By Milton F. WhitmoreMyth:
A traditional story or unknown authorship, ostensibly with a historical basis, but serving usually to explain some phenomenon of nature, the origins of man, or the customs, institutions, religious rites, etc. of a people.
That is how Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines the work “myth”.
Deer hunting lore and legend is not immune to myth making and despite evidence to the contrary, deer hunters pass along these delusions every season in every year. Let’s debunk some of these fabrications, or at best half-truths about deer and deer hunting.
You can tell a buck’s age by the size of its antlers:
While it is true that older bucks tend to have larger, more massive headgear, that is not always the case. Antler size is controlled by several factors including genetics, physical condition of the animal, food supply, and in the case of a year and a half old buck, the timing of its birth. Late born bucks, research has shown, tend to have spikes as their first set of antlers.
Deer always travel into the wind:
This truism has been around since the Flintstones. Deer will get to their feeding, watering, and bedding areas no matter what the wind is. If the wind is from the wrong direction for several days do you suppose the deer will starve rather than travel to a food source? NOT! Many times, even alarmed deer will move downwind. The biggest antlered buck that I ever saw while hunting did just that in making his escape. He used his eyes to detect danger that might lie in his path.
Deer never look up:
Wrong again! Deer look up when they see or hear something out of the norm and they CAN pick out strange objects sitting in a tree high above their line of sight. Several years ago I had placed a stand in a small triangular piece of woodlot that sat a bit out in an overgrown field away from the surrounding woods. Tracks and trails told me that it was a gathering point for whitetails as they moved to and from the woods to their feeding areas in the evening and bedding territory. Several fresh scrapes and rubs spoke of a buck or two also using this transition zone.
I placed a treestand with my seat at about seventeen feet from the ground. On the first evening I hunted the stand, a dandy buck, sporting eight points on a spread of about 16,” came sauntering down the trail from the woodlot to the north of me. As I had expected the deer cut across the triangular patch of trees heading for a scrapeline that traversed the bordering woodland.
As the deer approached from my left I saw that he would pass almost directly beneath my position in a very large and well branched maple tree. It was then that I noticed the sound of an airplane passing overhead, its single propeller driving into the air. The plane was high enough so that it seemed to move slowly and its engine noise settled to the ground around my stand. The deer also noticed, apparently, the plane’s noise because he casually looked skyward and unfortunately in my direction. That buck almost fell over backward, startled by that strange object way up in a tree. He bounded off, stopping about 25 yards away and stood there in puzzled amazement. He KNEW something was wrong and the gig was up. After a few minutes the buck slowly moved off down the trail, disappearing into the woods ,bent on checking his scrapes for any sign of a ready doe in heat.
Make a small, almost indiscernible noise while in a deer stand in the presence of deer and watch how quickly they will look up. Deer have learned that danger can come from above.
Bucks, especially those of trophy size, always bed in the thickest of cover:
While this may be true at times, it is not always the case. Three of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen were bedded in relatively open cover. One was hunkered down in a patch of waist -high weeds and grass between two very open, small woodlots. My Dad and I jumped the deer on our way to the car after hunting one opening morning. We missed!
Two other bucks were seen in blueberry bogs. Both were bedded with their backs to the wind and were looking out over the open bog. These deer, as were others that I’ve taken in similar bogs, were bedded out in the blueberry bushes about 20 yards from the edge of the low land. These were both wall hangers and one of them adorns my living room wall.
Deer instinctively have a need to use ALL of their senses in order to stay alive. This includes vision. A deer wants to see what’s out there and this has an impact on where they bed for security. Hills and ridges in open or fairly open woodlands are prime bedding areas for deer of all sizes, including those buster bucks that we so crave.
Alarmed a deer will run for miles:
NOT! Whitetails seldom run for more than a few hundred yards. They do not want to leave their home range and especially their prime security cover. More likely than not, a spooked deer will run a few hundred yards before stopping to check its back trail. Sooner, rather than later, the deer will begin to circle, using its well tuned nose to sense danger, and move back to its security territory.
Big bucks are more elusive than does:
We don’t see big bucks because they are few in number. In the best managed whitetail range the buck to doe ratio is 2 to 1. In the vast majority of a deer’s range the ratio is far more in favor of does than bucks and only 5% of these bucks have antlers that stand out.
The rut lasts only a few days:
Wrong! The rut actually is spread out over two or more months. Bucks can breed at any time after their first year. Does are in estrus for 24-36 hours. The estrus cycle for some does, especially the older ones, begins much earlier than that of others. It is these older, earlier-in-heat does that are the cause of scrapes being seen in early to mid-October. If a doe is not breed she will come into heat once again in about 28 days. This cycle will continue until she is successfully bred by a buck.
Big bucks are roamers:
Certainly during the peak of the rut, when most of the does in a given area are in heat, a buster buck will roam further. However, they do this mainly at night. Whitetails become very vulnerable when they stray into unfamiliar territory. If they do so during hunting seasons most of them never make it back “home.”
The middle of the day is useless for hunting:
“Gong!” Especially when pressured, deer will move throughout the day. During the rut bucks will move about at all hours, including those around noon, in search of a ready doe. Simply put they are “horny” looking for action.
If you find a lot of scrapes in an area, it means a big buck is nearby:
Smaller bucks make smaller and more scrapes. Older, mature bucks make large scrapes, double, triple, and larger than those of an adolescent. Most hunters have never seen the scrape of a mature whitetail. They can be measured in at least a yard and many times multiple yards.
Bucks rub trees in order to remove their velvet:
This is one enduring whitetail myth that has seen its day at last. Few hunters believe this anymore. Bucks rub trees to mark their territory. It’s as simple as that.
A full moon has a negative effect on hunting:
Scientific research in several states has shown that the second full moon after the autumnal equinox (first day of fall) starts the rut in northern states. Deer will be on the move.
When hunting in brushy cover it pays to use a heavier, slower bullets (30-30, .35, etc.) so as to bust the brush:
Tests have proven that high velocity, pointed bullets such as a .270 and 30-06 are a bit more efficient at penetrating brush than their slower kin. However neither is really proficient at penetrating woody brush. Small branches are capable of deflecting any bullet.
These are all deer hunting myths, some held dear to those who chase whitetails and they need to be put to rest, perhaps in a place of honor as deer hunting lore goes, but put to rest nevertheless.