On The Track.
Murphy's Law always lurks, and in this case I stepped on an unseen twig under the snow, followed by an explosion from the brush ahead, where the pursuit ended with the blur of a buck. There was no time to shoulder my rifle. I took up the track again, but a shot from the direction in which the buck had bolted suggested my hunt for this buck was over. A quarter-mile farther up the trail revealed a hunter field dressing the deer I had been following.
Tracking a deer in snow is a northern thing. On occasion, enough snow falls in southern states to allow temporary tracking, but it's usually an infrequent event. Hunters unfamiliar with snow think tracking is a piece of cake. After all, you simply follow a deer in quiet snow until you catch up and get a shot. Unfortunately, that's usually not the case. Too many things can go wrong, even though it seems the stars are lined up for a successful hunt.
In fact, tracking in snow can be the most challenging of all hunt strategies. A common belief that snow allows quiet walking is patently untrue. Only fresh powder snow and actively thawing snow offer somewhat quiet travel. When snow freezes, even slightly, it squeaks and crunches underfoot. It's loudest on bitterly cold days, especially when the temperature is subzero. I remember a frigid hunt in Saskatchewan where it was impossible for my guide and me to sneak up on a deer. We might as well have been walking on potato chips.
Tracking is especially tough if you're hunting a small property. Chances are good that the quarry will simply cross into a place in which you have no permission to hunt. I've done that many times. Then, too, your tracking snow can melt away from rain or a warm sun. Or, as I've experienced on several occasions, another hunter has discovered "my" track and is in front of me in the pursuit and there's nothing left for me to do but wish him or her luck. Despite the challenges, it's magical to follow a single track where you can see every movement your quarry makes, where he feeds, beds, walks aimlessly, or walks with purpose. It's incumbent on you to use all your woods skills, especially since you're glued to that track and, in most cases, can't get the wind in your favor unless you know the country and can make a wide circle and attempt an ambush. This is hunting at its best. You know you can be easily spotted by the deer because snow makes you as much more visible as it does the quarry. You're always at alert when following the track, looking for the slightest movement ahead, listening for the most minute sound, all the while fervently hoping you'll spot the deer before it spots you.
For obvious reasons, the presence of snow is enormously welcome if you're tracking a wounded deer. Blood, even the tiniest spatter, can betray the animal you're following, especially if it mingles with other deer. On dry ground, those small BB-sized crimson spots can be virtually invisible, but snow allows them to be seen, enabling you to continue the pursuit when the blood trail could be otherwise lost.
When all is said and done, my favorite part of trailing a deer in snow is seeing its track and he's standing in it ... looking the other way. Sometimes that's wishful thing, but sometimes it happens.