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footsore
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Deer Sign -Tracks
Dec 18th, 2015 at 10:10pm
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Deer Sign – Signs of travel

Another thread on sign for the new guys. please feel free to add your wisdom, fellas.
Most of this info I originally gleaned from the net and various books. I especially recommend “Red Deer in NZ” by Lentle and Saxton –its packed with information and tips for hunters. The web site ‘pestdetective.org.nz’ is useful too.
I’m no intuitive great white hunter so I’ve made a brief set of notes that I take on trips as prompts to assessing tracks.

Finding a set of discernible tracks is very useful to a hunter, they confirm there are animals in the area and can even provide information on the individual’s size, age, sex, condition and how recently it was there.
It is, however, a rare event that the trail of tracks is clear enough along its length to allow you to follow it to the animal itself.
The most likely exception would be briefly seeing a deer that then moves out of sight or if you shoot an animal that manages to keep to its feet and move off. In these circumstances you have the certainty that the deer was there very recently and it isn’t too far away now. Follow up stealthily looking for any signs of passage, typically a deer’s progress through the bush is betrayed by signs that are a lot less obvious than a trail of clear prints. Look for vague imprints in moss or grass, scuff marks, partial prints, disturbed leaf litter, rocks rolled from their sockets, snapped wind fall twigs as well as pellets etc. 


No clear prints, but trampled hollows in the grass reveal the path of a deer


In the case of a wounded animal you are hopefully aided by a blood trail. One of the potential issues of directly following a deer’s route is that the wind isn’t necessarily in your favour. I wounded an animal once that kept moving ahead of me as my trailing it meant the wind was at my back. I felt awful about the suffering of the animal but couldn’t overtake it –eventually I managed to loop around it and it stopped when it could no longer smell me and I stalked in from the side to put the ugly deed right.                                                                                                                                        


Game Trails
Deer often use the same trails to get from A to B and these routes will become quite obvious in the bush. Well used paths can look very similar to a DOC maintained tramping track with a path that avoids significant obstacles and is lined with pruned back shrubs. Spurs and ridges are favoured lines of travel as well as routes to and from choke points such as saddles. If you manage to find a feed area such as a stand of broadleaf or a grassy clearing chances are there will be several trails leading into it.


Game trail through beech forest

On the open tops there are fewer communal trails as the deer have less obstacles to channel them, however there will be exits at bushline that they regularly use to get onto the tussock. Trails over scree slopes between bush fingers [shelter] or tussock [feed] faces can become well established and are often visible from a fair distance.

Print Interpretation
A set of clear prints offer clues re the animals in the area and it is worth at least pausing to check them out for ‘freshness’ and size. I always check for prints if I come across an area of favourable substrate such as sand, silt, mud, snow etc. You might find a vague trail and need to follow it for some time before you get prints that are clear enough to assess. When looking at a track in detail try to position yourself so the print lies between you and the sun. This will make it's contours clearer to you.


Multiple tracks in the mud around a water source that is supporting early spring growth


Is it a deer?
Be cautious about how much you read into any prints you come across. There is a similarity between the tracks left by different species and differing substrates [ie mud, firm dirt, loose sand, leaf covered forest floor, moss, snow etc] will effect the appearance of the prints. Likewise an individual animals hooves will vary in shape from its peers influenced by its genetics, its age and the environment [eg rocky ground –blunter tips]. It is also worth noting that there are differences between the size and shape of the fore and rear hoofs of an animal.
I have mistaken Sheep prints for those of Fallow and even a partial paw print left by a dog can look like a cloven hoof. Look for more prints to get a clearer picture or other sign such as pellets.

Keep in mind that the details below can offer a guide only, due to the variation with species.


A generic hoof print naming some of the details mentioned below.


The fore hoof of a recently expired stag illustrating the structural detail.
-Check out the ball/heel at the rear of the hoof.      
-The dew claws protrude out higher up the leg.
-See too, the shape of the base of the cleaves, the outer margins are more pronounced than the inner aspects. Often in a very firm substrate you will find only the outline left by this outer rim of the hoof rather than complete slots.
-This particular animal has quite rounded tips indicating a more mature beast.


Hoof print comparison -all confusingly similar

Chamois
.More elongated than deer's.
.Narrow cleaves that run parallel to each other.
.Prominent gap between the cleaves.
Print  6 x 3.5cm
Stride 50 - 30cm

Pig
.Broader/more circular than that of an elongated deer print.
.Dew claws usually evident in prints and set wider than a deer's.
Print 7 x 5cm/4 x 4cm
Stride 40 -20cm

Goat
.Kidney shaped ie both inner and outer margins of the cleaves are usually curved.
.Tips blunter than deer's.
Print 6 x 3cm/4.5 x 3cm
Stride 35 – 25cm

Sheep
.Broader, more rectangular than deer's.
.Tips blunter than deer's.
Print 6 x 5cm/5 x 4cm
Stride 25cm                     

Fallow                                                         
.Tips sharper a than a Red's.
.More slender shape than a Red's.
.Inner margin of cleaves parallel to each other.
.Outer margins fairly straight at the rear.
.Heal pad extends along ½ the length of the cleave[whereas a Reds is about a 1/3 of the length]
Large Buck    Print 8 x5cm              Stride 50-45cm
Doe              Print 5cm x 3.5cm      Stride 40 -35cm
Fawn            Print 4.5cm x 2.5cm

Red Stag
.More oval than a hind's
[Outer edge of cleave runs straight until converging to blunt rounded tips]
.Tips more likely to be splayed apart.
.Ball more prominent.
.Dew claw marks are more regularly evident than in hind's prints.[heavier animals so sink further into substrate]
.Print pitches obliquely to the line of travel
Fore Print size
9-8cm x 7cm -Very large Stag
8-7cm x 6cm  -Good sized Stag
.Stride 70cm or more

Red Hind
.More 'heart' or 'pear' shaped than a Stag's.
[Broad at the base, tapering to sharper tips]
.Tips not usually splayed.
.Ball less prominent.
.Dew claws rarely apparent [lighter than stags]
.Prints lie parallel to the line of travel.
Fore Print size
6.5cm x 4.5cm - average Hind
Stride 60cm - 50cm

Red Calf/Yearling
.Younger animals have sharper tips than older animals.
.Inner margins of cleaves are convex.
[concave in older animals]
.Ball prints shallower than tips.
[older animals ball of cleave is deeper than tip]
Calf Print 45 x 2.5cm

The 'Rule of Thumb'
A good way of judging the size of an animal is to measure the width of the track against your fingers. Make a fist and place it across the track to measure it. Each of my delicate fingers measure about 2cm at the knuckles so...
Four fingers measure 8cm across so a print of this width is a monster [yet to be found] stag.
Three and a half fingers is likely a very good stag.
Three fingers = 6 cm ie a very large hind or good sized stag.
Two -Two and a half fingers = average hind
If the cleaves are the length of my thumb then it’s a yearling. A calves prints are about 1/2 that length.

Gait Patterns


With a walking gait the print of the rear hoof is near or even superimposed on top of the fore print.
If the species is in question then the length of the stride can give you a clue. The stride is the length of the step of a particular foot eg measure from a right fore print to the next right fore print in the series. This might help you figure out if the track is that of a stubby legged merino ewe or a lanky hind.

A galloping gait leaves all four hoof prints quiet separate. The two rear legs and two fore legs leave prints diagonal to one another and there is a fair distance between each set of four. The rear prints are in front of the fore.
Because the animal is travelling at speed you are more likely to find the cleaves are splayed out and the dew claws leave prints.


Registration
This refers to the relationship between the positions of the fore and rear prints of a walking animal.
In the photo's below the shaded tracks represent the rear print and the blank tracks the fore prints.
In real life look at the size of the prints as fore hooves are bigger than rear hooves.


Direct registration -The rear prints are right on top of the fore prints.


The rear prints are on outside of the fore prints =a hind [wider pelvis]


The fore prints are on outside of rear prints = a stag [wider shoulder girdle]


The rear prints are behind the fore prints = an older or weaker animal


The rear prints are in front of the fore prints = a young animal who's legs are long in relation to it's body size

Aging the Track
This is done mainly by judging the weathering of the print or how much it has begun to break down with time. The best way to do this is to make your own print beside it to compare the two. Remember different substrates will effect the appearance of the track and how quickly it breaks down.

It is useful to know when it last rained and how much –would a track have been smoothed out by the rain or was it heavy enough to obliterate it altogether?

.Are the details sharp or have they rounded off?
.Check out whether the wall of the print is smooth or cracking and collapsing.
.Is there debris collecting in the floor of the print?


Tracks which are a day or two old -compared to the toe of my boot print [bottom right of photo], not quite as crisp in detail. Note too, the clumps of sand kicked up by the movement havn't yet broken down.


Older prints, or at least more 'weathered', than those above- much more rounded, not as sharp in detail. Note that the walls of the track are collapsing with the debris accumulating on it's floor.
These prints have been rained on, as you can see from the indentations in the surrounding sand.


A fresh sheep's print in mud. Note the wall of the print is intact and still standing perpendicular to it's base.


An older [losing it's detail] deer's print in mud.




The take home message
Track interpretation is one aspect of hunting that I really enjoy and I tend to concentrate on it more than is really required. In hunting Reds the boiled down useful skills/knowledge to have are ….      
1/ Remember to look out for prints.
2/ Be able to tell if the print that of a deer.
3/ Be able to judge the size of the animal.
4/ Be able to judge how long ago the animal was there.



« Last Edit: Jan 7th, 2016 at 11:13pm by footsore »  
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trusty222
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #1 - Dec 23rd, 2015 at 4:42am
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well done footsore, plenty of work gone into that

hot barrels
  

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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #2 - Dec 23rd, 2015 at 5:59am
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trusty222 wrote on Dec 23rd, 2015 at 4:42am:
well done footsore, plenty of work gone into that

hot barrels

Couldn't agree more, great job.
  

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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #3 - Dec 23rd, 2015 at 6:48am
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Cheers guys, just giving a little back to the forum community that has helped me along my way.
Please add to threads with your own knowledge/experiences.
  
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #4 - Dec 23rd, 2015 at 9:54am
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EC wrote on Dec 23rd, 2015 at 5:59am:
trusty222 wrote on Dec 23rd, 2015 at 4:42am:
well done footsore, plenty of work gone into that

hot barrels

Couldn't agree more, great job.


+2, could be a great help to new hunters, good, thoughtful effort.
  

Get as close as you can, then get a bit closer.
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #5 - Mar 21st, 2016 at 12:21am
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Some great examples.  Good presentation skills.
  
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #6 - Mar 28th, 2016 at 8:45pm
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What an awesome thread. Cheers for posting
  
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #7 - Apr 24th, 2016 at 11:04am
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Great post, thanks for putting in the effort. Answered a number of questions I'd wondered about for ages. Cheers
  
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #8 - Apr 9th, 2017 at 10:19pm
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This post is exactly what I needed. Cheers
  
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #9 - Apr 14th, 2017 at 7:45am
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Your welcome Brett, I hope the tracking info brings you more productive results than they did for me this Roar  Undecided Undecided
  
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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #10 - Jan 16th, 2018 at 7:22pm
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I just learnt some stuff. Thanks Footsore.
  

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Re: Deer Sign -Tracks
Reply #11 - Mar 22nd, 2018 at 11:22am
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No worries Rumpy, glad it was of interest.
  
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