Puzzle for a Buck

Hunting deer isn’t something I’d previously thought of as a puzzle, but this season, I’ve started to see it a little bit differently.

It’s not uncommon to sit in the woods for hours at a time and see nothing. The temperature, the weather, the wind, the availability of food, the patterns of other deer… All these variables play a role in maximizing the chance to spot an impressive deer.

My family has a farm near Crivitz, Wisconsin, and there’s nothing quite like hunting season in Wisconsin. All the stores change their schedules based on hunters’ availability. Blaze orange becomes an acceptable alternative to green & gold for supporting the Green Bay Packers. Everyone you bump into in town asks you how much luck you’ve had hunting, and those lucky enough to land a trophy buck take the long way home to garner many thumbs up and honks from strangers.

This is the first year I took a deliberate approach to choosing my placement and strategy. Historically I would ask my more experienced family members to pick a spot for me and I’d get something random based on spacing me away from all other hunters on our land. Every year I spotted only smallish does and passed on all of them.

This year we had more data at our disposal. My family has used trail cameras to capture images of animals on our property, but this year is the first time we’ve captured video. Each time the camera senses motion, it takes about twenty seconds of footage. This gives us some data to start making educated decisions about where we hunt.

I’ve played games in escape rooms where I’ve had to pinpoint a culprit’s location on a map based on a set of clues. It’s impossible to pinpoint a deer’s exact location, especially since a deer may pass through the property once and then never return again. But we still get clues from the video clips.

In particular, we got to see a lot of how and when the big bucks chase does. We found specific areas where deer rub against tree branches to pick up each other’s scents, and by studying these sites we were able to build some idea of how the deer move through the area, and when.

It still takes tremendous patience and a lot of luck to come across an impressive deer, but it’s very rewarding to study and anticipate deer behavior. This year I was blessed with the remarkable deer pictured. It’ll be very interesting to see in the near future how technology continues to change the way we look at the activity and how things like drones and motion sensor data increase our chances to deliver on once in a lifetime accomplishments.

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