Tag Archives: hunting

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 1 of 4

The following is a multi-part article about modern mule deer behavior, adaptation, and the future of hunting.

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Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 1

BRILLIANT! This word echoed in my head throughout the entire deer hunt this year while observing mature bucks and their ingenious evasive tactics. For the most part, I knew where the big bucks lived, but getting close seemed almost impossible. In recent years, these highly pressured, public land bucks (and even does) have developed fascinating tactics to avoid modern hunters. Here are some examples:

While hunting in this unit last year, I stumbled across an ancient flint arrowhead. As I held the little piece of history in my hand, I thought of two things. First, how serendipitous it was to find such a rare bowhunting treasure left by ancient bowhunters. And second, part of the reason why the deer in were so dang smart was because ancient folk have been chasing these critters for centuries before us moderns came along. Unlike a lot of other units, the deer here have been mastering the art of human evasion for centuries. Thanks a lot, Native Americans! Other than people-predators, mule deer are stalked year-round by cougars, coyotes, bears, and now wolves. In order to survive, they must be on constant high alert. Now throw in ancient hunters, modern bowhunters, muzzleloader hunters, rifle hunters, and poachers, and pretty soon the few remaining deer are either super-survivalists or non-existent.

Early one morning on this year’s bowhunt I watched a group of bucks feeding along a steep and open mountainside. One of the bucks was a solid 4-point and worth a closer look. Unfortunately there was no way to approach them without being spotted. So, I waited until the sun came up and for the bucks to meander over a finger ridge to bed. They weren’t in a hurry and I figured they’d bed a short distance from where they disappeared. This was NOT the case. I found their tracks alright and followed them for quite some distance. They meandered through some dense scrub-aspens, then dropped down the canyon for another couple hundred yards, then turned left and continued along a steep and rocky slope. Eventually they took a sharp turn and went straight back up the mountain. What the heck were they doing! It seemed random and chaotic. At that point I realized it was futile to continue pursuing these travelling bucks through such thick and noisy terrain. As I stood there trying to figure out what to do next, I suddenly heard the deer above me jump up and bound away. They had bedded in such a way that anyone crazy enough to follow them would eventually get winded by the rising thermals. Pretty obvious, but BRILLIANT on their part!

Last season while hunting the same unit, I watched three very nice 4-points feed atop an open hillside. As the sun got higher, the bucks disappeared over the ridge. I climbed after them, being careful to keep the wind in my face. The whole area was above timberline so I knew that if I could get to their elevation I would see where they bedded. Well, when I got there they were gone. I followed in the direction they had headed and found some sparse timber that I was sure they’d bedded in. But there was no trace of them. I spent the entire day exploring every piece of cover in the area, but they were gone. I was perplexed that they could simply disappear in the wide open. BRILLIANT! I returned to the same spot this year, and sure enough the bucks were there again. It was early so I watched them feed for a while. This time I was perched across the valley but on their same elevation. I was certain I could watch where they bedded this time. Well, the bucks dropped into a small draw and disappeared momentarily, but never reappeared. Sure of where they bedded, I made a stalk. But when I got there, the bucks were gone. Again, I wasted half the day circling around the mountain trying to figure out where they went, but never did.

On the last day of this year’s bowhunt, I went back to the same hillside and observed a lone four-point buck feeding in the open brush above timberline. There was plenty of time for a stalk, so I waited patiently to see which direction he was feeding before entering the thick timber that separated us. Interestingly, there was a small group of does feeding just below him. As the does moved along, so did he. Apparently he was using the does as a security fence between the pine-line and the open feeding area. From the tree line, a hunter would have to get through the doe group to get close enough for a shot. BRILLIANT! With the clock ticking, I decided to make the stalk. Well, I didn’t get too far. Before I even got to the timber that separated us, an unseen doe busted me, snorted once, and trotted off. The buck stood staring in my direction for fifteen minutes before wandering off, never to be seen again.

While all this was going on, my wife Esther had set up an ambush in some thick timber adjacent to a feeding zone. She was similarly impressed by the deer in her area. At one point, two doe fed along. One doe had apparently been relegated to security and wasn’t allowed to feed. When she finally did put her head down to eat something, the other doe ran over and began swatting her with its hooves, driving the security-only doe back to standing watch. BRILLIANT!

Just about every deer group I’ve seen has a security system. While feeding is high on the deer’s priority list, sheer survival supersedes everything. In most cases, a herd will have a lead doe (or for elk, a lead cow). The lead doe is generally the oldest, wisest, and strongest doe. She rarely feeds while the other deer are feeding, but stands guard instead. She only feeds when she feels secure or while other does in the group are bedded. During the 2012 archery extended hunt, I watched a very large doe walking a head of a small group of deer including a very large buck. She emerged from some thick oak-brush just twenty yards below me. She couldn’t see or smell me, but somehow suspected danger. She continually buried her head in the brush, and then whipped it up looking one way, then the other, in attempt to catch a predator’s movement. I watched her mock-feed like this for about twenty minutes while the other deer fed around her with nary a concern. In all that time, the lead doe never ate a single thing. BRILLIANT!

These evasive tactics are not only used by deer, but elk too. While deer hunting in Southern Utah, I was sitting out a thunderstorm beneath a large pine tree at the edge of a large, steep meadow. It was mid-afternoon and out of the timber emerged a whole herd of elk, approximately 50 head, including a giant 6×6 herd bull. The herd fed into the meadow, and eventually two large cows split off and headed down to a small stream. At the stream, neither cow watered but instead stood facing in opposite directions. I was a little perplexed by this strange behavior, but not a minute later the 6×6 herd bull began making his way down to the stream. When he got there, he stomped into the water, drank for a couple minutes, and then wandered back to the herd. The two sentinel cows never drank, but just stood watch and then followed the bull back up. It then occurred to me that the cows were strictly providing sentinel duty for the bull, putting security before water. BRILLIANT!

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 2 of 4

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 2 of 4

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Modern Mule Deer Part 2:  Adaptation and Evolution

Deer use the other forest creatures as sentinels as well. As you travel through the woods you’ll notice that squirrels, chipmunks, and all kinds of birds will call out to announce your presence. They do this unwittingly to announce danger to their own species, but in effect, also announce danger to the deer. I’ve observed these creatures doing the same thing to deer and elk, which can sometimes be useful to a hunter. But when the creatures bark at you, the deer always take notice. Next time you’re watching a deer, notice how it perks up its ears at every squirrel bark and bird chirp.

These are just some of my recent observations. In truth, mule deer have been changing continually—even dramatically—over the course of the last few decades. Anyone who spends a little time observing mule deer in the wild will witness all manner of well-thought-out security measures developed to avoid predators of all kinds; particularly the human kind.

Avoiding bowhunters is easy enough for any deer, but with today’s long-range guns shooting well over 1000 unethical yards, deer must adapt quicker than ever before. One way bucks have avoided rifle hunters for decades is to keep trees and brush between the hunter and himself. Older bucks are fully aware of the capabilities of long range weapons. Generally, if you bust a buck at close distance, he won’t run directly away from you but rather heads to the nearest tree, and then bee-lines away, careful to keep as many trees between you and him. If there are multiple trees or bushes, the buck will even zigzag from one tree to the next so the hunter never gets a shot.

One of today’s greatest mule deer hunting experts is author and speaker, Jim Collyer. In his book, Blood in the Tracks: A Mule Deer Manifesto (highly recommended reading by the way), he writes about an interesting encounter with very wise buck:

 …I was working my way up a remote ridge and spied a good buck looking down at me from his bed on the ledge above. I could see only his head and the top of his back. I rested the rifle in the crotch of a tree and waited for him to stand up. Instead of standing, the wise old buck lowered his head and crawled on his belly (much the same way a dog does) until he reached cover. Then he uncoiled like a spring and bounced over the ridge, keeping as much brush between us as possible. While uncommon, I have seen bucks belly crawling twice and have talked with several other hunters who have witnessed the same phenomenon. Now, that’s smart! (Collyer 2013)

For as long as we have hunted deer, deer have developed ways to avoid us. It’s well known that deer are crepuscular animals (being most active at morning and evening). But in high pressured areas, I’ve seen deer become completely nocturnal; never rising during daylight hours. For the bowhunter, setting the alarm for 5 a.m. is almost useless because the deer have already fed, watered, and traveled to hidden bedding areas by starlight. Now, there are many degrees of nocturnal-ness. All deer feed at night, but if left undisturbed they also feed during the day. But as hunting pressure increases, deer become less and less daytime active—maybe rising out of bed for only a minute or two to eat and use the restroom before bedding back down again. Traditionally, mule deer experts have agreed that all deer must rise out of their beds to feed occasionally throughout the day in order to maintain adequate energy levels and fat stores. However, it’s been my observation that bucks living on high-pressured public lands have simply adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle which provides plenty enough food ingestion at nighttime to negate daytime feeding. It’s like saying humans have to eat occasionally during the night to survive. It’s just not necessary.

The following is a quote from mule deer expert and writer, Walt Prothero, concerning the ways mule deer have adapted to increased hunting pressure:

But mule deer are quick learners and highly adaptable…The bucks that didn’t pause to watch their backtrail survived to do most of the breeding and pass on genes that made them more secretive. Buck’s have essentially become nocturnal, at least during hunting seasons. They don’t pause in the open during daylight hours, and they won’t even come out in the open unless it’s dark. Most won’t move unless they’re certain they’ve been located. (Prothero, 2002)

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 3 of 4

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 3 of 4

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Modern Mule Deer: Big Buck Classification

I have categorized mature mule deer bucks into three categories: trophy bucks, superbucks, and megabucks.

Trophy bucks are mature, solid 4-point or better bucks, four years or older, and sporting a rack above 160 inches. Trophy bucks are still common these days, but dwindling in numbers each year.

Superbucks are older and bigger bucks in their prime, aged around 6-10 years. They have very large and wide antlers scoring 200 inches or more. These bucks are extremely rare, often referred to as ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ bucks. Many hunters will never see a superbuck in the wild.

Megabucks are very old bucks scoring close to 300 inches, have mass like a baseball bat and towering racks that resemble elk. When I was younger I referred to these as ‘elk-deer’ because at first glance, your mind can’t classify it as a deer. The key ingredient to Megabucks is age. Megabucks are more common in warmer climates where they live longer (12-13 years instead of 10). I’ve been hunting a long time—25 years to be exact—and I’ve only seen three bucks that you might call megadeer. All three megabucks were in the Central Utah Manti-Lasal Range. I spotted the first one in 1996, the second in 2001, and the last megadeer I ever saw was in 2002. After 2002 I spent more days afield, but never saw another megadeer.

Superbucks are the hunter’s last hope. With a finite amount of wild lands and ever-increasing human population encroaching on winter range and over-development of every square inch of land, bucks can no longer live long enough to reach mega proportions. Fortunately, we still have a few superbucks around—I see one or two every year. The problem is not with ‘trophy hunters’ shooting all the big ones, but with non-trophy-hunters, or meat-hunters, blowing away all the spikes and forked-horns every year. One and two years old bucks don’t have enough experience in the wild to reach maturity, which is why they’re such easy targets. But the few babies that do slip through the cracks have the potential of reaching magnificent proportions. These are the only bucks that I—and other trophy hunters–hunt anymore: the elusive surviving few.

According to biologists, if a mule deer buck survives to be 5 years old, it has an 80% chance of dying of old age or other natural causes. Every year that a buck survives, it gets exponentially smarter. The problem is that 80% of yearling bucks never make it to five years old. One thing that trophy-seekers should keep in mind is that Superbucks don’t just father more super-bucks, but super-does as well. These superdoes pass along and teach their offspring the super-instincts that allowed Grandfather Superbuck to survive for so long. Over time, this results in an ever-wizening herd. Breeding is only done by the biggest and smartest bucks. So each successive generation of deer— doe or buck—is the spawn of super-intelligent bucks. Often times, when you observe a doe in the wild it seems kinda dumb (compared to the bucks). But this is only because no one is hunting her. If the doe were hunted, it would wizen up fast, I guarantee it!

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 4 of 4

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors Part 4 of 4

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The Future of Hunting

Hopefully by now you’ve gained some appreciation—or maybe even admiration—for these brilliant survivors. Some biologists have predicted that the mule deer will eventually go extinct. They argue that the mule deer—which split off from the whitetail deer after the last ice age and evolved to fit the rigors of the West—will eventually be dwindled down to minimal numbers due to human encroachment. After that, mule deer will gradually be bred out of existence by the natural reintroduction of the whitetail deer which more readily adapts to human pressure and is already making its way back into the West. After pursuing great mule deer for so long, I personally don’t see the mule deer going out without a fight. If they can survive to this point, they’ll be around for a lot longer…but a little help from the humans wouldn’t hurt!

All existing animals—predators and prey—have learned to survive and adapt to environmental pressures for thousands, or even millions, of years. If a predator doesn’t adapt to its smarter prey, then he starves. If the prey doesn’t adapt to a more efficient predator, it goes extinct. The biggest problem I foresee is humankind. The difference between man and other predators is that he adapts exponentially. In a few short decades, the hunting industry has exploded with new weaponry and products designed to gain an acute advantage over deer. Fifty years ago bowhunters used strictly traditional gear—recurves and longbows—with a maximum effective range of about thirty yards. Gun hunters had opens sights and relatively short-range rifles. But only a few decades ago, the compound bow was invented, and re-invented to the point that it can shoot effectively out to 100 yards or more. Scoped rifles have expanded their range to well over 1000 yards. With this kind of unnatural firepower, it’s amazing we have any deer left at all! Certainly we have a lot less.

What the hunting industry unwittingly and greedily ignores is the trade-off: less animals and/or smarter animals. And now, here we are with both! In twenty-five years I’ve seen giant bucks go from standing in the open at daybreak to becoming completely nocturnal, and nearly non-existent. What the hunting industry ignores is that the few surviving bucks—the neurotic, brilliant few—will be the only one’s living long enough to do all the breeding. And so what you’ll have in the future is an entirely new sub-species of mule deer. It looks the same—assuming you ever see one—but it doesn’t act the same…at all. The problem that overly-efficient weaponry creates is two-fold. First, there will be fewer deer in the future, which means fewer tags, which means fewer hunters. And second, the existing deer will be completely nocturnal and almost unhuntable. Ironically, this expediting of evolution will create brilliant, impossible ghosts that will inevitably put the hunting industry out of business! From what I’ve seen, most young, newbie-hunters lose interest after a just couple disappointing seasons, abandoning the woods for more entertaining and/or productive hobbies. The result of losing our deer will finally result in losing our hunting heritage.

So what does the next generation do? There can be only one solution: Learn how to really hunt—how to read sign and stalk close—but more importantly, they must first become deer conservationists (i.e. protect habitat, put restrictions on yearling shooting, discourage technology-driven hunting tactics, etc.) To succeed in the future, hunters will have to continually adapt to this new breed of wily mule deer. This can be especially difficult for the veteran hunter who continually makes the mistake of approaching today’s deer with yesterday’s tactics. Occasionally he might get lucky—after several failed seasons. And thus begins the downward spiral. He gets lucky and suddenly thinks he’s got the neo-buck figured out—maybe it was a new area, a new rifle, a new attitude, or more boot miles. But the next year, the deer have seemingly vanished, gone again, year after year, and he’s back to eating tag soup.

It seems like the only hunters who are dragging anything out of the woods these days are either very lucky, or very young. Someone old once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”  This is mostly true, but occasionally you’ll meet a young gun who knows how to hunt! He didn’t grow up with herds of big ol’ 4x4s standing in the open. He grew up with incredibly smart bucks eluding him in the nastiest terrain every season since he began hunting. He’s only seen one or two real mature bucks—ever—but keeps after ‘em. Unlike his A.D.D. buddies who gave up hunting long ago, he sees the potential of the woods. Every day he dreams about success and understands the great, final reward of outsmarting a giant, majestic mule deer buck with wide-sweeping antlers. Voraciously he studies deer behavior, physical needs, and learns from their evasive tactics. He’s learning how to read sign and follow tracks quietly through tangled timber. He’s willing to hike many miles from the nearest road. He hunts in cliffs and sub-zero temperatures. He knows that the greatest enemy of success is comfort. He knows that these wily old bucks will continue to change from year to year, and so he too must change how he approaches them. This is the only way to have consistent success—or any success—in this modern hunting age.

Conclusion

As predators, we must adapt to our prey or be left behind. Our deer have changed, adapted, and evolved at a shocking rate. Our deer are brilliant survivors, and thank God for it! Many a trophy hunter has sought big mule deer as a way to be admired; but the true trophy hunter hunts for a trophy out of admiration for it. Conservation is key, folks. Humankind has hunted since the dawn of time, and if we are careful stewards of our forest denizens, then maybe we can pass along this invaluable tradition of hunting to another couple generations.

In reviewing my hunting notes for this article, I wondered if I was just making excuses for my failure this year. But further contemplation suggests that these ingenious evasion tactics are more a reason for failure than an excuse for it…and not just for me but for the majority of hunters out there. As failed hunters, all we can do is study these animals, admire them—maybe even obsess over them—because the more you understand your quarry, the more you’ll understand yourself and your role as a predator.

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors (Part 1 of 4)

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors (Part 2 of 4)

Modern Mule Deer: Brilliant Survivors (Part 3 of 4)

Shape Up For Hunting

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Shaping Up for Hunting

A bowhunter is also an athlete. Nothing a person does on a day-to-day basis will match the great physical exhaustion caused by chasing big deer on big mountains, particularly where the air is thin and there are no trails. What happens when you spot a buck across a big canyon on the evening of the last day of the hunt? Your success or failure often boils down to your physical fitness and endurance.

Any cardio-type exercise will help you prepare for the hunt, and if you’ve spent enough time hiking and scouting in the pre-season you’ll probably be in tip-top shape for it. But if you’re planning a high-country backpacking/hunting trip, you’ll have to change things up a bit—your daily jaunt on the treadmill won’t be enough. Everything changes when you’re hiking uphill with an extra eighty pounds on your back, especially at the high altitudes where most big bucks live in early fall.

If you want to spend more time hunting and less time recovering, you’ll need to put a pack on and literally run to the hills before the season opens. I won’t get into any specific work-out regimens here; just know that your regular routine should include wearing a heavy pack and doing some vertical hiking. If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of mountainous terrain, you can always climb the stairs at your local football stadium. In addition to cardio, some extra weight training will do wonders to strengthen your back and shoulders.

On a recent hunting trip I felt like a machine and could hike all day without rest. But after shooting a big deer at the bottom of a steep canyon, I quickly realized I hadn’t conditioned myself for such a chore. With my pack loaded with nearly eighty pounds of venison, I was lucky to get the animal out at all, even with help from some friends. Remember, even a relatively easy hunt can become extremely difficult once you put an animal on the ground.

Pre-Season Deer Scouting

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Preseason Deer Scouting

If you put off learning your area until after the hunt has begun, then you’ll be at a serious disadvantage. As rule of thumb, you should spend at least twice as much time scouting as you do hunting. Scouting doesn’t mean just locating deer but locating crucial food and water sources, bedding areas, escapes routes, game trails, and other spoor. You don’t have to actually see a big buck to know he’s there; just watch for tracks and read the signs.

With today’s modern technologies, such as super-optics, video trail-cameras, GPS with topo maps, and 3D internet mapping, you can now scout anywhere in the country, 365 days a year, even late at night in your underpants after the wife goes to bed. But nothing beats boots on the ground. Physical scouting accomplishes two important things: first, you’ll become intimately familiar with the terrain you’ll be hunting on, and second, you’ll get plenty of crucial pre-hunt exercise while enjoying God’s natural splendors—and isn’t that what hunting is all about?

I can’t overemphasize the importance of quality optics; they are an essential part of scouting. Binoculars and spotting scopes open up the vastness of the mountain to your inquisitive eye, and quality optics will even open up the shadows during the crucial morning and evening hours when deer are likely to be out and moving. Remember, optics don’t have to be expensive, just effective.

Side Note: The binoculars I’ve been using for several years now are the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×42

I chose these binoculars because:

  • The glass is amazingly sharp for the pric
  • The are designed to gather lots of light early and late in the day
  • Waterproof and rugged design
  • They are relatively inexpensive. I bought my Bushnell Legend binoculars at Amazon.com.

Stealth in Hunting

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Stealth in Hunting

As bowhunters soon learn, the deer’s few disadvantages are greatly outweighed by its many advantages, particularly in terms of its super-sensory abilities. Now, assuming you’ve finally located a deer undetected, how does the novice hunter close the distance—that very small gap required to get within bow range? Of all the skills a bowhunter must learn, stealth is probably the most important and difficult to master.

During my early bowhunting career I climbed clumsily through the woods, snapping twigs and crunching pinecones as I went. Meanwhile, all the forest creatures sat staring my way in horror. Eventually, you get tired of busting all the deer out before you see them and learn to slow way down, becoming painfully aware of each step which is carefully placed around endless twigs, pinecones, brush, and crunchy pebbles. You become obsessed with wind direction which is your best friend or worst enemy. You must diligently adjust your approach against the breeze which carries your human scent back and away from you. Not only can you use wind direction for scent control, but the rustling leaves and howling wind can work wonders to camouflage the inevitable noises you do make. But hunting in high winds has its drawbacks too. Like most prey species, deer are extra wary on a windy day because it’s difficult for them to hear predators approaching. If you observe a buck feeding on a windy day, you’ll see his head up and looking around a lot more than usual. They also tend to stay bedded longer.

Besides using the wind to mask my noise, I try to keep my movements to a minimum. You’re obviously going to have to move to find deer; ambush plans don’t always work. When you find yourself hunting midday, for example, and it’s dreadfully hot and the deer aren’t moving, then you must move. Otherwise, you are here and the deer are there and you never meet in-between. But you can still optimize your approach. For example, I rarely take more than eight or ten steps before stopping to listen and glass over the ever-changing landscape. Many years ago I developed a game to help me with stealth. Whenever I snapped a twig I would force myself to stop and sit down in that very spot for fifteen minutes and just listen. I found that unless I continued making noise, the deer would eventually go back to what they were doing. But if I continued moving, the deer would confirm the danger and leave. A single noise in a forest full of other wildlife is eventually discarded by the deer. Countless times I’ve watched deer turn and stare in the direction of a noise with eternal patience, but if the sound wasn’t repeated, they’d eventually go back to their normal routine.

Every track, rub, bed, and sign you encounter, along with other factors such as wind, terrain, and forage, will dictate your direction of travel. The hardest part is moving undetected. It was during one of these early lessons that I had my first encounter with a bull elk. It was my third archery deer hunt and I had just spent much of the day ghosting along slowly and quietly, like a puff of smoke through the dense timber. Suddenly, a patch of tan fur caught my eye only ten yards ahead of me. I crouched down and observed a giant six-point elk standing in a thicket of pines, completely oblivious to my presence. I didn’t have an elk tag so I just sat and watched him while he stood and watched the woods. At that moment, I knew my lesson in stealth was complete.

Deer Hunting Poem

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but I was inspired to write these words in response to the many conversations I’ve had with non-hunters. It’s difficult to convey the real challenge of bowhunting to city-folk. For bowhunters, failure happens far more than success. Most days are spent hiking up steep mountains and seeing very few deer, if any.
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Do You Know What It’s Like?

Do you know what it’s like
To wake before it’s light,
And wander alone away from camp
Through tangled timber by headlamp;
To put aside all fear of death,
That today you’ll breathe your final breath?

Eyes strain through timber, search for deer
That move like ghosts you hardly hear.
Should I travel left or right,
Go up or down or just sit tight?

The day drags on eternally;
These clever beasts you hardly  see.
I wait in ambush for my prey,
It’s too hot to move now anyway,
Lie in shadow, wait out the day,
And ponder on my natural fate.

By noon exhaustion has consumed
My energy and daydreams doomed.
Slip into slumber amidst the trees,
My faithful bow rests on my knees.

The hours pass and daymares come;
A crazy flight to kingdom come.
Real or dream it’s hard to tell;
Swirling thoughts mix with surreal.

A cool breeze rakes leaves, makes me shake,
Cold shivers jerk me awake.
Evening’s falling with long shadows,
THERE’S SOME DEER, but only does.

It’s darker now and nighttime looms,
Then rustling leaves and stomping hooves.
A flash of gray between the trees,
I nock and arrow and then freeze.

Feeding unsuspecting prey,
Last opportunity today,
I draw my bow without a sound,
He stops and sniffs then stomps the ground.
He’s got my scent, I might be busted,
No shot, the wind can’t be trusted.

A flash of antler as he goes,
Before my arrow leaves the bow.
Too dark now, all out of luck,
Beaten again by a monster buck.

Do you know what it’s like;
This mighty trudge, this endless hike?

Hunter Evasion

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Hunter Evasion Tactics

We could argue all day about what the mule deer’s greatest strength is, whether it’s their superfluous hearing, specialized eyesight, or powerful sense of smell. The fact that they must live in the outdoors year-round under extreme conditions requires them to have many strengths. But in my observation, the mule deer’s greatest strength is evasion.

In most instances, as you go sneaking quietly through the woods, the deer have already sensed your presence and are quietly sneaking away from you. Novice hunters aren’t usually aware of this, and if they don’t see any deer all day, they just assume there aren’t any around. Well, that’s exactly what the deer wants you to think! If every time a deer sensed a hunter, he went flying out of its bed and bounded noisily away, then experienced hunters would know there were deer in the area and continue putting more pressure on them. Instead, smart bucks have learned the art of quiet evasion.

As a rule, you’ll hear a lot more deer bound away than you’ll ever see, and you won’t see or hear even more deer that sneak silently away from you. But if you learn to slow way down and play the wind just right, you’ll eventually get within bow distance of an unsuspecting buck. This still doesn’t guarantee a shot because in most cases the buck will still sense some sort of danger before you can raise your weapon. He’ll suddenly explode from his bed and fly out of sight, carefully keeping as many trees as he can between him and you as he goes. That’s just part of hunting. There’s no way to fool all the deer all the time.

Big bucks have also developed a tactic for avoiding stealthy hunters by “lying low.” Since the deer doesn’t detect the stealthy hunter from a great distance, the sudden appearance of a hunter at close range will force the deer to make a decision: either he can flee out of his bed and alert you to his presence, or he can lie low and let you walk by, hoping you don’t see him. On numerous occasions, I’ve had bucks explode from a bed within just a few yards of me. Obviously the deer knew I was there beforehand, but chose not to flee until danger was imminent.

Since most bucks you encounter evade you one way or another (sometimes even after being shot), then evasion is obviously the mule deer’s greatest strength. The best advice I can give you is this: Never underestimate a mature buck. In most cases, the best you can do is to get in the vicinity and hope things play out in your favor. Be patient and let things unfold slowly, at nature’s pace. Even if it takes all day to stalk a buck you’ve spotted, your best chance of success is just getting close. Once the buck has sensed you, the jig is up and you’ll have to go find another one.