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Knowing how to identify and understand the different types of whitetail deer sign is essential for anyone planning to deer hunt this fall. If you are new to the sport of deer hunting you may be wondering what type of sign you should be looking for while scouting and hunting. This blog post aims to serve as your field guide; decoding whitetail deer sign like, tracks, droppings, rubs, scrapes, and beds.
Identifying Whitetail Deer Sign
As a seasoned hunter, I always look out for key whitetail deer signs such as tracks, scat (poop), beds, rubs, scrapes and browse.
I look for deer tracks when I’m out in the woods. These signs show me where a deer has been and often the direction of travel.
By observing tracks you can gain insight into the deer that made them. In my experience, larger tracks with the toes having more of a distinct point to them are often buck tracks. The size and depth of the track can also be a good indicator of the size of the animal.
Doe tracks are typically smaller, with the toe of the track having a rounder point than the buck track.
Deer scat or droppings are typically round pellets but can also be found as clumps. Droppings are a great type of deer sign to look for in areas where tracks may not be as visible like woods or thick cover that has a lot of debris on the ground
Deer beds are oval shaped impressions on the ground that are made by a deer laying in a spot for a prolonged period. The size of the bed can also provide insight into the size of the deer with larger beds being more likely to be buck beds.
In my experience, if you find several (3-4) beds in close proximity to each other that vary in size, they are more often than not, doe beds. I typically find these doe bedding areas in more open locations close to food sources.
On the other hand, if you find a large deer bed by itself, on the edge or in thick cover, it is most likely a buck bed. Bucks are more strategic when selecting a bedding area and will typically bed in areas where they can use their senses to detect danger. Because of this I have found that bucks will bed in different locations based on factors like wind and human pressure.
Bucks make rubs by using their antlers to rub marks on small to medium size trees. This process typically removes the bark from the portion of the tree that is being rubbed and is done for a few reasons.
One reason for bucks making rubs is to aid in the process of removing the velvet from their antlers once they are done growing. Bucks also use rubs to display dominance in an area. This is because during the rubbing process a buck leaves scent on the tree from the glands on its forehead.
I personally start to find rubs here in Kentucky around the end of September and first part of October. While in the woods during this time of year I keep an eye out for any new rubs. This allows me to see if any bucks are using the area and even learn about a bucks travel routes by following rub lines.
Scrapes are another type of deer sign. Deer make scrapes by scratching leaves and debris away from the soil with their hooves leaving a clear area of dirt. Once they have cleared the area they will mark the scrape with their scent by urinating in it.
The majority of scrapes I have found over the years are in a spot that has a tree branch hanging over the scrape. These branches are referred to as licking branches and are also marked with scent by a deer rubbing his antlers and forehead into the branch.
Both bucks and does will use scrapes and licking branches to communicate with other deer and to display dominance in an area.
Scrapes and licking branches are typically found during the pre-rut period in October and can make for great places to hang trail cameras and hunt.
Deer love to eat from trees and shrubs. This is called browsing. When deer browse, they leave behind a sign. The twig’s end will look torn or broken, not cut clean across. It might also have saliva on it if the deer just ate there recently.
Finding lots of browsed twigs can tell you where the deer like to feed often.
Knowing the different types of whitetail deer sign can aid you in your scouting and hunting success this fall. All you need is good attention to detail. Practice makes perfect, so start scouting now!