How to Read Deer Tracks

How to Read Deer Tracks

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For many people, finding new deer tracks is the start of a lifelong quest to get a better understanding of deer and their climate. If you’ve ever come across these two toed hoof tracks in the mud, you know the feeling of intrigue and excitement that comes with realizing that a wild animal was standing right here not long before.

Deer are an excellent place to begin your tracking adventure because their tracks are among the most familiar and simplest to find and follow. The print of a deer’s cloven hoof is shaped like a broken heart. The pointing end is facing forward. Size varies widely from region to region and subspecies to subspecies. On reasonably rough terrain, most tracks are 2 to 3 inches long. If they are much bigger, they were most likely made by a fawn.

Their prints will show a lot of what’s going on with the animals in your field if you know what to look for. Almost all of your deer hunting has been sit-and-wait. The routine is the same whether you sit in a tree or a field blind: Pattern the deer, set up your stand, sound the bell, and harvest your buck. That’s great, but haven’t you always tried to track a deer in the snow like those Maine and Montana big-woods hunters? You’ll need a new range of skills here, and now is a good time to hone them. You don’t need your rifle to begin, at least not right away—just your perseverance. Here are a few hints to help you identify a deer trail.

What Do Deer Tracks Look Like?

how to read deer tracks

Deer tracks are distinguished by two hoofed toes that meet at the front of the track. Adult deer tracks range in length from 1 to 4 inches and thickness from.75 to 2.8 inches. Of course, the size of the deer depends on a lot of things, including the deer’s age/sex and also the area you’re tracking in.

There are several different varieties of deer in the world, and depending on where you live, the local species can vary slightly in size, preferred ecology, and even personality characteristics. Some of the best deer tracks can be seen in damp sand or shallow mud. In deep mud, it’s also possible to see an extra pair of vestigial toes at the back of the track, known as “dew claws.” These dew claws can be used in thick mud or snow. Alternatively, when the deer is running quicker than their normal walking rhythm.

Have an eye out for dew claws so you don’t get confused the first time you see them. The best thing about deer footprints is that, since they are such heavy hoofed species, they can always be found in tough substrates such as leaf litter in the trees. Despite the lack of detail, closer inspection reveals the deer’s pointed heart-shaped footprints. Certain hoofed species such as moose, elk, and goats are the few other footprints that may be mistaken with deer tracks. However, if you review the photos in this post, take samples, and compare them to your local organisms, you should be able to tell the difference.

Now that you know how to recognize deer footprints, let’s look at some more technical interpretations of their trails.

How To Determine Direction Of Travel

It’s extremely simple to determine the direction of movement for deer: Always keep in mind that deer footprints always lead in the direction of movement. And when the toes are splayed apart in deep substrates like clay, the individual toes narrow to a point in front. Dew claws can surface at the back of the track if you can see them. The front of the track would usually dip much further than the rear. This can be subtle, but it is also helpful when the tracks are hazy.

Look for these basic cues and you’ll soon realize how simple it is to determine which way a deer is going. Now that we know which way to go, we can begin reading the actual trail.

This is where things start to get interesting.

Reading Deer Trails

When you come across a series of deer tracks, it’s important that you don’t stop looking for the first track. While a single track can validate the identification and direction of a deer, it is just the beginning of what we can discover from researching deer trails in greater depth. We need to see more prints if we want to see where a deer is headed and get some more insight into what’s going on and why..

Finding a full series of tracks relating to all four feet (Left front, Left hind, Right front, Right hind) would have the most interpretation. If you can find all four of these tracks in a row, you’ll be able to do some truly impressive tracking.This can be difficult at first, but it’s really very easy when broken down into left vs. right and front vs. hind.Finding all four feet will train the eyes to pick up on even more nuanced detail on the track.

It will also provide you with crucial insight into the deer’s actions, emotional state, and potential intentions, allowing you to anticipate where the next footprint will be before you can see it. Reading trails is a major part of how professional trackers can chase deer through nearly difficult terrain and make logical jumps that seem to non-trackers to be sorcery.

Identifying Left VS Right Deer Tracks

Identifying the left and right side tracks is the first step in locating all four feet of a deer trail.
Take a step back to look at the entire trail rather than the individual trails to do this.
Stand on one foot on either side of the trail and imagine an imaginary path running straight up the middle when you look up the trail.

If you’re working with a more difficult layer, such as leaf litter, you may find it useful to mark the track positions with popsicle sticks before standing back so you can study the pattern more easily.

It’s also a good idea to start by practicing locating lefts and rights on the trail of a single deer.
When coping with a herd and several trails that intersect, this exercise will easily become overly complex, so keep it simple at first!
Now that we have the left and right tracks, we should look for the fronts and hinds.

Finding The Front & Hind Tracks

The simplest way to distinguish deer front and hind tracks is to use either the left or right side and compare two consecutive tracks on that side only. Simply choose the side that seems to be the clearest and zoom in to thoroughly examine these two songs.

The biggest point to note is that a deer’s front tracks are much larger than its hind tracks. This is a slight variation, so you’ll have to get down and look closely, so if you see the size difference, you’ve got it! Another excellent indicator of front vs. hind – Deer sometimes walk with their hind foot partially on top of their front foot. Since the front foot land first, the one on top is the hind.

This works when deer wander in a partial direct register, which is a fairly normal phenomenon, so keep an eye out for it. By using deductive logic, we can also identify all four feet, including the left, hand, front, and hind.

Deer Gait Analysis: Walks, Trots & Gallops

how to read deer tracks

Now that we have all four paws, we can make some educated guesses on how deer move. At the most simplistic stage, we now have a clear way to estimate average travel speed by calculating the real distance between tracks. Walking, trotting, and galloping are the three basic gaits used to describe how quickly a deer moves.

A deer’s favorite mode of travel is a stroll. A stroll can reveal tracks in pairs of two – a front and a hind, alternating from side to side. The width between these two sets will be between 13 and 26 inches (33-66 cm). Still calculate the stride of a deer’s gait from the same track to the same track, as seen in the picture above, which measures the distance from left front to left front.

When you find a deer track, they will usually be going in a pattern identical to this.
Walking is the deer’s normal “baseline” movement style. They like to travel in this manner because it saves energy and allows them to remain alert to surrounding noises and bird alarms.
When deer run quicker than this, at a trot or a gallop, we get valuable hints on what’s going on because it reflects a change in emotional state.

At first sight, deer trotting can appear to be a walk. However, taking measurements would reveal that the tracks cover much more distance (29-56 in) while landing much tighter into the middle of the trail.There is a significant improvement in the direction a deer moves, and it is a noticeable change in action when you first see it.In certain instances, the back tracks would also log directly into the front tracks.When deer need to cover a short distance but are not in immediate pursuit or threat, they will trot.This indicates a heightened level of curiosity in a deer, but it is not always an indication of immediate danger.

A gallop is where you see four tracks in a row, followed by an open area, and then another set of four tracks. Gallops are a sign of intense feeling. This type of movement necessitates a high level of energy production, but it occurs only because there is a real need to run as quickly as possible.

This is what the footprints would look like if you startle a deer and it flees at high speed. It’s one potential sign the deer are aware of your presence and feel intimidated. Of course, there are several minor variants on these three gait styles, so this will give you a clear outline for how to begin reading deer tracks. Knowing these gaits will finally help you take clues from trail patterns to better anticipate where the next tracks will be. This is particularly crucial when your aim is to track deer over rough terrain.

Following And Trailing Deer

Now that we have a clear sense of the trail, it’s time to start following and learning about how deer use your landscape.

If you’re fortunate enough to have long stretches of sand or snow, you should be able to comfortably trace their tracks in certain ways. However, it can take time and practice to hone your “seeing skills” in more difficult situations. At first, you’ll only be able to track deer in plain substrates such as sand, dirt, and snow. This would be the best early chance to get acquainted with the various track trends.

Then, as you grow more used to seeing and reading deer tracks, it will become easier to follow in more difficult circumstances. When chasing deer, your target should always be to learn as much as possible about deer. Don’t just follow tracks blindly without activating the tracker’s mind. The more you will understand about their habitual habits and behaviour, the better it would be to find them and forecast the most possible situations in the future.

Other Signs Of Deer

When finding deer, you can look for more than just trails. Deer scat is easily identified as a group of small pellets with small dimples and a pointed tip.

When you see deer traveling around the borders of fields, watch for cut off grass with frayed edges.Try to learn their favorite food sources at all times of year and this would greatly assist you in predicting where to find them. In the fall, look for new scrapes and signs of rut activity.

How To Tell Male vs Female Deer From Their Tracks

It may be difficult to tell male from female based on tracks alone, but there are some hints to bear in mind.

  1. Over the spring and summer, if you find very small tracks mixed in with bigger tracks in a pack, it is most definitely a female group with fawns.
  2. Males have larger necks, while females have larger hips. As a result, the front tracks in males will land just beyond the hinds. The hinds of females will land just beyond the fronts.
  3. Tracks at the larger end of the size spectrum are most likely adult males.
  4. If you see big solitary tracks in the fall, it’s almost certainly a male, particularly if there are signs of rut behavior, such as scrapes and rubs.
  5. Solitary tracks are much more likely to be males at all times of year, but bachelor parties may be encountered in the spring and summer, so don’t focus solely on this.
  6. Often look for several hints to help or refute the male vs female theory.


Deer meat is one of the most nutritious forms of animal protein for humans. Hunting deer is almost certainly a one-of-a-kind event, whether you get a massive one or not. Of course, your focus should always be to be on goal, fast, and humane in your kill, but sometimes just interacting with nature in the great outdoors is enough to lift your spirits.

If you want to maximize your odds of success while still having fun, then this article would be very useful in assisting you in correctly identifying deer tracks every time.

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