On the trail, watch that tail
Photo By Dennis Jensen
A nice 8-point buck hangs next to a spiked buck at Camp Swampy in New York two weeks ago.
A doe, alone, is coming out of a stand of pines just off to my left.
Oftentimes, a doe traveling without her young or other deer can mean something special in mid-November.
Most does in Vermont come into heat at some point in November and the savvy hunter will pay close attention to the path behind her. Bucks are sometimes close behind.
I wasn’t all that convinced that this doe was in estrous because, at least in my limited experience, a doe in heat will have her tail straight out or tilted to the left or the right of her behind.
Still, I perked up because deer are funny creatures and nothing about their behavior surprises me anymore.
It’s the fifth day of the Vermont firearms season. I checked my watch. She passed by at 7:10 a.m. on a very cold and, at times, windy day. About 20 minutes later, I spot movement, out in front, and see a deer. I raise the scope and, at about 35 yards, can make out two small spikes coming out of his head.
This is definitely not the same spikehorn I observed the morning before. That buck, which passed by where I sat at only 15 yards had bigger, curved spikes.
As that small spiked buck passed by, I watched him wander off into the thicket farther left. He crossed the doe’s path and wondered off, confirming my suspicion that she was not, in fact, in heat.
It was 23 degrees when I left the house and now, about two hours after sunup, the wind has come up and I’m really cold, seated up against a big pine overlooking some good deer runs.
While it can be frustrating to see bucks that aren’t legal — Vermont has had a spikehorn ban since 2005 — it’s also encouraging because I am seeing does and suspect that there aren’t only spiked bucks hereabouts.
A raven flies overhead, making a racket.
I’m trying to stay focused and I do, but my memory takes me back to a hunt in Hampton, N.Y., on a day that I observed two does in heat.
That morning, perhaps 15 years ago, I carried a New York buck tag after a rare, unsuccessful hunt out of my brother’s deer camp, Camp Swampy in Waddington.
A few days earlier, while scouting, I located several impressive buck rubs — bucks ready to breed often work their antlers up and down the bark of trees — in a small patch of wild raspberry.
I located my place just before dawn, setting up against a small cliff of jagged slate. About a half-hour into daylight, I spotted a doe coming into the stickers in front of me. She turned and I could see her tail, hanging strangely to one side. She fed for a while and wandered off.
About an hour later, off to my right, I spotted yet another doe — same thing, tail to the side — coming into the wild raspberry. But this girl fed, then bedded down, not 40 yards away. The wind was in my favor and I knew, right then and there, that I would spend the entire day there.
She was in heat and I felt pretty sure that, in time, a buck would show up.
There was perhaps two inches of snow on the ground. I watched her back trail, pausing now and then to keep an eye on the rest of the terrain.
Perhaps two hours later, here he comes. The buck, either a large 6-pointer or smaller 8-pointer, was dead on her trail, his nose right to the ground. He was perhaps 40 yards away.
I found a good opening, raised the rifle, held the scope to its chest and fired.
The buck bounded off. I had a bad feeling about this.
I went over, checked the ground, saw the tracks in the snow where he took off in huge bounds and learned that I had simply missed. I’m not sure what happened but I suspect that I rushed the shot.
I did everything right that day. Well, almost everything. I located great buck sign, observed a big doe, in estrous, and watched her back trail. I just didn’t finish the job.
Still, I learned a great deal about does and how they attract bucks.
So, if you’re out there and you see a doe come by, alone and with her tail up, sit tight. There are no guarantees, of course, but that scenario is about the best you can have when it comes to deer hunting.