Deer Hunting: Myths, Fallacies & Fantasies - Part 1

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Deer Hunting Myths, Fallacies & Fantasies Series

In the course of the past quarter century or so, we've turned our store of deer hunting lore upside down with new knowledge and insights into deer biology and behavior and, in the process we've debunked and discarded many of the old left-over truisms. We no longer determine the age of a deer by counting its tines and we no longer talk about bucks gathering harems of does.

However, at the same time, the new knowledge about deer behavior has generated a new set of skewed lore resulting partly from a misunderstanding of the facts and partly from an oversimplification of some of the new information. In essence, what we have learned or think we learned can also get in the way of a successful hunt. Here are the first two myths, fallacies and fantasies to steer clear of the next time you head afield.

Doe See Doe
You've probably heard it said often enough that any time you see a doe you need to hunker down and watch her back trail because, chances are, there will be a buck following her. Follow that advice blindly and you'll waste a lot of time waiting for a buck that will probably never show up, even during the peak of the mating period.

That's not to say the lore is complete bunk, but rather that there is a missing element. First, there's a question of timing. Though there's no rigid structure to deer populations, the mature bucks tend not to mingle with the does, fawns and yearlings between early summer and the fall mating period. So, yes there is a chance that a buck might come wandering down a trail previously used by a doe, but this is entirely coincidental for most of the year.

The mating period, however, changes everything. Come fall, the bucks deliberately drift into the home range of the rest of the herd and demonstrate an active interest in does starting about three weeks before the peak of the mating period when most of the breeding females are fertile-November 17 in my area-and for three weeks to a month after. During this time, the bucks will indeed trail does, particularly those which may be on the verge of becoming fertile.

Yet even at the peak when the majority of the females are receptive, not all does have a beau in tow. Fortunately, that's something you can quickly determine. If the doe is casually drifting along without showing inordinate interest in her backtrail, the likelihood of a trailing buck is small. Generally, an accompanied doe will spend a considerable time looking behind her or off to the side and listening intently with her ears perked in that direction. It generally means that there are other deer in the vicinity, perhaps her fawns or another doe with or without fawns. Or there could be a buck. It's worth keeping an eye on her to see what develops.

If the doe moves along at a hurried pace, stopping often to look back over her shoulder, ears cupped in that direction, chances are good she is being trailed by a buck. A solid clue is in the way the doe carries her tail. If it is down in the relaxed position, the buck might be some distance back, if it is up at halfmast or higher and flared, she has likely been mildly spooked by a hunter or predator. However, if the tail is straight out or at about 45 degrees down with the tip crooked, she is on a mating run and the buck is less than 100 yards behind her.

A tail held at half mast or lower and not flared is a good indication that the doe might have a buck nearby.

However, when the tail is flared and held at half mast or erect, it signals that
the deer is spooked about something it has seen, heard or scented.

Creatures Of Habit?
I've often heard it said that the prime hunting time is within an hour and a half of daybreak and the last hour and a half of daylight. I couldn't agree more. For two reasons. One is that those are indeed the periods of greatest activity, particularly when the weather is mild. However, as fall progresses and the days remain crisp, perhaps with a few inches of snow on the ground, the deer seem to ramp up their level of activity. Whether I'm stillhunting or spending my time in a stand, I see plenty of movement right through to noon and again from mid afternoon to last light and, while I've taken good bucks at first light and at near dark, I've taken many more during the full daylight hours.

Once the weather cools, deer remain active all day long.

Another aspect to the myth that deer spend the daylight hours bedded down in the seclusion of some dark and forbidding thicket is that deer are most often spotted in numbers in roadside pastures early and late in the day, but only on rare occasions during the day. Deer are forest creatures and they feel most at ease in the forests where they are active most of the day.

But why do I see no deer between noon and mid-afternoon? There's an easy explanation for that. It's when I wander back to camp, have lunch and sneak in an hour's shuteye. I tend not to see a lot of deer while I'm wolfing down a sandwich or snoring in my bunk. Only those intangible ones that saunter through my dreams.

The other reason why I agree with the early-and-late-prime-hunting premise is that I find fewer hunters wandering around my hunting areas, spooking the deer and interrupting my hunt.

In Part 2 we'll look at some myths and fallacies surrounding deer scrapes and rubs.

George Gruenefeld has been hunting big game for over four decades and his travels have taken him to several continents. Most of the time, though, he concentrates his efforts on the Prairies and mountains of Western Canada.


Retired2hunt's picture

  Sorry but I have to debunk


Sorry but I have to debunk your theory about deer in the mid-afternoon hours.  I have shot more deer around the 1 to 2pm hour because I have harvested the deer that those hunters coming back into the woods after their lunch hour or sleep time have stired and pushed into my direction.  I purposely set up to be in my stand or my area of stillhunting to be ready for those half-time hunters.  Half-time hunters are my best deer pushers.  So keep on taking those lunch breaks and sleepy time breaks so I can get the deer you push right to me when you are finally walking back into the woods and relying on your evening deer observations.


deerhunter30's picture

This is another great article

This is another great article that I will remember and use.

I really like the part about watching the does tail. I always new that when it was at full  mast that that the deer was spooked and most likely your chance of seeing a buck behind it are very slim. But the part about it being At about  45 degree angle or have mast usually means there is a good chance she is ready to mate or is being followed by a buck and is getting ready to mate.

Another article and tip that I will remember and be looking for come October 1st when I finally get to go out in the field and get in mystand.

groovy mike's picture

That afternoon nap might just cost you the buck of a lifetime

Thanks for the tips George.  In the same way that an athlete will miss 100% of the shots never taken, a hunter will not see deer 100% of the time when he is sitting inside.           


That afternoon nap might just cost you the buck of a lifetime.  Are you willing to miss out on that chance? I’d rather pack a sandwich and eat it cold and quietly where I have a chance of seeing deer.    I have seen deer at every hour of the day.  But I seem to see (and shoot) most of them between 9 AM and 1 PM.  That is the “wrong” time of day to look for deer.  But it is when I see them.  I am almost entirely convinced that it is largely due to other hunters changing locations after they have sat from sunrise to 8:30 AM or so, or giving up mid morning and going back inside to get warm, heading inside or back to camp for lunch and then returning to the woods after lunch.  All those hunters moving through the woods move deer and if I am still and quiet sometimes those deer come by me.        

hunter25's picture

A great article with good

A great article with good information that has quickly debunked a few common hunting "facts".

I have been just like the rest and have fallen prey to these beliefs as given to me by older hunters who believed them to be true. Thanks for the article and good presentation of basic true deer behavior. It will be very useful to many of us.

arrowflipper's picture

good information

Thanks for the good information.  I am looking forward to reading the entire series.  I too find it humorous how we tend to categorize and generalize animals and trends.  A generalization gets started and it's hard to get rid of.

On the first point, I do tend to watch a doe and see where they are looking.  Especially if there are several deer and more than one is looking intently in one direction.... I look in that direction too.  It may not be a buck or even more deer, but I know something is there.  I watch to see what deer are looking at.  I have been successful more than once by looking where other deer are looking.  Sometimes it's just a cow or another hunter, but you never know until you look.

I'm finding that time of day is less important than I had always thought, not only for deer but for other animals as well.  I was guilty of being back at camp for that lunch and a nap all too often.  I guess it was also a time to meet your hunting buddies and swap stories of the morning.  But there was always one or two guys that didn't come in early, and it bugged me how they were "the lucky ones" in getting an animal.  It's not easy to stay in that stand or just keep sitting beside a fence post at noon when you're hungry.  But I'll tell ya this, you won't see those extra deer while sitting in camp.

Thanks for an informative and interesting article on deer.  I look forward to more additions.

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