Deer Tracks Provide Other Valuable Information

As I stated in my previous blog, fresh tracks of walking deer in or adjacent to feeding areas can ensure hunting success if properly taken advantage of. Fresh tracks can also enable a hunter to key on specific classes (5) of whitetails, including mature bucks. The reason is, little deer have little hoofs, bigger deer have bigger hoofs and the biggest deer, mature bucks only, have the biggest hoofs.

Throughout my first decade of studying wild Minnesota whitetails (beginning in 1960), I measured countless tracks of various classes of Minnesota whitetails that were actually seen and identified, plus hoofs of deer taken by hunters. Eventually, my track research enabled me to very accurately identify five behavioral classes of whitetails by their hoof lengths all over America (deer classes and their hoof lengths are smaller in southern states). Today, I do not include indentations made by dewclaws when measuring hoof prints. The five classes of northern whitetails and their identifying hoof lengths are:

Fawns with live weights of less than 90 pounds have hoofs measuring 2 to 2-3/8 inches in length.

Yearling does, smaller than their mothers but larger than fawns, weighing about 120 pounds, have hoof prints measuring 2-5/8 inches in length.

Yearling bucks, spikes or fork-horns 1-1/2 years of age, and mature does 2-1/2 to 14-1/2 years of age are about the same size with a live weight of 140–150 pounds. Both have hoof prints measuring 3 to 3-1/8 inches in length.

Bucks 2-1/2 years-old, 6–8 pointers with an inside spread of 12–14 inches, weigh 170–195 pounds and have hoof prints that measure 3-3/8 inches in length.

Bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years old (though few are taken by hunters, few live longer), 8–12 pointers with inside spreads of 16–21 inches weigh 195–305 pounds and have hoofs measuring 3-5/8 to 4 inches in length.

What this means is, if you skillfully use hunting tactics designed to avoid alarming whitetails and key on very fresh identifying hoof prints made by any class of whitetail, your odds of taking that class of whitetail will be enormously improved. If you key on very recently made hoof prints 3-5/8 to 4 inches in length, your odds of taking the most wary and elusive of whitetails, namely mature bucks, will also be greatly improved.

This approach to whitetail hunting is most applicable when and where snow covers the ground during hunting seasons. Without snow (more common these days), my hunting partners and I commonly key on different deer signs (see my next blog).


Yes, There are Deer Signs That Ensure Hunting Success

Where do you like to stand hunt? Anywhere in the woods? Where you have a great field of view? Next to a deer trail? In the middle of a large patch of brush? At the edge of a cornfield? Where you got a picture of a big buck with your trail cam? Next to a corn feeder or food/bait plot? At sites where you and your hunting partners have been stand hunting for years? Sure, every now and then someone takes a deer at one of these sites. What about mature bucks? Hardly see any of them? That’s typical. Do you know about 40% of the deer in your hunting area (including yearling bucks) are actually antlered?

“No way,” you say? This answer alone reveals you have much to learn.

Do you know there are deer signs than practically guarantee hunting success? If you knew what they look like, where to find them and how to take advantage of them, you can actually take a mature whitetail (not a mere fawn or yearling) or even a mature buck every hunting season.

One of the most productive of such deer signs is “fresh tracks of a walking deer in or next to a whitetail feeding area.” A walking deer is an unalarmed deer, feeding or approaching or departing from its current favorite feeding area. If such tracks are discovered without nearby deer realizing it before 9–10 AM in the morning or after 3–4 PM in the afternoon, that deer is in or very near that feeding area right now. If found after 9–10 AM or before 3–4 PM, that deer is currently bedded somewhere near or far from the feeding area. If not alarmed by a hunter meanwhile or if it has not yet discovered you waiting in ambush there, it is practically guaranteed that deer will return to that same feeding area during the next 1–3 periods whitetails normally feed, (the number depending on how skilled you are at stand hunting), practically guaranteeing you will have an opportunity to take that deer. If you key on such deer signs in or near current favorite whitetail feeding areas every hunting season, at several different sites per season if necessary, you can be a regularly successful whitetail hunter, or if you prefer, a regularly successful buck hunter (accomplished by keying on fresh mature-buck-sized tracks).

What you have just learned probably seems amazing, but troubling. You might be thinking this can only work if those fresh tracks happen to be close to your favorite stand site. Deer only returning to the same feeding area 1–3 times is probably another a troubling thought, suggesting you might need several new stand sites. This in itself is likely troubling as well because like most whitetail hunters you are probably unsure what a whitetail feeding area looks like if not a farm field or clearcut. For answers to all your newly aroused questions, watch for my future blogs.

A Very Special New Book for all Whitetail Hunters


My studies of hunting-related habits, behavior and range utilization of wild whitetails began in 1970 in an effort to improve the hunting success of my first four children during their first “antlered bucks only” hunting seasons. What I learned worked so well that old-timers in the area were soon asking, “How come we can’t get buck’s like those taken by your kids?” Meanwhile, the new and unusual discoveries I had been making about the rut were so fascinating that I was soon hooked on hunting-related whitetail research.

Right from the outset, I considered it my duty to share what I was learning with whitetail hunters everywhere. Since then, I’ve written more than 900 articles about what I had learned about whitetails and whitetail hunting for a number of outdoor magazines, Midwest Outdoors throughout the past three decades. Beginning in 1988, I published a bestselling 9-book series entitled, Whitetail Hunters Almanac, each covering different subjects, created a number of DVDs including a 12-hour series entitled “Whitetail Hunters World,” presented countless hunting seminars nationwide and for 25 years personally taught hunters from all over America at my Buck & Bear hunting schools in the wilds of northern Minnesota. More recently, I began providing hunting instructions on my website, blogs (138), YouTube and Twitter.

After I published my 9th Almanac in 1997, my ever-patient wife who enjoyed accompanying me and photographing whitetails while I was doing my field research, finally put her foot down and announced, “You are now going quit writing books for awhile so we can do the traveling we always planned to do during winter months.” During the next 17 winters, we spent 3-4 months annually touring Texas, New Mexico and Arizona with our travel trailer. Not unexpectedly, we began making regular extended stops at lonely sites where we became well acquainted quite a few wild, desert southwest whitetails. In March, 2013, my beautiful wife suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at one of our favorite “birding” sites in New Mexico.

Two years later with my research and hunting still ongoing, twenty years of important new findings piling up, including the best new fair chase mature-buck hunting method ever, it was time to begin writing Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition. Then being 80 years of age, I figured this would likely be my last deer book, so everything new of importance that I wanted to share had to be put into this one book. It became a 558-page colossus (749 page Amazon Kindle Edition) with nearly 400 photographs and forty-some instructive diagrams and took three years to finish. I devoted parts to disprove the many common whitetail myths, old and new, that had been seriously misleading American deer hunters for centuries. All six of my new and updated mature-buck-effective hunting methods also had to be included, plus an updated chapter on where and how to hunt mature bucks throughout the four-month whitetail rut with its five distinct phases and three two-week periods of breeding (first introduced in my 180-page Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 2nd Edition in 1889).

This Almanac represents many thousands of hours of sitting without sound or motion in elevated tree stands from primitive self-made platforms only six feet above the ground in the 1960s to modern portables 9–16 feet above the ground during all seasons. It represents millions of attacks by hordes of blood-crazed insects and ticks, countless periods of frozen fingers, toes, cheeks and my nose, maybe 100 pounds of icicles accumulated on my mustache and shivering during hundreds of cold rains, frigid winds and sub-zero temperatures. It also represents my 74 years of whitetail hunting with gun and bow, averaging nearly one mature buck per year since 1990, many of them trophy bucks. It represents nearly a half-century of scientifically-based research with wild deer over much of America, research that would be very difficult or impossible to honestly duplicate today due to the simple fact that today’s mature whitetails are now very adept at finding, identifying and avoiding hunters using elevated stands. It’s “a once-in-a-lifetime book, written by the only person uniquely qualified to write it.”

So here it is all you beginning to advanced American whitetail hunters, as promised long ago: Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition, tirelessly edited by my new Editor, my very able son, John, and the culmination of my life-long passion for field research with wild deer. It is guaranteed to make you “a regularly successful whitetail hunter,” or if you prefer, “a regularly successful buck hunter.” It is the world’s only source of instructions for using new, much proven, fair chase, mature-buck-effective hunting methods, six of them no less, that will keep you close to mature bucks and other mature whitetails every day you hunt – my promise.

Right now, my 10th Edition is an Amazon Kindle ebook. For a taste of the extraordinary whitetail hunting value provided by this book, click on the following: Dr. Ken Nordberg’s Whitetail Hunter’s Almanac, 10th Edition, ebook   Then click on “Look inside.” A paperback version of this book (plus a paperback version my 4th Edition bear book) is yet a few months from publication. Thank you.

More About First-Time-Used Stand Sites

After stating in a previous blog my whitetail hunting partners have discovered first-time-used stand sites are by far our most productive for taking mature bucks, I’ve been asked by a hunter exactly when to hunt such a site. “When” depends on when the stand site is discovered: 1) while scouting preseason, 2) while heading back to camp for lunch or at day’s end during a hunting season or 3) while heading to a previously chosen stand site during a hunting season. Whatever the case, very fresh deer signs made by an unalarmed mature buck are the deciding factor.

We traditionally scout 2-3 weeks before a hunting season begins to ensure all deer will be back in their home ranges doing predictable things during predictable hours on opening weekend. After the first 2-3 days of a hunting season, however, mature bucks are well aware they are being hunted, which trails and which stand sites are currently being used by hunters and they are now doing the things that enabled them to survive previous hunting seasons, including avoiding known, currently-used stand sites and stand sites used during previous hunting seasons. From this point on during a hunting season, our best stands to take such bucks are those they do not yet know exist – never-used-before stand sites.

Typically, when the alarm clock begins ringing at 4 AM opening morning, everyone in my camp has a special buck stand site in mind (tree stand or ground level stand site) with some good alternatives to use if the wind direction is unfavorable (we never approach stands from upwind). We time our departures from camp to arrive at our stand sites one-hour before sunrise or 30 minutes before first good light – generally the beginning of legal shooting time, thirty minutes before sunrise.  We always want the opportunity to sit without discernable motion or sounds 30 minutes before the first and best hour for taking older bucks begins – giving nearby deer that may have heard us tiptoeing unseen to our stands ample time to decide whatever we were, we are either no longer there or we are harmless. Some hunters argue with me about the wisdom of heading to stands in darkness, but doing this has enabled my three sons and me to take most of the 94 mature bucks (none yearlings) we have taken on public land since 1990. Most were taken during that first legal shooting hour of the day. This is why no one will ever convince us heading in after first light is better.

Beginning on day three, we switch gears. Many stand sites we then decide to use are spur-of-the-moment selections, based on where very fresh deer signs made a mature buck are discovered while hiking to or from stand sites or on special connecting deer trails we refer to as “cruise trails” (one per square-mile). Multiple stand trails branch from our cruise trails. Our stand trails and cruise trails provide unfailing and ample discoveries of fresh signs made by mature bucks during hunting seasons – signs that reveal vicinities of trails and sites (feeding areas) favored by mature bucks right now or will be later today or tomorrow morning (if not alarmed meanwhile). During hunting seasons, the only trails we use are our stand site approach trails and designated cruise trails, thus minimizing the spread of human trail scents in our hunting area. By doing this (and avoiding bedding areas), our deer remain in their home ranges throughout our hunting seasons.

Some of the never-used-before stand sites we use while hunting were discovered before the hunting season began and have well planned approach trails (existing deer trails). Most are ground level sites (for use with silently-used, backpacked stools) that need little or no preparation. Very little or no preparation prevents premature stand site recognition by experienced older bucks. These sites are used during AM and/or PM hours. In the morning, as usual, we get to them one hour before sunrise, following fluorescent tacks on tree trunks adjacent to existing deer trails. We usually get our afternoon sites by 2 PM because dominant breeding bucks, alone or with does, sometimes show up as early as 2:30.

Some of our stand sites are not chosen until fresh buck signs are discovered, tracks made a short time earlier on a deer trail, for example, or tracks of a buck with or without a doe that headed toward or into a feeding area. When planning to stand hunt at a site in the morning where I had not previously selected a stand site or approach trail, I head out from camp early, as usual, but stop short (where deer in the feeding area ahead still can’t see the beam of my flashlight)  and wait (sitting on my stool) until it becomes light enough to quietly find my way without the use of a flashlight. In the afternoon, I give myself enough time to find a spot to sit well before deer are expected to become active.

Some of the largest bucks I have tagged since 1990 were taken as a result of unexpectedly discovering their very fresh tracks and/or other interesting signs in my flashlight beam ahead while on my way in darkness to a previously chosen stand sites, prompting me to immediately back off 20 yards or so downwind and select a spot to sit on my stool where well hidden by natural cover. Three times during the past ten years, the “interesting” sign was a rare, just-renewed ground scrape in November. I don’t have time or space here to explain why such a discovery is rare or “interesting” in November, but in each case the buck that renewed the scrape showed up within 15 minutes to 4 hours and I got the buck.

Spur-of-the-moment stand site selections are commonly used by my sons and me during hunting seasons. Using such stand sites generally requiresthe use of a silently carried, silently used stool (unlike a noisy to carry and noisy to install portable tree stand) at ground level and unaltered natural cover as a blind. We never feel inadequate for having done this because as we happily discovered many years ago, nothing beats natural, unaltered cover at stand sites never used before for taking the most elusive of whitetails, bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age, like the one taken from such a stand site by my son, Dave, pictured above.


Deer Tracks that Ensure Hunting Success

If there ever was a way to simplify whitetail hunting, this is it: only hunt near fresh tracks of a deer that walked next to or into a feeding area (not necessarily a farm field or clearcut).

There are lots of kinds of deer tracks, fresh tracks, old tracks, tracks of a walking deer and tracks of a bounding deer are some. Fresh tracks mean the deer that made them passed through the area where found minutes to a few hours earlier. If the deer was walking, meaning it wasn’t alarmed, such a discovery means you are now in a portion of that deer’s home range currently favored by that deer. On any one day, especially during hunting seasons, whitetails generally limit their movements to only about 10% of their home ranges. An important question is, will the deer that made those tracks walk through this same vicinity again later today or tomorrow morning when deer are active? If so, this might be a good place to stand hunt later today or tomorrow morning. If the deer was trotting or bounding, however, meaning it was alarmed, hunting there would be a waste of time.

The trouble is, whitetails generally have a dozen or more routes to use to get to whatever destination they have in mind, the choice during hunting seasons are typically dependent on quality of cover, the current wind direction and trails and sites known to being used by hunters. The odds for hunting success at any randomly selected deer trail are therefore not particularly good. Such odds can be greatly improved, however, by hunting within sight of where whitetails spend most of their time while active in early morning and late afternoon, namely, feeding areas. All deer trails funnel down to whitetail feeding areas where the odds of seeing deer are infinitely greater. Until the deer that made those tracks discovers a hunter waiting in ambush adjacent to its current favorite feeding area (mature whitetails are very good at this), it is almost certain that deer will return to that feeding area later today and early tomorrow morning (don’t count on it happening more than two days). Taking quick advantage of such knowledge provides the best odds there are for hunting success in whitetail hunting.

Potent Tips For Improving Stand Hunting

Theoretically, stand hunting is the very best way to hunt whitetails. This is because while stand hunting, you are stationary, therefore less visible to the motion-sensitive eyes of deer, less apt to make telltale sounds and not laying down ruinous human trail scents and equally ruinous human airborne scents that spread downwind throughout a lengthening area 200 yards wide.

The trouble is, stand hunters must (or should) walk on foot to get to a stand site. While doing this, they are not motionless, not usually silent and they are then laying down a path of persistent human trail scents, all the while emitting an invisible cloud of airborne human odors that temporarily permeates an expanse 200 yards wide along the entire extent of the stand site approach trail – a rather imposing expanse of potentially ruinous scents indeed. To make matters worse, upon arriving at a stand site, most stand hunters are not inclined to remain motionless or silent very long. Many even begin banging antlers together, blowing on noisemakers and/or releasing scents into the air that most mature whitetails now realize are dangerous if accompanied by human odors.

As a rule these days, between the first few minutes of using a stand site and the final minutes of the third consecutive half-day of hunting at the same stand site, virtually all stand hunters are discovered and identified by the doe and her young (including yearlings) that live within their surrounding 125-acre doe home range, the 2-3 mature bucks that live in overlapping home ranges within the surrounding 300 acres or so in your half of a square mile and the largest buck (the dominant breeding buck) that owns the entire surrounding square mile. The tipoff is usually a dark human silhouette that moves, a uniquely human sound such as a cough or metallic click and/or a complex mixture of odors only characteristic of human hunters, unexpectedly or expectedly detected by deer passing unseen within 200 yards downwind. Whitetails that have survived two or more hunting seasons generally avoid a newly discovered stand site being used by a hunter throughout the balance of the hunting season.

Many hunters believe elevated stands and products claimed to eliminate odors of hunters make it impossible for whitetails to smell them. Actually, recent experiments with K-9 dogs used by law enforcement officers in Minnesota have proven any product available today that is claimed to eliminate or cover odors of deer hunters does not in the least fool noses of dogs. It has also been proven odoriferous molecules emitted by hunters, their clothing and hunting gear drop steeply toward the ground from any stand height. This means though tree stands and such products can provide important benefits while hunting whitetails, they cannot keep extremely sensitive noses of downwind whitetails from readily identifying stand hunters (and all other deer hunters).

With few exceptions, therefore, it no longer makes sense to waste valuable hunting time at one stand site throughout a hunting season. When hunting older bucks, in fact, it is generally a waste of time to use one stand longer than 1/2 to 2 days per hunting season. Ideally, then, especially when a mature buck is your intended quarry, you should never begin a hunting season with less than one well-located stand site  (elevated or ground level) to use for every 1/2 to 2 days you plan to hunt My sons and I select one for each half day we plan to hunt. Many are natural, ground level blinds intended for use with a backpacked stool that require little or no preparation. First-time-used stand sites are generally our most productive for taking mature bucks (see photo).

Best Freshwater Fishing Experience Ever

Being an avid Minnesota angler since age five (now 82) and occasionally making forays via canoe into Ontario wilderness waters, I had long been of the opinion I have enjoyed the very best of freshwater fishing available in North America. When my son, Dave, invited me to join him and his family on a trip to Alaska where we’d spend time some fishing for salmon and halibut, I had no idea this trip would end up being my best freshwater fishing experience ever.

While hunting Dall sheep, (rams) in the Brooks Range of Alaska fifty-some years ago, thereafter yearning to return to Alaska some day, I fought violently battling, 6–8 pound sockeyes in a shallow pool where they were spawning until my arms finally became so sore that I couldn’t bear to hook another fish. I thus knew our anticipated salmon fishing would be exciting.

Shore enough (Minnesota talk), catching silver (Coho) salmon was much like catching those sockeyes. The first evening we were in Alaska, Dave, Tyler (my grandson) and I caught thirty-six 6–8 pound silver salmon from deep in 185 feet of salt water to the surface near the mouth of Resurrection Bay aboard a small guided boat out of Seward. Arms finally aching, I actually had to take a break before we were done, but sitting there watching the circus-like action, some hooked fish repeatedly leaping high above the water, was totally entertaining.

Halibut fishing turned out to be a different kind of action, akin to hauling a big tractor tire up to the boat in 200 feet of water. By the third time I had finally worked the first of the two 70-pounders I caught to within twenty feet of the surface (the second one released), I was pleading, “Please don’t dive to the bottom again.” Keeping my rod well bent while repeatedly raising that fish another six feet or so and then reeling in line as quickly as possible while lowering my rod to begin anther raise beat by far any exercise I’d ever used to strengthen my biceps, only in this case there was no way to take a break until the fish was gaffed. Seventy pound halibuts (or bigger) are powerful fish. They’re so powerful, in fact, that if allowed to flop about in the boat after being gaffed and hauled in they can seriously injure a fishermen and damage the boat. Imagine what a fully mature 400-pound-plus halibut could do. For this reason, big halibut are shot in the head before they are boated. Shoreline Alaskans know big halibuts are biting when they hear a lot of gunshots out on the water.

The fish that made my trip so special was a 50-pound (minus a few ounces) King salmon. The world angling record, caught in the world famous Kenai River, weighed 97 pounds 4 ounces. After my struggle to land my 50-pounderin the same water, it’s hard to imagine how such a fish could even have been landed.

My king made repeated, unstoppable, 100-plus-yard runs across and up and down more than two miles of the river while I held on hardly breathing. “Is that my fish?” I asked a couple of times upon seeing it break water a long way off near the opposite side of the river. Sometimes we had to chase it with our boat to keep my reel from running out of line or keep my line from crossing lines with other anglers. This was the most thrilling and lengthy battle with a fish than I had ever experienced. When Keith, our guide, finally scooped it up with his big dip net, he too sat down heavily with obvious relief.

That morning, my son Dave caught a 60 pounder, his wife, Lindsay and daughter, Alyssa, each caught Kings nearly as large and his son Tyler caught one weighing about 40 pounds – that’s five fish weighing about 260 pounds taken by five anglers from one boat operated by one guide during one morning of fishing. This was highly unusual. No one else we saw on the river that morning did nearly as well. The average catch for kings on the Kenai is one fish for four guided anglers during a half day of fishing (the best anywhere). Needless to say, our guide and host, Keith Holtan, the long time owner of Beaver Creek Cabins and Guide Service, is one of the best fishing guides today on that famous river.

Honestly, at least once in a lifetime every serious angler in America should try to book a trip to Alaska to fish King salmon on the Kenai River. The words “best freshwater fishing experience ever” cannot begin to describe the thrill of catching one of those swift and powerful, trophy fish weighing fifty pounds or more.