Deer Season 2018: A Learning Experience

This year I got an apprentice hunting license which allowed me to go hunting with Jan. Even before hunting season began, Jan and I went out looking for deer signs: good trails, rubs and scrapes, deer beds, deer tracks and places where they had eaten. We found a good trail that led down to the river, and we set up a trail camera along it. We soon discovered that the deer were mostly coming out at night.

Mother and a fawn

Mother and a fawn

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Later, we moved the camera to a different location and got more really cool pictures.

Deer in snow storm

Deer in snow storm

One of the only daytime pictures

One of the only daytime pictures

Buck and doe

Buck and doe

These nighttime pictures would not be possible without Gorge Shiras, who in 1889 pioneered what became known as wildlife photography. The first pictures he took were on the shores of White Fish Lake which is near Marquette, Michigan, his favorite region. He was the first to successfully take nighttime wildlife pictures. Ten of his nighttime photographs were featured at a Paris exhibition in 1900 and then at the World’s Fair in 1904. In 1906, his work was featured in National Geographic and he became internationally famous. Shiras was good at stalking wildlife with his camera because he had been trained as a hunter as a young boy. He shot his first deer at age twelve, but as an adult he traded in his gun for a camera.   

We knew where to put our trail cam because there were several rubs and scrapes. In early fall, bucks rub their antlers on small resilient trees to rub the dried velvet off. They have this cover on their antlers called velvet that appears as they begin to grow new antlers in the spring. Velvet is a membrane filled with blood vessels that nourish the antlers while they grow. At this time, the antlers are very sensitive. Once the antlers reach their full growth, the velvet dries and this is when they rub. The dried velvet must feel like peeling skin after a sun burn. Later in the fall, they rub their antlers in preparation to fight other bucks. These are the rubs we see. As they do this, it strengthens their necks, and when they fight their necks act as a shock absorber. You can often judge how big the buck is by how big the rub is. Bucks lose their antlers after mating season in early winter. This is why some Native American tribes named one of the months of the year, the Moon When Bucks Drop Their Antlers. There are also scrapes. This is when a deer paws the ground with his two front feet. Scrapes are almost always done under a hanging branch. There are many ideas as to why deer do this, but only deer really know.

Buck rub on a 3 inch diameter hemlock

Buck rub on a 3 inch diameter hemlock

Buck scrape about a foot in diameter

Buck scrape about a foot in diameter

Hunters, either with a gun or a camera, need to know as much as possible about the animals they are tracking. To find deer, one should know that they have incredible smelling abilities. A blood hound has 200 million olfactory sensors, and a deer has 297 million. A deer can smell 60 times better then we can. A deer’s sight is not much better than ours; however, they are experts at detecting slight bits of motion. Deer also hear extremely well. Their big ears are constantly moving and turning in order to pinpoint the slightest sound. The average life span for a doe, a female deer, is 8 to 12 years. However, there are records of a black tailed female deer who lived in captivity and made it to 22 years old. On the other hand, bucks, male deer, are not likely to make it past 4 ½ years due to hunting. Generally, the larger species of deer live to be older.  

Deer track in the wet sand

Deer track in the wet sand

Even though I never got a deer, Jan and I ran into some neat places. The first time I went out with him, we came across what we called a beaver clear cut. Four inches in diameter aspens had been chewed down and covered the landscape. The trees that had not been chewed down made it so dense it was easy to get lost. There were all kinds of beaver roads. One went right down a cliff that led to the river. One day we got within 20 yards of two does, but we are only allowed to shoot bucks. Another day, we found 5 fresh deer beds, a melted deer sized oval in the snow. Even though hunting was a great learning experience, it was also really hard. I was always cold because we were either sitting or moving excruciatingly slowly, and being quiet was a challenge in knee high snow. In a way, hunting puts a hunter in the animal world.