You know that feeling when you’ve spotted a buck in the glistening white snow, set your target, and are in position when suddenly the deer bounds away into the woods? It’s one of the worst feelings in deer hunting.
If this has ever occurred to you and you’ve sat in complete frustration unsure how to follow the deer tracks to the right location, this guide is for you.
Most of today’s hunters seek out whitetail from an elevated stance, like a shooting house, tripod, or treestand. Historically, hunters used their knowledge of following prints in the snow to snag a deer. While the art has been lost to some, many Northwood hunters still use it in the present day.
Many Northwood hunters drive on backwood roads before the sun comes up to follow deer tracks. These roads are typically dirt logging routes. You can only reach some of these roads with a 4-wheel drive, which is exactly the vehicle you’ll want to follow tracks in the snow.
In order to follow animal tracks, you have to be able to find them. As you cover a larger amount of ground, you’ll increase the odds that the deer prints in the snow will lead you to your elusive target.
Here’s what you need to know about following deer prints in the snow.
Look for areas with low levels of vehicle traffic
The first approach to take when following deer tracks in the snow is to look for regions with lower levels of vehicle traffic. Regions that have reduced vehicle traffic present a higher proportion of deer traffic.
Hunting for deer tracks in the snow is truly an art, and the further away you are from the crowd of other hunters, the better your chances will be of nabbing that buck. Ideally, there’s some deep snow that’s otherwise undisturbed.
If you really feel like getting back to nature where the largest dominant bucks reside, you’ll want to consider unloading your ATV and heading towards trails and roads that are more remote and less accessible to the general population.
How to read tracks correctly
Once you’ve set off and found deer prints in the snow, there are some important aspects to look for in order to read the tracks correctly. You’ll need to figure out how old the track is and the type of deer that made the track.
Larger tracks belong to a larger deer, but not necessarily a buck. The size of deer tracks varies widely, but the biggest ones are hard to miss. If you’re set on catching a large buck, you should look for a track that is a minimum of 4 inches in length and 3 ½ inches in width. Pay close attention to the track’s sinking depth. The deeper the print is, the heavier the deer.
To determine the age of deer prints in the snow, consider the local weather conditions at play. Ask yourself these types of questions:
- When was the last snowfall?
- What have temperatures been like lately? Have temperatures been below freezing?
- Did the weather warm up a bit so that a portion of the print has now melted away?
- Is the snow on the ground wet, or has it reached a powder-like consistency?
- Are there sticks, leaves etc in the tracks? (Fresh deer tracks have less debris.)
- How wide is the dewclaw impression? (You want to look for tracks that are 3+ inches wide)
A deer hunter will learn how to recognize the environmental conditions contributing to the tracks with time and practice. You can even compare the deer prints to the tracks your hunting boots have made to see how they are similar or different, which you will give you a much better idea of the age of the prints.
Reading the deer’s behavior
After you’ve located a track and examined the factors at play to determine the age of the print, try to read the deer’s behavior. Does it look like the deer was feeding or tracking a doe? In either instance, you’ll need to go on high alert at once.
After a deer feeds, it usually beds. The same is true of a doe, and if the buck was tracking a doe it will probably bed with her.
If you suspect that the buck was just making time, you’re going to need to cover plenty of ground to catch up to the deer. At the most, you’ll likely have about 8 hours to do so, so you will need to move quickly to catch the deer before it’s too late.
If the time comes when you feel that you are nearing your target, try to rely on your eyes instead of your feet. Take slow, careful, and quiet movements and pause as you need to. Focus on the area ahead and around you. It is crucial to spot the deer before it smells or sees you.
It is important to realize that learning how to follow buck’s tracks in the snow is often a time-consuming and exhausting process. When you’re first starting out, hiking in the snow could wear you down quickly. Following an animal’s tracks take razor-sharp concentration, but with practice and patience, you can do it like a pro.
The video below shows an example of a hunter tracking a deer by the tracks left in the snow:
Closing thoughts on following deer tracks in the snow
You probably won’t spot the deer out in the wide-open expanse unless you get lucky. Examine the brush when following animal tracks in the snow and move with caution.
Keep your eyes peeled for parts of the buck, such as the gleam of an antler, a flash of movement, or a brown patch in the thicket. Pay close attention to sudden course corrections in the direction the deer are traveling.
If the deer appears to change direction suddenly, this will often tell you that the deer is going to bed or could be resting very close by. Be aware of wind elements around you as well.
Finally, remember to put safety first when tracking deer. Don’t leave home without your compass. Let a family member or friend know where you plan on tracking and keep your survival kit handy in the event you have to spend the night out on the trail.