- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

Joe Novak, a neighbor just up the road from me, left a note last week that said he had seen a large whitetail buck several times in the past 10 days.

In itself, that’s no big deal because the western Charles County area we live in does not suffer from a lack of deer. Au contraire - the split-hooved ruminants fairly dominate our rural country scene. There’s hardly a parcel of land here that - if your aim is true - isn’t home to a veritable bounty of venison.

But Joe’s note mentioned that this particular broad-racked buck has a habit of showing up at the end of my driveway in the early mornings when Joe passes by on his way to work.

“A few days ago, he came from your property and crossed the road, nosing a doe as he followed her,” Joe wrote.

Do I have to draw a picture to explain what “nosing” a doe means? That’s a buck’s way to check if one of the comely females would accept his amorous advances.

Then there’s Doc Malnati, another neighbor who owns some sizable woodland acreage. Doc doesn’t mind if I erect a tree stand here and there that I can climb up on and wait for an opportunity to fill our freezer with food.

“It’s the good red meat,” he says, knowing that venison is least likely to clog your arteries with harmful cholesterol. In our family, venison often takes the place of store-bought beef.

After Novak told me of a trophy buck that uses my property to reach his way to a large wooded tract, I had to see if I couldn’t get a glimpse of him.

This being the best time of the year to do some scouting for the upcoming modern gun deer season, I’ve spent a half-dozen mornings slowly walking along a logging trail, stopping frequently, scouring the dense forest for signs of life, fully aware that I wasn’t always going to see the full body of a deer. Instead, I’m mindful of the flick of an ear next to a thick-trunked oak or the movement of a tail or head in the densest patch of brush or seemingly impenetrable brambles. Humans might have a tough time going through thorn-laden underbrush, but a deer does it with ease.

I have not yet seen this particular buck, but he has left many signs of his presence. Just a quick look in some of the woods he frequents told me he’s in the area.

In one stretch of wooded land, there are two grown pines - not saplings - that have been rubbed raw by the big fellow’s massive antlers. He uses the pine trunks to clear away the early season’s protective velvet coating, but sometimes probably also uses it for mock battles. He might stand and stare at the tree for a while, then charge toward it and work his antlers back and forth around the tree, pretending to be in combat with a woodland rival.

So there are buck rubs on a number of trees and I’ve seen scrapes on the ground - areas that a buck clears with his hooves, leaving a urine-soaked “calling card” in hopes of attracting a female. I’ve seen droppings and large hoof prints. This buck, perhaps ehttp://www.washingtontimes.com/admin/news/stories/338511/#ven a few others, is definitely there.

I’ve spotted several flocks of wild turkeys that chose to run like the wind - instead of flying - when they saw me. There were also dozens of squirrels, a few raccoons and a skunk that didn’t appear to be in a great hurry to get away.

The point I’m making here is that all deer hunters need to do some scouting to learn the whereabouts of their prey. In spite of all the deer seen along the roadsides, the woodland and field variety we’re after follow certain travel patterns that change from season to season. They do not act like a neighborhood pet when they sense the presence of a human.

In the case of our small group of hunters, we continue to check for game. When the season arrives, there’ll be shots fired, deer will be field-dressed, then skinned, tenderloins will be served with fried onions and plenty of meat will be cut, wrapped, labeled and frozen.

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