The significance of these two incidents taught me that deer, indeed, pattern our movements and that, if we over-hunt a stand, we run the risk of teaching the deer more about our behavior than we imagine.

 A tracking snow can instantly drive home the point that sometimes deer "pattern" us better than we think.

I was walking down a trail from my truck to my stand during archery season a couple years ago after a fresh snow when I noticed deer tracks in my boot tracks.   

That in itself is not unusual. Deer often "follow the path of least resistance" and will often walk in hunter's footprints in the snow. But this one struck me as odd. And as I approached my tree stand, I could see deer tracks at the base of the tree. And upon analysis, I could see that the deer had stood at the base of the tree for a while, right under my stand.

There was no evidence of feeding, rubbing or scraping; just tracks as if it stood at the tree for a while. Then the tracks took my trail, all the way back to nearly where I park. OK, no big deal. So a deer was curious and walked back.

Reading deer tracks in the snow tells us a great deal about deer movement that we can't get from any other source. When it snows, the whitetail book opens up and allows us to read and maybe get some insight into their mysterious ways.

Fast forward a couple seasons. I was in my tree stand at the end of shooting light, and I just about to climb down when I heard the familiar "crunch, crunch, crunch..." in the leaves. And in the fading light, a nice buck walked directly to the base of the big hemlock tree, directly below, and I could hear him sniff the tree, exactly where I had climbed up the trunk.

The buck stood there a moment, turned and walked up my trail carefully, smelling the ground for about 20 yards. And in the fading light, he stood there looking up my trail, up the ridge, to where my truck was parked. Evidently satisfied I had left, the buck turned and ambled after the rest of the deer, now feeding out in a nearby field.

The significance of these two incidents taught me that deer, indeed, pattern our movements and that, if we over-hunt a stand, we run the risk of teaching the deer more about our behavior than we imagine.

The oft-quoted phrase, "first time in" has much greater significance when viewed in this light of deer patterning us. And it emphasizes the importance of us being judicious and careful in using our stands, as tough as that may be.

A typical scenario is that we hunt a stand, see some deer, maybe even a good buck the first time we take a stand. So the next day, we want another chance, and our anticipation is great. So, of course, the next day we get in the stand, and maybe not see the whitetails as we had the previous day. So we take the stand a third and maybe a fourth day. And we figure, "the deer have moved off."

But it is possible that we over-hunted the stand. Whitetails have an amazing ability to detect our scent. And an older deer could detect not only our present scent but our scent left on previous trips to and from the stand.

That's why bow hunters especially should have a number of stands in different areas if possible, and rotate their stands, never hunting in one on more than three-straight hunts.

Another benefit of forcing ourselves to hunt different stands is that we can keep track of what is going on in our respective areas. Too many times bow hunters "go back to the well." And our shot opportunities and encounters with deer tend to drop off in direct proportion to the times we take the same stand, especially when we are hunting older, wiser and easily spooked whitetails.

There is one caveat to the "three times and out" rule. If a hunter lives on the property, near the stand, or if the hunter is in the woods near the stand throughout the year, whitetails seem to get use to particular human scents.

Whitetails, especially those near residences or communities, deal with human scents every day. And they learn what is safe and what is dangerous. That's why a landowner who grooms his woods, fusses with his food plots and has a cabin nearby has greater luck than average.

Whitetails get fooled by their noses when they mistake the familiar scent of a bow hunter engaged in benign human activity such as cutting firewood or trimming brush. And, instead, the woodcutter has swapped his chainsaw in for a hunting bow. And instead of being at the base of the tree, he is up in the branches.

Whitetails find our scent as alien and out of place as a vegan at a meat market. One of the most difficult things to do, for those of us who can hardly wait for the rut to crank up, is stay out of the woods and out of our stands.

It is so tempting to climb up in our favorite stand before the action starts because it is so enjoyable. But we run the very real risk of diminishing our chances come prime time by over-hunting our stands. This is one of those cases when less is more.

Oak Duke: