• 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.