QUESTION: Can you tell the sex of a deer by its track? — Wayne F., Alabama
ANSWER: You can’t; but I’ll bet I can, sometimes.
Let me clarify. It’s nearly impossible to tell the sex of a deer from a single track. Even by relative size, the best you can hope for is an educated guess. Bigger feet mean a better chance it’s a buck, but there are no guarantees. My son’s first deer was an ancient doe that dressed out at 145 pounds. Her front hooves were as large as those of a 3 1/2-year-old buck.
Furthermore, adult deer, like humans, have different size feet. Two different deer of the same sex and age could have noticeably different size feet. The difference can also vary considerably in places like Alabama where nutrition, and thus growth rates and body weights, can vary considerably from one location to another.
The reason I jokingly suggested I could tell but you can’t is that I hail Maine, which offers me the distinct advantage of being able to track deer in the snow. By following a set of tracks you can sometimes tell whether it was made by a buck or doe.
Here’s how: When a deer walks, it typically puts its hind feet down in roughly the same spot (and thus, on top of) where the front feet stepped. When two prints overlap, the one on top was made by the rear or hind foot. A mature buck’s shoulders are wider than his hips, while a doe’s hips are wider than her shoulders. When following a track, if the hind footprint is outside the print made by the front foot, it’s likely a doe track. If the hind print is inside the front one, chances are good it was a buck. Also, the front feet on both sexes are slightly larger than the back feet. If the larger track is inside the smaller, it’s probably a buck, and vice versa.
You should bear in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, including those above. Furthermore, you occasionally find things like antlered does, or bucks whose sex organs are lacking or injured, which only serve to further muddy the waters along their trail.