Up close and personal (Part 1)

Throughout my time in the woods and conversing with others who enjoyed the same past times, bragging rights typically revolved around several things…

  • How far the shot was at an animal – the further the shot, the more impressive the harvest.
  • How big the animal was – rack size, weight, skull size.
  • Whether or not you killed something.

Though there are nothing wrong with these feats, so long as they are accomplished as ethically as possible and legally, in a pursuit with the stick and string you may be let down if these are your goals.  Our culture and upbringings taught us these feats are necessary to be considered a “good hunter.”  To me the ultimate measure of success in pursuit of an animal is how close I can get.  When I find myself in the situation where that animal is within 20 yards, it’s almost as though I slip into a different state of mind.  Closing this gap between and animal and myself, has proven to be the most crucial step in successfully harvesting game with traditional archery equipment.

Physically I am going through a lot of different stresses and measures of physical control.  My hands will shake.  My breathing is something I have to consciously work through.  Even my heart seems to play games with me. I will feel it beating in my bow hand and sometimes in my eyes which ultimately can affect my aim and shot process.  It took me years adjust to this amount of stress when the animals is close to me. However, in developing a controlled shot process, a lot of this stress fades away.  The ultimate goal, getting as close as possible, is to allow a clean and ethical Harvest; our obligation as sportsmen and women.


Here is an example of a fresh scrape.  Notice how the leaves are not covering it and there are fresh drags in the dirt.  These are great indicators of an active scrape.


It’s all in the details.  Scrapes and rubs, when fresh, can be great.   The problem with hunting them is that everyone else is trying to as well.  Sometimes you may be lucky and find intersecting rub lines.  These are typically a sure bet.  To me, and through other research, bucks seem to use these rubs as a way to establish their territory or boundary.  I often find them around bedding sights and near well covered feeding areas.  Next time you find a scrape there are a few indicators that will tell you how fresh it is, which will ultimately let you know if it’s good to hang a treestand nearby.

  • Fresh, transparent sap that hasn’t been exposed to dirt or debris.
  • Small twigs and leaves that have been damaged may still show signs of life if the scrape is fresh.
  • Leaves and the ground around the tree or bush may be cleared away or crushed up around the sight.


Fresh rubs like this can put you on bucks fast.  If you look closely, you’ll notice the small branches that have been broken during the process still have green needles.  Also, take note of the almost clear sap that is running down from the scrape.  These will typically indicate a recent rub.


Tracks can give a lot of false hope to a hunter.  Again, it’s all in the details.   How fresh they are, the size,  and their proximity to heavy or thick vegetation can answer a lot of questions.  After a heavy rain or snow I will focus on identifying trails and feeding patters based on the tracks.  When the ground starts to dry up, I quickly lose my faith in their evidence and will focus on finding different sign.

I like to set up in any area I can expect does to pass through.  A good friend once told me, “If you can find the does, you’ve found the bucks.”  It isn’t uncommon to have micro trails within 20 yards of the main trails that a majority of the doe traffic is on.  More often than not, these micro trails are the ones that  bucks are following.   They are typically in much thicker vegetation that can sometimes seem impenetrable.  I have a hard time locating or finding these trails during summer feeding patters.  However, as vegetation starts to clear and die in mid October, these become much easier to spot.  If you are looking for these, think about where you would travel if you didn’t want someone to spot you.  It has been my experience that these micro trails will follow steep terrain when possible.  This is done by an animal to break it’s silhouette from predators in areas with hills and are great to set up on.  I often have to ask myself “How bad do you want it?” in order to persuade myself into setting up in the thorn thickets and brutal terrain that these micro trails run through.


A deer’s #2 should be #1 on your look out list.  Fresh droppings like this are a great indicator of activity.


Come late season, finding sign can become a serious challenge.  Pressure from rifle hunting and the closing of the rut can make it sometimes seem like activity has stopped all together.  This is usually when I will focus on feeding sites.  Acorns are my go to here in Virginia.  However, it has become apparent to me that no two Oak tree’s are created equally.  Many times I have seen ground that has been completely pulverized by feeding under an Oak tree.  Next to that tree however, the ground looks untouched and covered in acorns.  The best way for me to find the right tree has been to look for droppings.  The fresher the better or course.  Droppings also will help you establish the volume of traffic and amount of use a trail is receiving.

If you look hard enough, you will find sign almost anywhere.  The advantages to reading this sign and understanding it are invaluable.  In part two of this blog we will be covering Wind Tactics.  Be sure to look for the blog on 12/3/2017.  Next time you’re in pursuit, keep your eyes out for these amazing puzzles that wildlife leaves behind for us.

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