A Tracking Lesson in the Mud

Rob and I were checking one of our ponds last Monday. As we prepared to leave, Rob stopped to look down at four tracks in the mud. The tracks were large, looking to be a buck, and that’s what caught his eye.

Because of the large track size, my guess would be that it was a buck that made the track. However, the actual size of the deer’s hoof can be distorted by mud. The soft medium allows more of the bottom of the hoof to make contact, enlarging the print.

We stood staring at the tracks and I couldn’t resist taking a photo.

This set of tracks had learning potential.

These four prints were made by the same deer and show a pattern.

(Click on the photo for a closer look.) 

Standing over the tracks, we had the advantage of knowing that the deer was heading towards a six-foot wide drainage from the pond. As the deer approached the drainage, it decided to leap over it. On the other side of the drainage was a steep hill – adding to the buck’s need for power. His jump would provide momentum to help him climb the slippery slope in front of him.

Try to imagine the buck stopping at the gap and then leaning forward as he shifted his weight to his front feet. As he dipped his front end down it accepted his body weight. Quickly his hind feet leave the ground and pass his front feet.

As the rear feet hit the ground, the pattern you see in the photo is complete. The four hooves simultaniously hit the ground for a split second.

He’s now coiled to spring forward – his back arched and his hind legs tensed. Quickly loading his hindquarters and uncoiling, his entire body weight shifted onto his hind feet, pressing down deeply in the mud as his front hooves leave the ground and stretch forward. 

In the track of his rear right hind foot print, you can see where the dew paws made a slight impression (dew paws don’t show in a walking track) – his hooves splayed out as they carried his body weight.

We studied the slope where the deer climbed the slope. Heavy rain had eliminated his trail, but the deep impressions left by the initiation of the leap remained.

There are also clues here about when the tracks were made.  The edges of the track are rounded and at one time they held water. The indication is that the track had been made during the latest rains, but before the end of the rains. By checking the recent weather patterns, one can make a fairly educated guess that the deer had passed by about last Friday, in rain and significantly before the skies cleared on Saturday.

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