Deer Signs

Tracks

Deer make sharp, heart-shaped tracks.
The two toes of each foot form a heart-shaped track.
Photo: Ken Wick

An adult deer’s walking stride is about 13–26 inches long and 4–10 inches wide. Their tracks can range from 1½–4 inches long by 1–3 inches wide, depending upon the size of the deer. On soft ground, the foot may sink deep enough that the dewclaws also make a mark.

Droppings

Deer excrete a pile of small, dark pellets. The pellets look similar to those of rabbit droppings but are larger.
Deer pellets next to a coffee cup lid for scale.
Photo: Jared Duquette

Deer leave piles of dark, cylindrical pellets ½–1 inch long. The droppings are similar to rabbit pellets, but deer pellets are larger.

Rubs

Deer will often rub their antlers on trees which can shred the bark.
Male deer will often rub their antlers on trees which can damage the tree’s bark.
Photo: Jared Duquette

Velvet, the soft, membranous layer of blood vessels supplying nutrition to the fast-developing antlers, dries up and is shed in a day or two after the antlers are fully developed.

After the velvet is gone, males rub their fully-developed, hardened antlers against small trees and shrubs, usually 2–3 feet above the ground on trunks. Occasionally, males will bend a small sapling and rub the entire length of the trunk.

The removal and shredding of bark on trees and shrubs is done in part with the tines and main beams of an antler. Most of the bark and limb damage is done by antler bases and coronets—small, knobby protuberances around the base of each antler—and by pearls and thorns, long exotosis on the surface of the antler.

Glands on the foreheads leave a scent behind when rubbed on the vegetation.

In Illinois, rubbing by male deer begins in August.

Scrapes

In an agricultural state such as Illinois, where wooded areas join crop fields, pastures, or hay fields to create an ecotone (edge), deer often make scrapes.

Deer will use their hooves to pull away vegetation leaving a bare patch on the ground called a scrape.
Scrapes like this one are made when males paw the ground to clear the vegetation.
Photo: courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Scrapes are made in timbered areas, along trails or access roads, and other openings. Males paw the earth bare of vegetation to form an area from about 1–3 feet or more in diameter. Males usually urinate on this area and rub a branch of a shrub or tree immediately above the scrape. In most cases, deer choose a branch about 5 feet high that they lick or chew lightly and rub on with their antlers and foreheads. This scrape area may act as a chemical communication center, conveying territorial warnings or possibly serving to increase the chance of finding estrous females during the rut. Females urinate on the scrape to signal their receptiveness to breeding. The male then attempts to catch up with the female and copulate.

Browse Lines

During the winter deer feed on higher vegetation. This deer is standing on its hind legs to reach vegetation not covered by the snow.
This deer is standing on its hind legs to reach vegetation not covered by the snow.
Photo: Illinois Department of Natural Resources

In areas of overpopulation, deer cause an over-browsing affect called a “browse line.” A browse line is a distinct demarcation between completely browsed off vegetation and areas higher up the deer could not reach.