This is a 4 part series on "why should I track"
From a fun and excitement standpoint:
I grew up in an agricultural area in central Wisconsin. The woodlots were fairly small and the hunting pressure was pretty high. I learned quickly that in order to succeed I needed to stay put. Whenever I was moving I was pushing deer to other hunters. This style of hunting, though successful, was monotonous and boring. I was stubborn and persistent and endured many long days freezing for that one opportunity to score. The excitement of getting my buck outweighed the boredom but I always wished there was a more thrilling way to hunt and still have success.
I started hunting the big woods in Northern Wis. because I wanted something more from my hunt. The big woods was new and exciting to me. I could scout all day and never hit a no trespassing sign. I took my method of stand hunting with me and had limited success. The big woods allowed me the option of hunting new areas but I was still was a stand hunter. My limited experience told me the best chance at success was to sit all day. I thought it is impossible to sneak up on a deer and I would be wasting my time by moving.
The excitement of the big woods wore off as the years went by. The thrill of the hunt was fading and I just wasn’t enjoying it as I did in the past. I decided to try new things because I wasn’t as concerned about getting my deer as I was about enjoying the hunt. I started still hunting. It was fun, I had a little success, and I was enjoying my time in the woods much more. I kept looking at all the deer tracks and wondering if it would be possible to track one down. I tried tracking a few times with no success. I gave up on the idea for a while until I found out that there were other hunters who were tracking them with success. I figured if other guys could do it so could I. I started studying the art of tracking in the off season and headed north the next season to give it a try.
That was the start of the most exciting (and successful) method of hunting I have ever tried. Stand hunting is days and days of boredom followed by 10 seconds of excitement. Tracking is day long excitement. Every day is a new adventure. Tracking sharpens my senses. I see places I never would have seen as a stand hunter. I can dress light and carry very little gear. I never get cold or bored. No more dragging gear and tree stands way back into the middle of nowhere. I always carry a camera and often stop to take pictures of scenery and wildlife. I don’t have to walk way back in to my stand in the dark, I can even sleep in if I want to and I still have a good chance at getting a deer. There is also a huge sense of accomplishment when I have success. If I don’t have time to scout in the off-season it doesn’t really matter. I can go to an area that I have never been before and have the same (or better) chance at success as someone who has hunted that woods for years.
Hunting used to be a noun, now it’s a verb.
The fun is back!
This is the second of a 4 part series on "why should I track"
The first part addressed tracking from a fun and excitement standpoint. This part will discuss:
Why track from a learning standpoint.
If a new hunter asked me to teach him/her how to hunt mature bucks I would tell them to go to the woods and follow 100 mature buck tracks then return and I would teach them. If they did as instructed they would most likely come back and teach ME.
I started hunting at age 12 and have over 40 years of hunting under my belt. In my younger years I spent more time in the woods than at home. I started hunting for mature bucks in the middle "90's". It’s almost embarrassing to admit how little I really knew about mature bucks. Until then I had never killed a buck older than 2 1/2 years.
When I decided to hunt for mature bucks I basically had to start all over. I knew that what I had been doing didn’t work. I did a lot of reading and started trying new approaches. Trial and error was my best instructor. I will admit that my first successes were basically luck. Over time I guessed what the life of a mature buck was like and how they acted. Some of this was from firsthand experience and some was from reading. Whenever I thought I was figuring it out a buck would do something that didn’t fit my model. I would be left scratching my head and wondering if it was a fluke or if my ideas were wrong.
An eye opening experience!
I started tracking deer. I followed many mature bucks and for the first time I learned how they REALLY act and what they REALLY did. No more guessing, no more wondering. I felt a bit foolish for not tracking deer sooner. It is amazing just how much misinformation I accepted as fact. I was shocked by how wrong my assumptions were. The deer I was following were not the same deer I read about in the magazines. Maybe the deer never read those magazines so they didn’t know how they were supposed to behave?
When I started tracking deer I did it with the sole intention of killing a mature deer. It became apparent early on that the knowledge I was gaining was much more valuable than the deer I was shooting. Tracking is great when there is snow but what about when there isn’t any snow? A tracker is helpless. WRONG! I’ll bet any tracker out there has a whole list of good stand sites he discovered from tracking. Also, if he is in a new area a quick look at a map or aerial photo will put him right in a great spot to ambush a good buck. A tracker knows where bucks bed and where they travel. There is a confidence that a tracker has in picking stand sites.
I started on a buck track about 2 miles from a spot that I knew bucks loved to travel thru. The buck was heading in that direction and guess where he crossed? I found that spot by tracking a buck thru there a few years earlier. I kept an eye on the spot and told myself someday I will sit there. It has since been logged.
Even if you never shoot a deer by tracking the knowledge you gain is worth far more than the deer you tracked. Pay attention to what the deer is doing, how he travels the land, what he eats, where he beds, and wind and weather conditions. These are the things that will put deer on your walls when there is no snow. Also, individual deer are creatures of habit. They WILL use the same trails over and over so if you’re after a particular buck note what trails he uses and where he beds for those times when you have bare ground.
I will guarantee you that you will learn more about mature buck behavior in one year of tracking than you will in ten years of stand hunting!
From a numbers standpoint.
I’m always trying to increase my odds of success whether it be work or in the field. My goal is to shoot a mature buck every time I hit the woods. Of course this isn’t going to happen but with the odds stacked so highly against me I search for ways to tip the odds in my favor. Anyone that hunts the big woods knows that mature bucks are few and far between and have never ending dense forest to hide in.
The odds of success for a hunter that picks a random spot and sits all day are so slim that it’s hard to even put a number on it. I know many hunters who have hunted for years in the big woods and have never shot a mature buck.
Dedicated scouting will increase your odds. Spending time in an area that a mature buck calls home will up the odds a bit but the harder you hunt that area the more likely you will push that buck out or educate him and make him very hard to kill. Logic would make you believe that the more time you spend hunting that spot the more your odds go up. Not true! Your odds actually decrease with each time you hunt that spot. Then there is always the possibility that the deer you scouted may already be dead.
The sad truth is that even if you scout, approach the stand site in a way that doesn’t tip off the buck, and hunt the wind the odds of laying eyes on that buck are slim. Hunting a spot correctly from dark to dark for a week straight and seeing that buck just once would be a huge victory. There is high likelihood that the buck you are waiting for isn’t even in the area many of the times you are sitting there.
Tracking is the only way that I know to really increase my odds for success. This is important to remember – EVERY TIME I TAKE A BIG BUCK TRACK I AM SURE THAT I AM HUNTING A MATURE BUCK. This can’t be said for any other method. Again I want to stress that I am hunting a mature buck 100% of the time! If I am successful only once in a while my odds are still way up there. Lets say I am successful one out of 20 tracks I take. That is only a 5% success rate. These odds may not excite you but look a bit deeper at these odds. I’m sure if you are a dedicated hunter you probably spent more than 20 days hunting each season. With these odds, and spending at least 20 days tracking you should tag a mature buck each year! Of course things don’t always work out the way you want but even if you’re successful only half this much you will be heading to the taxidermist every other season. I don’t know any big woods hunter that wouldn’t drool at these odds.
I can’t track because……..
I should make a tracking excuse shirt. I’ve heard all the reasons why people claim they can’t track.
I’ll list some of the excuses and why I don’t agree.
1. I don’t have big woods where I hunt.
So what? Track anyway. If your land is only 40 acres then track until you run out of land.
You can circle your property first to see if he went thru. If he’s in there you can post someone on known escape routes first then go get him or just go it alone. What do you have to lose? Go slow, you have the rest of the day to cover ¼ mile.
Of course I would use discretion. If other people are hunting tight to your property lines you might want to hold off. You can always track him until he goes into a known bedding area then post up until the end of the day.
Also, that buck has been thru your property before and learning his trails will help in picking stand sites for future hunts.
2. I’m out of shape.
Then get in shape! You should get in shape regardless of whether you hunt or not. Get in shape BY tracking. Take it slow and easy and you will work yourself into shape as the season goes on. It’s not always going to be a 5 mile hike. I’ve caught up to deer in as little as a ¼ mile.
3. I’m too old.
Aren’t we all! LOL
Do what you can. If you can walk then take it slow and easy. Combine tracking and still hunting. Go only as far as you are capable. It’s amazing how far you can go just poking along. Hold out for a real fresh track. Chances are you won’t have to go far to catch him.
4. I’m afraid I’ll get lost.
I’m not sure if I can help you on that one. Learn how to use a compass and a GPS. Let someone know where you are if it eases your mind (it’s a good idea even if you’re not afraid). Go short distances at first until you gain confidence. I started using my cell phone aerial photos. Whenever I wonder where I am I can see exactly on aerial photos. I have been using a cell phone GPS app as well. It’s a great learning tool for reviewing where your buck went. It will also help you find logging roads for an easy out or to get your buck out. Look at maps before starting on a track to know where trials, roads, rivers, etc. are before you head out on the track. Take some food and something to start a fire with in case things go wrong. You might want to consider tracking with a partner as well until you get comfortable going way back in.
5. It’s too far to drag a deer.
You only have to worry about that when you get one. I’m 56 years old and weigh 165 #. I’ve always found a way to get them out. Ask for help. Young guys like an adventure especially if there are cold beverages waiting for them when it’s done. In some states you can cut them up. Often times there are old logging roads nearby. In the areas I hunt a mile drag is extreme. I’ve had to do it. I just take my time and eventually I get them out. I’ve had some rough drags over the years but once it’s done I can hardly remember the effort.
6. I don’t know how to track.
Neither did I. Spend time learning in this group. There are a lot of sources for learning, books and DVD’s. Study then get out there and practice. You will struggle but if you stick with it you will succeed! Come to one of my tracking classes and get a jump start.
7. I don’t have the proper gear.
I didn’t either. I started with what I had and picked up gear as I went along. I killed deer without any special gear. The one investment I would suggest is a great fitting pair of rubber boots. As you track you will learn what gear to improve and have a better idea what will work for you.
8. The conditions aren’t right.
If there is snow on the ground the conditions ARE right. Yes, some days are better than others and some days it’s darn near impossible to get close. Anything can happen and I know that if I don’t go I CAN’T get one. Near perfect tracking conditions might only happen a few times a season.
9. It can’t be done.
Believe it or not, when I first started learning about tracking I had 3 different “experts” including one that has his own TV hunting show tell me it can’t be done. I was skeptical as well. I’m from Wisconsin and I wondered if the hunting conditions were different out east that allowed people to be successful at tracking. I have tracked and killed deer in MN, WI, and the UP of MI. Some areas are better suited for tracking than others but I haven’t found a place where it can’t be done yet. I am just an average guy so if I can do it anyone can.
Tracking does not require special situations or equipment. You don’t have to be a world class athlete. Tracking can be done by just about anyone. Be prepared, be safe, and give it a try.