JOE DiNITTO

Field and Stream - - THE CLOSER -

• A buck headed to bed is like a per­son driv­ing home from work. If his track is lin­ing straight out along the eas­i­est path, he’s on the high­way, mov­ing fast—and you need to move fast to catch up. Even­tu­ally, the track will turn un­ex­pect­edly to the left or right. That’s the off-ramp, and you need to slow down. Next will come sev­eral me­an­der­ing turns— through the neigh­bor­hood, into the drive­way, and home. • What’s the first thing you do when you get home? You look in the fridge, right? Same with a buck. Be­fore head­ing to bed, he’s go­ing to eat some­thing, and you can see this. His tracks will show that he stood in one spot or stepped to the side. You’ll see that he has dis­turbed some ferns or nipped a bud. That’s when every­thing should come to a stand­still. You are in his kitchen. • The sec­ond you know you’re in a buck’s kitchen, stop dead and scan the area—for an ear, an antler, a twitch—for a full five min­utes. If you don’t see the buck after that, take one slow step—not two or three—and do it again. And keep do­ing this un­til you ei­ther kill him, bump him, or walk up to an empty bed. • The mis­take ev­ery­one makes is they start hunt­ing deer as soon as they leave the truck. Or they see a rub or a scrape and they go into stealth mode, look­ing around. No! Track­ers hunt for tracks—and you don’t have to sneak up on a hoof­print. If you have trou­ble with this, don’t load your gun un­til you’re on a good track. • How do you kill an old noc­tur­nal buck in farm­land? You wait for snow and you track him. There are some risks in­volved, of course. You may bump him onto an­other prop­erty. But you haven’t killed him yet. Go get him be­fore his gets hit by a trac­tor trailer or dies of old age. Give your­self a chance—and try track­ing. • Peo­ple tell me they don’t have the pa­tience to hunt this way, but I don’t un­der­stand that. You’re telling me you have the pa­tience to sit in a tree­stand for five hours, but you don’t have the pa­tience to stand still for five min­utes be­tween steps—when you know a big buck is right in front of you? • You have to be­lieve 100 per­cent that the buck is there. Be­cause he is. The sec­ond you doubt it, you’ll make a mis­take. And I mean right

there! My av­er­age shot dis­tance on tracked bucks is around 40 yards. My clos­est was at 14. That buck had no idea I was any­where near him.

• The post-rut is by far the best time to track a deer. I can’t stand the rut. It’s a tracker’s night­mare. Bucks are cov­er­ing so much ground then that they’re al­most un­catch­able. A postrut buck needs to feed and rest, so you can catch up to him. If you put me on even a two-day-old track dur­ing the post-rut, I guar­an­tee I’ll ei­ther kill or scare that buck. • Where you hunt doesn’t mat­ter. I drive to any piece of pub­lic wilder­ness and head in. Prob­a­bly 60 per­cent of the bucks I kill are in places I’ve never seen be­fore. More than half of those I kill on my first time in. When I step into the woods, I head up­hill to the hard­wood ridges, for one rea­son: I can cover more ground to find that big track.

• I take the first good shot I get, and I don’t miss for lack of shoot­ing. I’d say 20 per­cent of the deer I shoot at are bed­ded, 65 per­cent are on their feet, and 15 per­cent are on the move. The shots are fast but close, and not hard if you prac­tice. In 30 years of track­ing, I have never left a wounded buck in the woods. • Never fol­low a track that you’re not en­thu­si­as­tic about. Peo­ple ask me all the time how I know if a buck track is worth fol­low­ing. I have a sim­ple for­mula: If I look down and I don’t say “Holy shit!” then I do not fol­low that track.

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