smaller deer left some droppings as well. Tony was sure that these were from the button buck. He had been pursuing two non-legal deer. It was time to pack it in.
Smaller Deer Droppings
As he walked back down Mtn. Rd., he saw this giant tree that had split in our last storm. Note his Ruger .44 leaning against it.
Big Tree Down
Meanwhile, I went back to the original spot to see if I could find the third deer and to see how the heck (not my first choice of words) they got in there without making a track.
As it turns out, the third deer lost me when he got in the track of the other two and then leaped well off the trail, and I was never able to pick up where without spending a lot of the energy that I was quickly running out of.
The most amazing thing about all this is when I back tracked the group. Even I was shocked at the lack of ground that they covered in the previous 12 hours. They had spent the night in the thick evergreens, which are interspersed with oaks, overlooking the gully below Dana’s Knob. Then a couple of hours before I showed up, they proceeded to feed and rest and chew their cud in the open oaks. In total they did not move 50 yards in 12 hours!
No wonder track was so hard to find. Think of what an advantage this is to them:
- They eat while not expending any energy.
- They get to eat 24/7!
- They are not making any track or leaving any scent for predators to follow.
- They are in perfect cover within two or three bounds of disappearing, completely unseen.
The only downside I see is for the rutting bucks. Instead of depending on the usual trails to find does in estrus, now they must hunt for them too.
It was my early days of bowhunting (in the early sixties) when I first noticed this phenomenon. In those years the odd years were our best because there was no mast crop forcing the deer into the orchards and the fields. I have seen as many as 115 deer in a week’s bowhunting in those years. The next year after that (one with a mast crop) I saw seven deer! I later discovered ways to deal with it better, but it was a lot more work and a lot less dependable.
I would rather have been wrong about this long standing theory of mine, but this incident proved it beyond all doubt.