John's Journal...


Water, Food and Bedding Trails

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ve heard talk that a big buck is feeding in a green field, but despite watching from dawn to dusk, you haven’t seen hide or hair of him, just some does and small bucks. What’s wrong? As long-time deer hunter Larry Norton of Butler, Alabama, explains, "Big bucks, especially in the South, rarely come to green fields in daylight hours, even during the rut. They don't have to come out in the open and show themselves to find a hot doe but instead can walk along a trail 30 to 40 yards off the downwind side of the field and still smell the does. Generally they'll wait until dark and then move out into the fields to eat." So, you haven’t seen the big buck because he’s not using the same trail as the does and the smaller bucks. The lesson: deer use several different kinds of paths or trails. If you know what to look for and where to look, you can take a stand and drastically increase your ability to find and bag deer. Let’s take a look at some of those trails, and try a short quiz that’ll help separate rumor from reality.

The swamp had flooded, and acorns floated on the surface of the knee-deep water. From the numbers of cracked acorns on the bank, I knew deer had fed in this site, although I couldn't find any tracks. I decided to sit on the edge of the slough all day to see where the deer moved and fed. In the early-morning light, I could hear acorns popping and water pouring as I made out a dark figure in the 2-foot-deep water. Using my binoculars, I focused on the object and saw a fat doe knee-deep in the flooded timber Click to enlargepicking up acorns in her mouth, letting the water run out of her mouth, cracking the acorns and eating the meat of the nuts. In 2-l/2 hours, I watched l5-other does moving along the edges or in the shallow water eating acorns. These deer walked on an underwater path that led through the flooded timber and their food.

Once on another flood plain, I located deer tracks going into the water just at dark. The next morning I set up a tree stand 20 yards from where I'd seen the tracks going into the backwoods beaver pond. As I watched, deer moved back and forth across the pond – apparently on an underwater ridge only 4 or 5 inches below the surface but yet not visible from the shore. Hunting this underwater ridge produced two fine bucks for me during that season. Each year since when floodwaters have filled the backwoods, I've bagged a deer there.

Food Trails:

Most hunters consider food trails the easiest and the most-obvious places for them to attempt to take deer. However, your setup on a food trail determines your success. You easily can follow a food trail that leads to an agricultural field, because generally the deer will enter the field at a corner, a point or some other obvious passageway. Take a stand 20 or 30 yards inside the woodline along the trail that goes to the field. As Sam Spencer, retired wildlife biologist and longtime hunter from Alabama, comments, "I set up well away from a food plot to intercept a deer earlier, since many deer won't enter a food plot until almost dark. Then the light is too low for me to shoot accurately." Often the bigger, better-sized bucks will wait just before dark l00 to 200 yards down the trails that lead to the green field. If you can find an Click to enlargealternative food source like an acorn tree or some wild vegetation that deer feed on along that trail leading to the green field, you will have located an excellent spot to bag a buck. I've watched bucks come down a trail leading to a green field, stop under an acorn tree and begin to feed, waiting on nightfall.

Near a particular tree where the deer feed provides one of the best areas to take deer. Isolated trees make the most-productive food trees. For instance, if you find one apple tree in 500 acres of hardwoods where deer feed or one white oak acorn tree – which the deer prefer in my area of the country—the deer in that region probably will come to that tree to eat. Because several trails from various directions lead into that food tree, you may not know where to place your tree stand. However, you can funnel deer from one trail to another by using human odor as a barrier on the trails you don't want the deer to travel down. Ronnie Groom, an instructor who teaches deer-hunting seminars from Panama City, Florida, suggests that you, "Move l50- to 200-yards away from the food tree, and walk across each one of the trails you don't want the deer to use – carefully leaving plenty of human odor on these trails. When the deer come down the trail you've tried to X out, they'll smell human odor, leave the trail and move to the trail you want them to walk down that doesn't have human odor it."

Bedding Trails:

In most areas when deer get pressured, they'll move to their beds just at daylight. By locating a buck's food source and bedding area, you can place your stand and climb in it before daylight. Mark Drury of Missouri, the creator of M.A.D. Calls, says, "I get as close to a bedding area as I can without disturbing the deer so I have the most light. I hunt farther off the trails than most people I know and always on the downwind side. Many people make the mistake of hunting too close to where they anticipate taking the shot." In scouting a bedding region, spend as little time as possible to determine where to put your tree stand. As Drury Click to enlargeobserves, "Deer won't feel secure in a bedding area if they detect human odor. Always scout bedding sites in advance of deer season before the bucks become so sensitive to human sightings and smell. Also I don't cross any bedding trails if I can avoid them and will go out of my way to not cross them."

Clarence Yates, longtime bowhunter from Birmingham, Alabama, reports, "You never should hunt a deer's bedding region when the wind blows in the wrong direction. If you hunt next to lowlands, remember air usually will move from higher elevations to the lower part of a hollow in the evenings. So set up on the lower side of the trail going to and from the deer's bedding site. If I can't get to a bedding site well before daylight and climb in my stand with a favorable wind direction, then I'll hunt another place that day. I've learned if I spook a buck coming to his bed, more than likely I won't see that animal again during the rest of the season."


Check back each day this week for more about TRACKS AND TRAILS – WHAT DO THEY TELL?

Day 1: Meandering Trails, Terrain Trails and Mating Trails
Day 2: Water, Food and Bedding Trails
Day 3: Escape Trails, Night Trails and Snow Trails
Day 4: Deer Track Quiz, Part I
Day 5: Deer Track Quiz, Part II



Entry 335, Day 2