Although you can find big buck tracks in snow by aimlessly walking through the woods, having more consistent success requires a more refined approach. If this is your first time tracking or first time tracking in a particular area and you don’t have any history with the area it will save you time and energy by planning ahead.
Now that you have the proper gear and are prepared for tracking from reading my previous post Essential Gear for Tracking Big Woods Bucks in Snow, you are ready to set out to find big buck tracks.
Finding Big Buck Tracks In Snow
Big bucks aren’t everywhere and in order to find a big track you’re going to want to look in the best places for finding big bucks. Your success finding a big buck track is also highly dependent upon the time of year and the phase of the rut.
Since bucks are changing behavior as the season progresses, so should your approach. Honing in on specific areas during specific times of year will reward you with the most success. Let’s get started with the process:
Scouting For Bedding Areas, Food Sources, And Pinch Points
I use Google Earth to preliminarily scout new locations with aerial imagery. Whitetails, no matter where they live, need food, water, and shelter. Big bucks in remote forest settings key in on two main habitats: At the edge of dense greenery on top of mountains where they have a visual advantage, or swamps where high stem count offers food, concealment, and a hearing advantage over advancing predators. These are the main bedding areas for bucks in big woods settings. These can be seen from aerial imagery and topographic imagery. Big woods bucks aren’t as picky about bedding as deer in more developed settings.
Clear-cuts are also easily visible on imagery and are great food sources for deer. Locating areas to hunt near mountains or swamps near clear cuts can be a good idea as bucks will use these and will keep tabs on the does that use them.
To learn more about how to scout deer using Google Earth check out my post: How to Scout Deer using Google Earth.
OnX Hunt App
Since I have onX Hunt’s paid membership I have access to their online WebMap Application. I use this tool instead of Google Earth when it comes to topography. OnX allows you to use Hybrid imagery which is aerial imagery with topo lines overlaid on top. This makes it easy to see both swamps and mountains in an area. I can then mark mountains, funnels, ridges, and swamps with waypoints using onX and it will automatically be transferred to my phone’s OnX app. This way I’ll have those points when I’m out hunting or scouting.
If the onX WebMap Application sounds like something you would be interested in, you can start your free trial here: onX Hunt Free Trial.
Using The Rut Phases To Find Big Woods Buck Tracks
Before the rut kicks off, bucks aren’t moving very far. Tracks are hard to find at this time of year because of this. This is generally the entire first week of the season. They are locked down in their favorite spots in swamps and on mountaintops. If you do find a big track there’s a good chance you can catch up to him for this reason. To find a track at this time of year skirt the edges of swamps and softwoods knolls of mountains.
The areas and that big bucks in the big woods spend their time during the pre-rut are very similar to smaller parcels just at a much grander scale. For example, in smaller parcels of land where there is a lot of hunting pressure bucks seek hills, points of ridges, and swamps for protection in order to have the upper hand. These areas have offered them the best protection from predators which is why big bucks have chosen these areas.
I’ve also noticed that the rut phases are delayed depending on the climate/average temperature of the region you are hunting. This also has an effect on average deer body size. Check out my post on this subject: When is the Whitetail Rut in Maine?
As the season progresses bucks are on the move and it is easier to find big buck tracks because they’ve come out of their hiding holes and are searching for does. The land is vast, and they cover a lot of ground. During this time of the year I still key in on the mountains and swamps because I hope to catch a tired buck sleeping in these areas where they feel safe. In addition to these areas, topography funnels, known travel corridors, and areas you’ve seen does can be great places to check as well.
Usually, towards the end of the second week most bucks will be chasing in the northern 2/3 of Maine. This will continue throughout the 3rd week, and slowly tapers off into the final weeks. The downside is bucks are tough to catch up to, you may never catch up to a rutting buck on a mission for does.
Post-Rut/ Late Season
At the end of the season when snow is getting deep, deer move to their wintering yards. You can sometimes find a nice buck near these wintering areas checking for does. Does, fawns, and small bucks head to the yard first. But having more does congregated is a benefit bucks take advantage of. I’ll often head to the wintering area cedar swamps at this time to pick up a track. Often though, old big bucks will stay away from wintering yards until later if it’s a mild winter and it may prove beneficial to hunt mountains or non-wintering swamps to find the biggest bucks.
I prefer cedar swamps at this time of year because the deer are naturally gravitating towards them for shelter, forage, and late-season breeding. Plus it’s a lot easier walking in the swamps than going up and down mountains when the snow is getting deep. Winter migration trails can also be a good place to intercept a buck’s track. These are areas that the smaller deer are taking to get to the wintering yard. If there is a doe or fawn in heat, you can bet a buck will be on that trail at some point.
I hope this post has helped you navigate where to find big buck tracks in the snow. If you have any questions leave them in the comment box or on my social media accounts below. Now that you know where to find a big buck’s track, it’s time to learn How to Read and Judge Big Buck Tracks.