White-tailed deer are widespread in our area and can be seen often along wooded edges or making a mad dash across the road. Even if you don’t see them, there are signs to look for that shows their presence.
Tracks: Deer tracks show a cloven hoof with 2 long narrow toes that vary from 1 ½ to 3 inches long. They are wide towards the front and taper towards the back. A print made in snow or deep mud may have 2 marks behind the cloven hoof. These are from the dewclaws, which are 2 small toes farther up on the deer’s foot. When walking, deer place their hind feet in or near the prints of their forefeet, so the prints often overlap.
Scat: Most of the year deer droppings are small piles of dark cylindrical pellets. Each pellet often has a pointed end and a flat or concave end. They are usually about ¾ inches long and about 3/8 inches in diameter. During the spring and early summer, when deer are feeding on succulent vegetation, the pellets are softer and may stick together and form into large, soft droppings.
Trails: Deer often use regular routes through their home range that become worn-down trails, looking like narrow footpaths. The trails are usually clear of shrubs and low vegetation, but are not bare earth. Other animals often use the trails, including me. They are often the easiest routes through rough terrain.
Bedding: A matted, flattened area of vegetation 3 to 4 feet long and 2 to 3 feet wide. Deer usually bed in areas of dense cover and may return to the same spot over many days. I have also seen bedding sign in hay fields near woodland edges. There may be several bedding areas in the same vicinity.
Rubs: These are scrapes on trees and shrubs made by a buck rubbing his antlers against the vegetation. Early rubs are made around September when the antlers have fully developed and the buck rubs off the velvet that covers the antlers during their development. These early wounds may only tear a little bark. More conspicuous rubs show up in October where large sections of bark may be torn. These are territorial markings and meant to be seen. Scent marks are often placed on the tree at the same time by an enlarged scent gland located on the buck’s forehead. Research shows that bucks favor certain sizes and species of trees. One study showed that rub trees tended to be about 1 inch in diameter and 6 feet tall. Pine, cherry, red-cedar, and sumac appear to be favored species. They all have aromatic bark and perhaps give added scent to the rub mark. Other characteristics of rub trees include few lower branches and generally smooth barked. Each rub is used only once, and rubs tend to be clustered in a given area.