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Maybe you’re a hunter, photographer, wildlife enthusiast, or maybe you are thinking about purchasing a tract of land and wish to know if you will be seeing any whitetail deer on your future property? One of the first signs of “legged” wildlife activity will be trails leading into and out of the property. Many different types of animals including deer will use the same set of trails over and over and many of the trails will have natural and mechanical off-shoots that will lead to more trails. A natural off-shoot will occur when natural land features make it necessary for animals to go in a certain direction like a cliff, canyon or around a water source. A mechanical off-shoot may be the result of a fence line, a fallen tree or some man-made structure or you could have a combination of the two.
Example of a Natural and Mechanical Obstacle that will alter the direction the trail will continue.
Believe it or not, deer are creatures of the “path of least resistance” and will walk down a fence line to an opening or open gate to avoid jumping the fence as long as they can get to where they want to go. Somewhere along the fence line there will be crossing points, some will be more heavily used than others; this is a great place to observe over time and the best way to do this is with a game or “trail” camera. You should also inspect gullies, river bottoms and furrows for the same signs.
Example of a heavily used fence crossing
Wherever deer congregate there will be droppings. Whether it is on a trail, a nearby food source or bedding area, you will find droppings. Deer droppings are the definitive sign that deer are present in the area, be it of their home range or a transition route, and you should now be confident that you will see deer there at some point.
All deer have to eat, so what is it in your area that deer like to eat? What food sources do you have on your property that deer want to eat; do you have mast crops, legumes, forbs, CRP or even lichen? Locate these food sources and look for eaten fruit, tree leaves, stem tips, buds or berries, sedges, and acorns. Look for deer sign such as deer tracks, droppings and bedding areas.
Bedding areas are normally going to be in low human pressure areas, generally in tree groves, thickets or soft grassy areas. Secluded bedding is key for whitetail deer, as it eases their stress and allows them to rest. Whitetails may actually have several bedding areas that they frequent throughout a several day period. Look for areas of laid down grasses, compacted leaves near the bases of trees and small hideaways under bushes and shrubs. A lot of times deer will temporarily stop by these areas to get out of the weather, shield from direct sunlight or shelter from biting flies.
Trail cameras make it very easy to photograph deer in their natural environment without interruption or detection.
Now that you have identified some of these areas, set up a trail camera for a month or so and then revisit the site you want and set up about 100 yards from the site, concealed away with a decent set of binoculars. 100 yards will keep you far enough away to keep your human presence to a minimum and allow the deer to act naturally; I do not recommend encroaching too far into a deer’s bedding area as it will tend to disrupt that area for the deer.
Observe from a distance that will not disrupt deer behavior.
Now, sit back and enjoy the show!
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