Deer Sign

During deer hunting season I didn’t see a single deer, but now that deer hunting season is over, I have seen two bucks.  Due to a very harsh winter three years ago which resulted in death by starvation, an increase in the predator coyote population, and overhunting (the number of deer hunting permits is limited, but there are poachers), the deer population is down and sightings are rare.  Unless hunters are incredibly lucky and just happen to see a deer when their rifles are handy, it takes some good scouting work to locate areas where deer have visited.  This is usually done by taking long walks in the woods to look for deer signs: tracks (hoof prints),  pellets (excrement), deer scrapes, and antler rubbings.  From the website Foremost Hunting I found the following helpful information:

Deer “scrape” the ground with their hooves- – and at times will do so with their antlers. The scrapes will range from the size of a dinner plate to that of a child’s portable swimming pool. Put money on the fact that if you find a swimming pool sized scrape, you’ve either got one huge trophy buck, or it’s a “community scrape,” where all the deer are together. That type of community scrape usually means younger, or immature bucks. A mature buck will normally stay to himself and scrape distinct areas to announce his presence and mark his territory.

Different types of scrapes mean different types of bucks. Young bucks go along, and they really don’t know what they’re doing. It’s like a 16-year-old going out on his first date – -he has some instinctive idea of what he’s supposed to be doing but doesn’t really know the ball game. So young bucks go out and start marking territory everywhere. There’s no rhyme or reason to their scraping. If they see a scrape from another buck, they’ll scrape in the same area, and in the end the area will become a community scrape, of sorts. The young bucks will return to these areas to check out what’s happening. They don’t really recognize that they’re marking the area.

On the other hand, a mature, dominant buck knows exactly what he’s doing. They scrape, and they announce by their scrapes that they’re marking their territory, telling other bucks to stay out of it.

Savvy hunters recognize what are called “scrape lines.” Dominant, big bucks will move up and down and around their territory marking with scrapes anywhere from about every 30 to maybe a 100 yards. They scrape along a specific trail or “line” as it’s called. These scrape lines will attract knowledgeable hunters who will set up along these lines, taking the wind into consideration (remember – -it’s critical to always locate downwind from your quarry), and then the hunters wait for that big trophy to show up on his scrape line.

Very much like the scrape line is a rub line – which is done on trees or bushes. Bucks use these rubs in two instances. The first is when they rub off the velvet on their new set of antlers. Usually that’s earlier in the year and smart hunters know that these rubs may not indicate territorial markings, but rather just the opportunity for the bucks to get the velvet off their antlers. Early in the year, rubs will mostly appear on small saplings or trees, and you can’t tell much about the size of the deer or if there’s any territorial rubbing going on. As the year moves on and the antlers harden, the bucks instinctively try to get the velvet off as quickly as they can. At that time, you can really begin to estimate the size of the deer that’s rubbing. As the rut approaches, you can look at the diameter of the trees that the bucks are rubbing. The bigger or wider the tree, and the larger the antler marks, the bigger the buck. A little forkhorn will not rub against a huge pine tree. Deer will stick to a tree that befits their size. A big 10 or 12 pointer however with a heavy rack will hit on a big tree. That’s what he’s looking for. The real key is if you see a tree which has been rubbed – and it’s big- – and the tree or trees directly behind the primary rubbed tree also have ancillary rubs from the same deer, then you pretty well know that you’re on to something big. The buck was so large that as he wrapped himself around the big, primary tree he was rubbing, he not only hit that tree, but the ones behind it.

What a lot of hunters do is set up trail cameras along scrape and rub lines, which will photograph or take video of the bucks who are rubbing and scraping. The hunter will then be able to closely determine the actual size of the buck who is in the area.

While I don’t hunt, learning about how to track animals truly enriches one’s enjoyment of walks in the woods.  About a month ago my husband and I were walking around the edges of our property, when we came across these antler rubbings.  Had I not known what they were, I might have passed this tree without noticing anything special.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbing.  My husband holds his pen nearby to get an idea of size.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbing. My husband holds his pen nearby to get an idea of size.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbings.  My husband holds a pen next to the tree so you can get an ideal of perspective.

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While most people have romantic notions of wildlife, animals such as beavers, deer and woodpeckers can cause tremendous damage and destruction to  trees.  While on the same walk, we found a tree with some freshly drilled woodpecker holes.

While these huge holes will undoubtedly kill the tree, other animals, including owls and other birds, will use the hole to make a nest.

While these huge holes will undoubtedly kill this tree, other animals, including owls and other birds, will use the hole to make a nest.

Sawdust from the freshly-drilled holes on the trunk lays at the base of the tree.

Sawdust from the freshly drilled holes in the trunk lays at the base of the tree.

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