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Finding the tracks of a big deer like this one can be the first step in a successful deer hunt.

Whether the effort is successful or not, it’s the chase that provides the excitement in a day’s deer hunting.

ONE OF the reasons that I like using a fish finder is that even if I don’t catch a fish, I can be certain of their existence.

Andy Schafermeyer Adventures Afield

With this single device, I can visualize the swimming, feeding and overall movement of a creature that may never come within 50 feet of me. It is a satisfying observation even if I get skunked on the water.

Lately, I have made a similar observation encountering tracks when deer hunting. Finding a set of fresh tracks not only verifies the existence of an animal that I’m pursuing, it builds the excitement of knowing that I may be close to one, and validates my love for the sport.

I’ve been lucky the last two deer seasons in that snow has fallen before opening day and my preferred method of tracking and hunting is available. I seem to get a boost in motivation and a slight helping hand in the whole process.

My day will begin by driving to a predetermined location before daylight. Most of these sights were selected during the October bird season and inventoried mentally while waiting for mid-November. An early-morning arrival helps to insure that I will have a spot all to myself and allows me a slow, relaxed approach to hunting.

Often, I will find a fresh track crossing the road I’m traveling on. Driving slowly, eyes intently on the road and fresh snow, I look for the definitive sign of a deer moving. Once I find something, putting the puzzle together begins.

I need to inspect the track seeking to answer two questions.

First, whether or not it is fresh and second, if it is the track of a buck or a doe. Sometimes I reason that both criteria are met and begin my hunt right there. Other times, I investigate tracks and move on, looking for different traits.

Whatever method eventually leads me to deer tracks, I always end up parking my truck, marking its location on my GPS, and slowly creeping after the weary animal.

So begins the process of following an animal’s movement and understanding its biology.

I enjoy the challenge of estimating the size of a deer based on its gait and stride. I try to estimate how much weight it would take to leave an impression in semi-frozen earth.

As the track leads me to feeding areas or those to find a potential mate, I often encounter different footprints and imagine the interaction. Perhaps a small-button buck was chased off or a doe was intently followed for a while. There are many possibilities and these intriguing aspects of hunting are what keep me interested.

The thrill of the hunt really intensifies when I read from the tracks that I’ve spooked the deer. It may have smelled or heard me and picks up its pace in an attempt to avoid contact.

Over time, it will slow down again and begin to feed or rest. Eventually, I recognize that I, the tracks and the deer are very close to one another. I slow everything down including my breathing. Between every step, I look around for several minutes. I listen for movement and I smell for rutting deer. It becomes important to plan every step before taking it and I’m careful not to make any noise.

Sometimes the process culminates with a shot fired and a deer on the ground. Sometimes, this is the beginning of a more laboring tracking of an injured animal. Sometimes I look up just in time to see the deer running away and I head back to my truck.

Whatever happens, tracking a deer can provide an exciting opportunity for contact that doesn’t have to end with one in your freezer.

Adventures Afield with Andy Schafermeyer appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Andy at troutandsalmon1@gmail.com.