Years ago I learned something about old bucks with large racks, they typically knew when you walked IN the woods, and they knew when you walked OUT. In this latter occasion, I found that indeed, there were times I was being literally escorted as I made my way out in the dark; happened on an occasion in Nelson County, Virginia when hunting with a friend of mine in 1989 and it sounded like a VERY large animal was back behind me (almost too close for comfort) as I left my stand that evening in the darkness and on several occasions with one particular deer I nicknamed “The Sentinel”, a large buck in Amherst County, Virginia who managed to escort me out to the edge of the woods more than once, following about 40 yards behind me, could hear his footsteps back there when I would stop and could hear his nostrils flaring at the edge of the woods once I would get out into the open, he would say “goodbye” with a snort and a stomp of his foot. Does that make me a bad hunter? No, it’s just one smart deer! Give them credit for being as smart as they are! There are a lot of hunters who hunt legally with dogs in that area, and the fact that he had made it for years under those circumstances made him one wily opponent who knew those woods better than anyone ever could, whether dog or man. No matter what was thrown at that deer, he survived. He just KNEW. He knew how to circle back without ever exposing himself in daylight, especially to the guys who let their dogs out and then stood there legal distanced off the road with 10 gauge shotguns loaded with 00 Buckshot waiting for something to break in front of them. It was pretty obvious he stationed himself where he could see people entering his section of the woods from the road from a vantage point on the hill with a view of about ¼ mile each direction; no one was going to surprise him. I learned from this guy, respected that deer and knew if I was ever going to get him as a stalking and portable treestand hunter, I would need a hunting partner involved. There was going to have to be more than ONE of me to get him to make a mistake; to use that tendency to follow me out of the woods to his detriment. I never got that opportunity to act upon and finish the cat and mouse game with him because I moved from that region of Virginia when my company closed in 1992 due to the construction recession. He won by my withdrawal.
When hunting in the Adirondacks of New York one year, where I was raised; I likewise had an awakening of sorts. My older brother had come across from Vermont with a few of his seasoned hunting buddies and met at our family cabin on Cranberry Lake up there off of Route 3. There was an area I knew was frequented and I had hunted and scouted in previous years, and so we thought we would focus on this area located near a beaver pond, not too far from the highway on state land. There was a fresh snow on the ground from the previous evening as we made our way into the woods. What appeared to be the center of a bucks “world” was a large beech tree, the trunk huge in diameter, it was obvious he visited this tree often, and so using it as our center, we fanned out each about 100 yards away in different directions in the early morning before sunrise and settled in to wait on him, but as we approached lunch time, he was still a no show. As discussed between us earlier, we met at noon back out at the cars and headed out to Wanakena Station to a place called The Pine Cone where you can get the finest cheeseburger the Adirondacks has to offer, and with contented stomachs, headed back to hunt the afternoon. What our eyes saw next as we re-entered the woods amazed each of us. The buck had been back, and not only was he aware that we had been there near HIS tree; he made a statement about it. The buck had taken its antlers and scraped up our tracks in the snow in the area of the tree, obviously VERY upset that we had been there! Dirt and leaves were strewn everywhere across the snow where our tracks had been. OK, so this deer wasn’t going down easy, he knew when we came in and he knew when we left, pretty obvious; and he had a MAJOR attitude. A different technique was going to have to be used to get him, and that very awareness was going to be used against him. We calculated which knoll he had to be using to have such a clear vision of our activities. A PLAN was made for several of us to leave, get in our cars and drive to the west end of the ridge he was using and get up in trees spaced about 100 yards apart in a line north to south, and then the remaining hunters would “dog” back and forth from the east around each side of the beaver pond and that knoll and see if we could make him goof enough to be seen by one of the sharpshooters. We ended the day with an 8 point buck due to recognizing that this deer was capable of seeing us enter and leave the woods, teamwork and a plan. Venison was dinner that night for a group of hungry hunters; an Infantry Vietnam Vet Vermonter named Chuck had made the shot, but I got lots of credit and thanks for putting us in the right place; changing tactics and making the plan that would put meat on the table, as well as for skinning out and processing the deer as I usually do at deer camp. Like a wolf pack, hunters who work in unison have a better chance of bringing down a free ranging aware animal with no barriers such as never ending miles of forest as is the Adirondacks. A buck who positions himself so that he can see you or anyone get out of their vehicle is going to be a tough animal to trick by yourself unless you somehow catch him moving to feed before a storm. Deer in the North Country of the Adirondacks take their feeding before a snow storm very seriously as they may have feet of snow to contend with, not just inches, so caution gets thrown to the wind a bit when a storm is approaching and you can see deer just feeding like madmen before it hits, it’s how I got a buck near that same beaver pond before, just wandering with his head down trying to get all he could before the snow started flying. There was 7 inches of snow within just one hour after I shot that deer at 3:30 in the afternoon. Knowing to hunt pre-snowstorm can also help you increase your odds. Just be sure that YOU are prepared for the weather yourself!
The ultimate example of how deer follow you out of the woods came for me and my hunting partner (now over 30 years of hunting together and still going strong…) Kirk Wells down in Chester, South Carolina. We headed out to a large farm Kirk had permission to hunt on with multiple pastures with wooded areas between and beyond, lots of oaks and a creek winding thru. A friend of Kirks; “Coach Jerry” as we called him since he was a local football coach, was hunting with us that morning but would be leaving come mid-day for other things on his schedule. This was taken into consideration as we decided who was going to hunt where; and such things should be thought about when you are hunting with others, because yes, it CAN make a huge difference in your hunt and how many animals those remaining in the woods will see; and unlike many might think, someone walking past you while you are hunting can be a VERY GOOD THING if you are sitting still! If there is one concept to learn it is that DEER FOLLOW PEOPLE! TRUE! Kirk took position in a tree stand at the lower meadow along the creek at the bottom of the first wooded hill, down from the large open pasture where we parked our vehicles on top of the rise, where they would not be seen from the second lower meadow or woods. From his position, kirk could monitor the woods that made the barrier between the two pastures and all the way down the lower pasture and creek as well as the lower wood edge of the next oak strewn hillside. Jerry and I went across the lower pasture and up a trail into the second set of woods, where I cut off and set up a couple hundred yards off the trail in the oaks. Jerry went back the furthest, setting up in a stand back deepest into the pines on top of that ridge. The morning was beautiful, sunshine, I watched a doe feed amongst the acorns below me, hoping she would bring a buck in; but wasn’t to be that morning. No, all the action waited until Jerry decided to leave the woods. At about 11:30 am; I heard him walk out down the trail and out to the lower pasture. Funny. What’s that noise? There was more movement on the trail, but I was unfortunately too far away and had a thicket in between to get a clear view. I heard Jerry open his truck door up on the pasture of the opposite hill, start his truck and begin bouncing across the pasture in his Ford. BOOM! … BOOM! …… and then BOOM! The roar of my hunting partners 7mm mag bolt action Remington blasted the remaining silence from the north end of the lower meadow three times in the course of 7 seconds with a slight pause between the second and third shots. Ok, now here is where most of us would figure that Kirk had taken a shot and missed or wounded a deer and took two more to track and finish the job, but; I know my hunting partner Kirk better than that. The guy almost never misses no matter how difficult a shot is and he doesn’t waste ammo either; just one of the reasons why we get along so well! I gave it some time and focused on listening for any rebounding deer coming back my way, but nothing for a good 4 minutes. It was time to get down and see what transpired. So quietly out to the trail I go and down to the pasture, whistling as I step out of the woods. I see a healthy thick racked 6 point deer lying right in front of me. I see another buck off to my left laid out; that one is a good sized spike buck. I look back to the northeast at Kirk as he is walking up and next thing he is telling me to go down to the end of the pasture to where the creek cuts across it to look for a third buck fallen down along the fence line. I can’t find anything. No. Wait. Blood trail! Got it! Laying there in some thicket partially in the creek is an 8 point buck that didn’t get away. Not one deer had followed Jerry out of the woods, but THREE of them had literally escorted him out and stopped and watched from the edge of the woods as he climbed the hill back up to the pasture where his truck was parked, then celebrated him leaving by making the biggest mistake of their lives by stepping out into the pasture to celebrate his departure; in full sight of Kirk. The eight pointer was the last to make the move into the open down the wood edge as the others started falling. The PLAN had worked. Our tactic of staggering our exit intentionally with crossover had led to success. Observing that these situations truly do occur and using that knowledge as a regular part of our strategy has become part of our hunting technique.
So, when you are hunting with a partner or others, try to stagger your departure; leaving the last man to leave the woods be the one closest to the exit, first man out come from the farthest position back, let him lead the deer past the others KNOWING that bucks WILL follow you out of the woods; and let the exiting hunter clear ALL THE WAY to the vehicles, then get down a few minutes later if nothing follows. But I can assure you; this technique WILL put meat on the table more times than just once. It’s good to have a stationary designated hitter when leaving the woods; do it intentionally and as a team you will score more deer. You follow me?
Best wishes for your upcoming hunting season! Have a PLAN and follow it.