On this page I’m going to share how I practice deer tracking with a herd that lives near my house. With a bit of practice and observation you'll be able to apply these same strategies to learn about the deer in your own area.
I’ll talk about the benefits of choosing a single place to study deer rather than going to a bunch of different spots
I’ll talk about how I scout for sign
I’ll talk about trailing and how that’s helped me learn and start to figure out how the deer are using the landscape
Why it’s important to not just go in one season and how you can really learn a lot more about the deer that you’re tracking by looking at how their patterns change depending on the time of year.
I’ll talk about research strategies for when you get home that will help you learn more and develop questions for the next time you go out.
Choosing A Good Study Spot
If you want to learn about deer, it can be really helpful to focus on a single tracking spot.
If you’re always going to different locations it can be hard to get a read on when the animals are following their usual patterns vs when there's some sort of event that’s leading them to do something different.
You'll get to know the animals and the landscape a lot quicker if you choose one place for your deer tracking studies.
I always go to a particular forest near where I live that’s nestled in the middle of a neighborhood. It has some old forest roads and large patches of blown down trees from a past hurricane. Not many people go through there so it makes a great home for a small but noticeably present population of deer.
Focusing my energy on this same place over and over again has helped me immensely to get a handle on some of the big picture patterns that are being held by the deer.
The first time I went out there it was hard to know if what I was seeing was normal and what conditions might be driving the deer to take certain routes instead of others. As I’ve gone out more and more it's been really amazing to see how habitually they use the landscape at times and it has become easier for me to predict where the deer will be and what they will be doing.
Once you choose a place to focus on there are lots of strategies you can use to help build up an in-depth local knowledge of the area.
Here are a few of the things that I do to ensure a positive learning experience every time I go out.
1. Scout for Sign
When I arrive at my location the first thing I do is scout for fresh sign. In this place there's one forest road that goes southwest and one road that goes northeast.
I’ll choose one direction and see if I can find a place where the deer have intersected the road recently. Any time I suspect there are tracks or I notice any sort of choppiness in the leaf litter I take a closer look to see if there is in fact a trail there.
Even just this one practice has helped me start to establish certain patterns. There are spots where the deer consistently intersect the road and cross, and other places where they consistently use the road for movement, and other places still where I've never see deer tracks.
It's helpful as you make these sorts of observations to think about why you might be seeing it this way. What do these patterns tell you? What deeper lessons can you derive about the deer by thinking about how they choose to interact with the landscape?
2. Follow the freshest trails
After I've scouted the forest roads a bit then I’ll make a decision about which trail to follow and set off to see how far I can follow it.
Seeing the tracks can be a challenge in forest litter but I don't worry too much about being able to see every track. As long as I can find one and establish that I’m on the trail then I can scan forward to look for any sort of discoloration or messiness in the leaf litter.
I look as far along the trail as I can and then I start walking... always keeping my gaze up. As long as I know I’m still on the trail I don’t need to look down unless there’s something that needs my attention like a scat or feeding sign.
I also don’t worry too much about whether I’m following a specific deer or just following the pattern of the herd. My goal is to simply to learn where they like to go, where they sleep, where they eat, etc.
3. Study their diet and food sources
I'm always keeping my eyes out for signs of what the deer might be eating. Following trails through different ecozones I notice that in some areas there is a lot of feeding happening while other areas are used more for moving from place to place or sleeping.
This is important for being able to predict where they're going to be at any given point in the day. These patterns can also change seasonally depending on what food sources are available and exploited at different times of year.
Accumulated knowledge of these patterns can be extremely helpful for being able to predict where in the landscape the deer are likely to be right now. This is one of the major reason why in order to really know the deer you need to be tracking them in all seasons.
When I get back from an afternoon in the field I always take some time to review what I observed and do a bit of research to answer any questions I have. I might start off by making a map of the area that I was in and locate any fresh trails or sign that I found in the context of the landscape.
I'll think about any questions that came up for me in the field about deer generally and also about how those particular deer are using that particular landscape. I'll look things up in field guides, and type my questions into google to see what comes up.
I don't always find the exact answers I'm looking for but I always find things that expand my understanding of deer and lead me to get curious about something I could look for the next time I go back.
If after I finish with my research I'm left with more questions than when I started and I have a feeling of being excited and looking forward to going back the next time then I know I've done a good job integrating what I've learned from the day.
The next time I go out I might start off by asking myself what I'm curious to learn about. The questions from the previous adventure feed forward into my observations for the day and it creates a never-ending cycle of discovery and exploration.
I hope this description was helpful in some way or at least gave you some new ideas about how to approach learning the deer in your area. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have and I always love hearing your stories and experiences with this.
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Hi, my name is Brian and I created this website to share my love for nature. I’m here to show you step-by-step how you can learn cool and practical skills like bird language, animal tracking and nature observation.