Written By Kris Brown.

Posted on December 30th, 2018.

Tagged with Deer.

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Nothing but deer tags to eat this year? Don’t sulk. Get out there and start scouting.

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As the New York archery season drew to a close in the Catskills, I was already thinking about what I’d do differently next year. I’d had a rough go. Sure, I’d been lucky enough to watch a bobcat pass by my stand, as well as coyotes and a fisher, but I didn’t ever draw back my bow on a deer. That’s quite a feat considering how plentiful deer are around here.

I reflected on my strategy. I started the season hunting the big woods of Bear Spring Wildlife Management Area. I used topographic maps and aerial photos to find promising deer spots, like saddles and the edges of fields and recent clearcuts. When those steep mountain hikes began to wear me out, I started hunting a bit closer to the road on a handful of properties owned by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP). I saw many deer driving to and from my hunting spots, but far fewer while I was actually in the woods hunting. 

It dawned on me that I had no idea where the deer were feeding and bedding and at what times. I would just pick a spot on the map and hope I could find a good tree to climb. Such uncertainty made it difficult to spend long hours in the stand. I needed a change.

I came across this YouTube video from The Hunting Public that prompted me to act. In a 12-minute video, these gentlemen demonstrated how to map deer trails, bedding areas, and food sources with an app called OnX Hunt. Like me, they used terrain maps and aerial images to pick a general location to scout, but the real magic was in the way they took notes. Essentially, they’d find a deer trail and turn on GPS tracking as they walked it. Marking intersecting trails, buck rubs, and beds was the name of the game.

Importantly, they examined deer sign in the context of habitat, topography, and wind direction. For example, deer like to bed with cover to their backs and a good view in front. They will use the wind to smell what’s behind them and their eyes to catch movement ahead. A good strategy to detect a gangly guy like me.

I was hooked! So the day after archery season ended, I was out in the woods with my smartphone and Avenza Maps to practice what I’d learned. I started up the hill, past the pond and along the rock wall/field edge as I had done earlier this year. 

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Access to this hunting spot follows the rock wall with the field to your right (east) and the spring-fed pond to your left (west).

I took a photo and marked the location of the tree I hunted in three times this season. Ahh, the memories!

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An ash tree that I climbed in several times during the 2018 NY archery season.

On the flat area just above that spot, I picked up a deer track in the snow. It headed off into the field below, but where had it come from? I looked uphill and saw some big hemlocks. “Looks like a good bedding area to me,” I thought. I kept on the track and found some old buck rubs and marked their locations on the map.

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I used GPS tracking and Avenza Maps to map deer trails and sign, such as this buck rub.

A few minutes later, I came upon a deer bed. Look at that! It turns out I was hunting about 200 yards downhill from this bed! Later, I would find a handful of buck rubs that were closer yet. I kept walking toward the northeast corner of the property and the deer tracks led me to four other beds. They all looked fresh, with crisp outlines in the recent snow cover. As I neared the property boundary, one of the deer smelled me and snorted. I never saw the deer. I’m sure they heard me coming and walked off undetected. I took some photos of the bedding area to give you the deer’s perspective. 

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The fresh snow made it easy to follow deer tracks and identify beds, such as this one.

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This deer had a good vantage point from its bed. 

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Not quite the thick cover you might expect to be protecting a deer’s backside. Perhaps the deer wanted to get some of that morning sun that’s been so rare this fall and winter.

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Another deer bed. I found five of them grouped together.

I walked through the woods to the northwest property boundary following more deer tracks. I didn’t find any more beds, but at least I knew the deer came and went that way too. In a few hours of scouting, I gained a ton of knowledge and I had a useful map to help me for next season. Of course, I still need to figure out how to get close to the bedding area without disturbing the deer. I also pretty much gave away a good hunting spot. You’re welcome! Not to worry, there are plenty of those to go around in the Catskills. 

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I used Avenza Maps to record deer trails (orange tracks) and deer sign (green pins), including buck rubs and deer beds.

I should note that while I was after deer sign, I came across all kinds of wildlife tracks, including coyotes and squirrels. I highly recommend this activity if you are interested in wildlife viewing, testing your wildlife tracking skills, or simply looking to get some vitamin D this winter! PDF maps of NYC DEP Open Recreation Areas are available for downloading here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/recreation/open_rec_areas.pdf. Once downloaded, these maps can be used offline in Avenza Maps or another smartphone map application. Happy tracking!

 


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