Deer hunter's blessing: A tracking snow
Funny how a patch of pawed up snow, in the middle of the woods, can get your heart pumping.
The first snow of the season had coated everything on the high ridge-tops with an inch or so. But down in the valleys, what was able to stick quickly melted.
A whitetail buck had set off what looked like a small bomb in the buckthorn thicket.
The snow been pawed back and the rich, dark humus of the forest floor exposed, about the size of a dining room table. Brown, torn and mud-encrusted leaves were kicked back as far as six feet away, on top of the wet, heavy snow.
And the day before - no sign of deer there.
No sign at all, just an unbroken white expanse of snow throughout the bordering hardwood stand.
The whereabouts of that "annual scrape" (year-after-year buck scrape in exactly the same spot) is a precious secret.
That scrape site, at some point in the season, is ritually freshened and exposed by a rutting buck, each and every year without fail.
Deer tracks, going every which way in the day-old snow, were all around.
A tracking snow gives deer hunters a great advantage because the story of all the comings and goings of the whitetail are written in the snow to read. Course you need to know the language in order to comprehend the text.
A track in damp soil is much more difficult to age than a track in the snow, not to mention even see. The consistency of snow constantly changes; hour-by-hour, day-by-day.
Savvy hunters figure the time when those deer tracks were made and interpolate entire whitetail movement patterns by walking, scouting, reading tracks, and setting up their strategies accordingly.
Many hunters are tempted to take a stand when it snows, but much can be gained by using that time to scout, before warmer temperatures delete the tracks.
Here in the Southern Zone of New York State, the early part of recent deer seasons have seen little snow until the final week or so in December. And some deer seasons have little snow to speak of thanks to climate change, according to the modern scientific data.
Another advantage of getting a dusting of snow during deer season is that it aids our ability to see deer. Whitetails have an amazing knack for blending into the cover when it’s brown. But when the first snow blankets the leaf-covered ground and bushes, deer movement can be readily seen.
The deer "take" almost always goes up significantly when there is snow cover for the hunter’s background.
And hunters are three times blessed with snow cover because it is literally "a tracking snow."
Deer can be trailed after the shot much easier than in wet leaves, a cut cornfield, or through a brown goldenrod field where it may be problematical to follow up sign.
Snow makes blood trails much easier to follow.
And also, not to be discounted, a covering of snow makes dragging a deer out of the woods much easier.
Many times I’ve looked up and said thank you; especially on a long, sweaty drag when one’s down, way back in.
— Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.