Jensen Afield

A fresh buck rub, found in Castleton. Bucks rub saplings and small trees to remove velvet from their antlers, to mark their territory and to strengthen their necks.

The deer season is over. The next rifle season is almost a year away. And now the long, cold winter months are upon us. What to do? Get out, whenever you can, and walk the woods, get some exercise, look for deer sign or, better still, buck sign.

I know what you might be thinking. Hey, deer season’s over, Bubba. Can’t we move on? And I will, after I detail what I believe was a pretty amazing discovery, one with a real message: If you want to be a better deer hunter you must spend more time in the woods, especially in the fall and winter months.

The long walk we took last week was about one purpose: to scout for the next deer season, looking for an edge in an area relatively new to me.

I pushed above a stretch of woods where I spent the opening day of the muzzleloader season, held earlier this month. And I didn’t just go into those woods blind; earlier, in the period between the rifle season and the muzzleloader season, I had spent about four hours getting familiar with the terrain. There was probably four inches of good snow and the tracks told the story.

I hunted there for most of the morning on that cold December day and, seeing nothing, I moved on. Then, after the end of the muzzleloader season, I decided to return, scouting the woods, with an eye on next year’s deer hunting.

A logging trail, cut perhaps four years ago, took me up to a big ridge. As I neared the top, I left the trail and cut into the woods. I was looking for buck rubs (where bucks rub their antlers on young trees, shredding the saplings), deer droppings and good, well-used deer runs. But my primary focus was on finding rubs.

I went more than 400 yards and was somewhat perplexed about not finding a single rub. I climbed a bit higher, then came up to flat terrain, where a large clear cut stood, barren and open. Then I dropped down a bit and found myself in a place where, I thought, a buck might pass.

Just above me was the clear cut; just below me, a severe drop in the terrain. I was on a good ridge, offering anywhere from 50 to 75 yards of enough cover to make a buck comfortable. Most of the time, a mature buck will not come across a clear cut, exposing his profile, unless he is following a doe in heat. The terrain below was so steep that it made traveling by any deer nearly impossible. These are the kinds of places I like to set up, when deer season comes around. So I slowed my pace down considerably and began to carefully look around.

I didn’t go 25 yards when I found my first buck rub of the day. And it was a good one. It was a young pine tree, the bark worn down from about one foot from the ground and up another 18 inches. I could see the stripped bark, on the forest floor, but what really caught my attention was the thickness of the tree. It was about three inches.

Big-antlered bucks will rub trees large and small but, in my view, small bucks rub only small trees. I looked to the right, then back and forth. A few minutes later, my eyes spotted what appeared to be another rub. But could it be? This tree, a hemlock, was at least as thick as my forearm. Closer inspection revealed that, yes, it was a rub and, while I have found thicker rubs in Maine and New York, this was by far the thickest rub I have ever found in Vermont.

Yes, I was excited. Of course, there is a possibility that the buck that made these rubs could very well have been shot during the archery, youth, rifle or muzzleloader seasons, but I have doubts about that. This buck is an older deer and, chances are, he is still running around in these parts.

While I cannot be certain, I am calling him the “five-pine, three-hemlock buck” because this deer rubbed eight softwood trees and did so along a stretch of about 100 yards. My guess is that a single, heavy-bodied, big-antlered buck made all of the rubs.

Yes, I know. The chances of encountering a buck such as this are remote. And there is an important note to make here: I am not a trophy hunter and, if I am seated in this place come opening day next November and a small 4-point buck comes ambling by, I will do my best to place a tag on him.

Still, what’s the point of hunting — of living, for that matter — if we don’t dream big?

‘The White-Footed Mouse’

Looking for a book with a nice message? “The White-Footed Mouse,” by Willem Lange, is a story for all ages.

An eight-year-old boy gets to go to deer camp with his father for the first time. There, he learns about the many ways of nature, but the biggest lesson is the one he imparts on his father.

Lange’s wonderful, little book is illustrated by Bert Dobson, who captures every scene with a purpose.

Copies of “the White-Footed Mouse,” published in 2012, can be obtained through Amazon.

Dennis Jensen can be reached at

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