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How to Spot and Understand Deer Tracks

Last Updated: 16.06.24


Spotting and understanding deer tracks is a very important skill, and in this article, we will give you all the information you need to learn how to recognize tracks and their age, as well as how to trail wounded game. Once you’re ready to go out in the field, check it out here to see if you have all the equipment, you need for a successful hunting expedition.


Tracking the deer

As any hunter knows, trails, beds, scrapes, and rubs are the typical signs that deer leave behind, and these are the things that most people focus on. However, more often than not, the most important clues are ignored. It is important to look at deer tracks with an observant eye.

The art of tracking may not be for everyone since it is not the most exciting activity, but you’ll be amazed at what you can learn about the game you’re tracking if you know how to look at its tracks. To make the process easier for you, we’ll begin with the basics of understanding and spotting deer tracks.

The first step is to understand the difference between a small deer and a larger one since this way, you can decide more easily on the game that’s worth your time, and leave smaller deer alone. It is very easy to tell the size of the deer based on the shape of its track.

Big deer tracks are unique since the animal weighs over 200 pounds, and its weight will cause the hooves to splay apart on its front feet. You can tell the size of the deer by putting your fingers near the track, and if it measures four fingers or more than that, it means that the deer will dress over 200 pounds.

The deeper the impression that the hoof mark leaves, the heavier and larger the deer will be. There are, of course, some variables, since the type of soil matters a lot too. In loose, light sand, the depression will be deeper than in solid hard soil.

You’ll need to pay close attention to the distance between hood tracks as well since when running, even smaller deer can leave tracks with their hooves splayed apart. Look at how far apart the steps are; if the stride is long, it means that the game was probably running.

It’s not always easy to tell if you’re looking at a running or walking track. There are however some subtle signs that you can pick up. Running tracks tend to have debris thrown in front of them from the impact of the hoof with the ground. They also tend to slide forward slightly, adding to the length and splay.

Tracks can also be used to get a better idea of the local population of deer in the area that you intend to hunt. Inspecting the ground for tracks is a good idea when searching for spots to hunt since it can tell you how many individual deers have been hanging around and how big they are.

It is also a good idea to look at the direction of the track since some deer feet will aim outward, some straight ahead, while others inward. The right and left hoof will also often not match with each other, so you should study both.

The front tracks are also noticeably larger from the hind tracks. Front tracks sink deeper and splay more since the front end is heavier on a mature deer.

Once you find a track, you should also try to determine the behavior of the game. By looking at the environment and finding other tracks, you can tell if it was feeding, following another doe, or simply resting.

As a beginner, it is a good idea to visit fields in a day or two after a good rain so that you can study the marks in the soil. Spend as much time as you need looking at them and even take pictures. Return daily, if possible, to see how the tracks change with age. 

Pictures can prove very useful since you can reference them with the tracks you’ll find in your next hunting expedition.


How to tell the age of the tracks

Telling the age of a track is a very valuable skill that can get you closer to finding the perfect hunting spot. It is not very easy to tell the age of a track, particularly because each one is unique. Still, with enough patience, you can get a lot of information from a track, and if you find that it is only a few hours old, this can lead you straight into the deer’s bedding area.

The first step that you need to take is to look at the definition in the edges of the track. If the mud is cut sharply, then it means that the footprint is fresh since weather and time will round the corners as the mud dries and falls.

You should also look for details since the more you can notice, the fresher the track is. Focus and see if you can notice the fine lines around the edge of the pad. For fresh prints, these are visible, while older ones tend to fade with time.

Furthermore, you should also look for broken pieces of dirt and small mud balls that tend to break free from the larger print that’s cutting the soil. If these are still moist, it means that the track is fresh. Take the weather and the position of the track into consideration as well.

A track that’s positioned in the shade will look fresh for longer, while one that’s positioned in an open field will get sun-dried faster, and hence look older.

Apart from the tracks, you should also examine the environment nearby since it too can help you better identify the age of the tracks. The best thing you can do is to examine scratched and chewed plants. Look for nearby plants, and if they are freshly chewed, they might still have moisture on them.

Conversely, leftovers from an older meal should start to dry out a little and turn a bit brown around the edges.


Buck vs. doe tracks

To tell the difference between a buck and doe track, you need to remember that the buck has a larger chest and a narrower rear. Conversely, the doe has a narrow chest and a slightly larger rear, and this makes their tracks look different enough for hunters to tell them apart with relative ease.

The doe has a more pointed track, while the buck has a wider track. Moreover, bucks have a swaggering gait that the does lack. Bucks also have the tendency of dragging their feet across the ground, while does will pick up their feet when moving, leaving behind tracks that look more ordered.


Tracking a wounded deer

While it is very important to make responsible and ethical shots, sometimes trailing a wounded deer is necessary, especially for amateurs who can’t always shoot accurately.

Once you’ve taken a shot, you need to start watching the deer. Look for where the deer was when you shot it and what direction it went in afterward. Try to identify where the arrow struck the animal as this will be your first indication of how well or bad the animal is hit.

A hit in the leg, too high or too far back, means that you will need to wait at least another 3-4 hours before you can attempt to track the animal. A good hit in the broadside where its vitals are means that tracking it should only take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. Watch the deer closely until it goes away from your sight.

Blood can also tell you how well the deer was hit, and it is often the thing that will provide the best trail to recovering the animal. Pink, frothy blood that has small bubbles indicates that the shot has reached the lung, and such a shot will prove lethal.

Blood that is rich, bright-red can come from the heart or any other large tissue areas with numerous blood vessels – the more blood that you see, the higher chances that the shot was a lethal one. Sparse droplets may indicate a non-lethal wound.

Dark, burgundy-colored blood can indicate hits in the kidneys or liver. These are lethal as well but can take longer to kill the deer. Blood that has a greenish tint indicates a stomach shot; these are lethal as well but can take the longest to kill the deer.



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