Tracking: Not for the Weak or Fainthearted
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
What is the make-up of a successful deer hunter on public land in the Northeast, specifically, in the National Forest? Two words..."Intestinal fortitude". Two words I quickly learned the meaning of during my service to this great country. Intestinal fortitude carries the same importance to me as it did 19 years ago, but with less dire consequences. It means courage and the endurance to keep going. In one word..."grit". Based on my experience as a deer tracker, it is the most important attribute of a deer tracker and it can make you or break you.
Tracking bucks in the in the National Forest of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont can quickly break the spirit of even the most avid hunter. In the National Forests, this is especially true. Here, there are few areas where you can ride the roads and look for tracks in comparison to the vast areas in Maine. In New Hampshire, most forestry gates close as muzzeloader season opens. So, your only mode of transportation in this case is your feet. You may have to log a few miles on your feet before you ever cut a buck track, let alone any track. This discourages many hunters from stepping foot in the National Forest. If they do try, they rarely venture far from the main road. Most don't even get to this point though while contemplating a hunt here. They look out in the vast woods from their pickup truck and think, "well, what the hell am I gonna do if I shoot one way in there?", since any motorized vehicle is prohibited. The big woods can be intimidating and can have an obvious affect on their confidence. They love the thought of tracking down a big buck, read all the books, watch all the videos, wear all the right clothes, but lack the knowledge and confidence to navigate and be successful in the big woods. Confidence can also be shaken by poor marksmanship. They are unfamiliar with their weapon and/or don't put the time in to be proficent with their weapon, thus, lack the confidence to make a shot on a running buck. This makes hunters hesitate or fail to take the shot that may have been taken had they become more proficient.
Let's say a hunter conquers all these mental "obstacles" , there's one more critical aspect of being a deer tracker on public land...mindset. Mindset is comprised of various mental attributes. You cannot be a person who is "weak and fainthearted". You need to be mentally strong. Being mentally strong allows you to be able to work through the highs and lows of tracking deer, because there will be many. It will even help you conquer your physical weakness. Part of mindset is confidence. A mature buck can wear you down both physically and mentally in the big woods. You need to have confidence. Confidence, not bravado, is essential. You must feel that whenever you step in the woods, you will kill your buck. It's like fighting, if you think you're gonna lose...you will...badly. Focus and keeping focus is tiring. You cannot let your mind play games with you though while you're on the track. Nothing should matter while your in the woods except getting your buck. When I feel I'm close, I hunt the buck as though it's hunting me. All senses are in tune.
Weather. I get asked questions about weather all the time. I was going to have a separate blog about this topic, but I feel this topic certainly plays on the mind of hunters. Weather keeps more hunters out of the woods than you can shake a stick at. They will make excuses based on this article and that article that talks about what weather and/or what moon phase is best to harvest a buck. Here's the reality I've experienced in life. Hunt when you can! Deer season is a priority in my life and I'm blessed to have a wife that understands this about me, so, I sacrifice throughout the year so that I can hunt most of the deer season. Most people are not as fortunate and get a week (if that). I've been there, it can be nerve racking. So what does that mean? Get in the woods! I've shot more deer in conditions where most hunters stay home and I certainly couldn't remember what type of moon it was the night before (I don't care). Remember, everyday in the woods is great! If the weather is ideal, that's a bonus. The reality in the Northeast is our weather is bi-polar, so you just need to saddle-up and get after it! Your trophy is out there, so go get him!
A relatively new challenge hunters have now is social media. The affect social media has on the hunter psyche is profound. It's awesome to see successful hunters posing with their massive bucks. They are impressive and magnificent creatures and these photos remind us of what could be...but don't let it play on your mind. In other words...don't believe the hype. Trust me...despite what all these hunting pages show (WMBT included), the amount of unsuccessul hunters in comparison to successful hunters is considerably large. I could sit down and tell you a hell of a lot more stories of missed opportunities than times where I was able to capitalize on a big buck. But, a good hunter learns from these misses and accepts that its part of hunting. That's what makes the adventure worth while. If tracking down big bucks were easy, I'd want nothing to do with it.
My passion in life is tracking deer, and I have been blessed by the good Lord to have harvested a few of his beautiful creatures, but trust me...I have failed more than I have succeeded. I have sat on that snow covered stump (aka the "Stump of Sorrow" aka "Log of Loneliness") with head in hand many times, thinking, "Well...I blew that one". But, the point of this blog article is about exactly that...what you do next. Will your mind defeat you or will it be your greatest assest in shooting that buck you're after? Are you going to head back to the truck, or finish your adventure. What will your next move be? I know what mine is everytime..."That son of b---- is going down!".
Brad Willey / WMBT Team Member