On Rubs, Scrapes and Footsteps

2009 Hunting Diary—Day 7

There are many reasons I enjoy hunting as much as I do. But perhaps the most important, in terms of being addicted, is the adrenalin rush I receive when my techniques and tactics actually work. Such was the case Monday when I was once again challenged by the conditions I found that early morning.

It was the first day of my November deer hunt that annually occurs not too far from my home. I had tags for both mule deer and white-tails, but with meat already in the freezer I was hunting for a quality buck. So, I was prepared to turn down some younger ones in search of a wall-hanger and genuinely enjoy the hunt in the process. There was very little snow on the ground and what was there was crunchy, as were the fallen leaves that littered the forest floor. So, I was going to make noise, noise that would give me away. As a confirmed still hunter, that is an important concept to get into my head, that is, I would be heard by my quarry. My challenge was ensuring that the noise I made did not give me away as a hunter.

Like the animals hunted, we still hunters must use all our senses to the best of our abilities. This can be a challenge coming from an urban environment. Fortunately for me, over the years I have been able to quickly shed my urban ways and fall into my still hunting mode within a few minutes of leaving my truck. That is what happened before dawn just at legal shooting time when I entered the woods heading into a southeast breeze. Smell is the number one sense that game uses to detect a predator, so a hunter must ever be aware of the wind and where his scent is going.

I eased my way into the noisy bush taking two steps, pausing, listening and looking; then taking another two steps, pausing, listening and looking, and so on. The hard part of still hunting is the discipline of holding to this strict practice. It is much too easy for our urban minds to tell us to move more quickly that we are not getting to our destination fast enough. The still hunter must ignore these entreaties if he or she is to be consistently successful. In reality, if you are hunting, you are at your destination.

Buck Scrape

In the rut, buck deer paw the ground and scrape the bark off trees.

As the morning progressed I began seeing buck rubs and scrapes that told me there was at least one active buck in this particular area of the forest. Bucks waiting for the ladies to come into season take out their frustration on the vegetation and ground. They scrape the bark off trees and shrubbery with their antlers and paw the ground with their hooves, leaving large patches of bear ground where leaves used to lie. I was admiring a particularly well rubbed tree when I heard footsteps behind me. That’s when the adrenalin started pouring into my veins. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything from behind as it was both downwind of me and territory I had already passed through. However, there he was slowly moving through the trees, about 30 metres away, crossing my trail and oblivious to it. Like me he was taking two steps at a time, pausing, looking about and taking another two steps, followed by another, etc.

He was a small mule deer buck, with a forked antler. I had the drop on him. Now, if there wasn’t already meat in the freezer, I would have taken him; and indeed I raised my rifle and put the cross-hairs on him just for drill. But I did not want this hunt to end so soon. So I let the adrenalin rush subside as I waited for him to either see me or catch my scent. He did neither. For some reason the morning breeze must have carried my scent on high above the buck because he never spooked nor snorted.

Buck Rub

The fresh mark where a buck rubbed the bark off an alder.

Once he passed out of sight, I continued on my way confident my techniques were working well. Over the next few hours I walked up on a couple of does with fawns and a small white-tailed deer buck. Several of these animals did eventually see me or catch my scent and they snorted as they dashed through the trees. The white-tail buck, however, wasn’t exactly sure what I was and circled me trying to get a better look. I confused him with my deer grunt that kept him interested. However, he eventually got my scent and was gone.

So, it was pretty successful day of deer hunting. Although I did not bag an animal, I got close to many and further honed my skills and techniques. And there are more hunting days to come.

So, what’s wrong with that?

www.donmeredith.ca

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About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I write a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine.
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