How to Double-Team Track a Buck

How to Double-Team Track a Buck

One of the best things about tracking a buck is that it’s done solo. You’re out in the deep woods, just you and the buck, in a mano-a-mano duel of predator and prey. To be successful, you must rely on your skills as a hunter and as a woodsman, reading the signs and covering ground on your way to catch up with the deer. However, there are some downsides to hunting on your own. You could take a bad spill or get hurt in some way and have no one there to help you out of the woods. Or you could shoot a buck that is just so big that dragging it out on your own is a complete impossibility.

Additionally, when you’re tracking solo, you have no one with you to celebrate your moments of success or anyone to console you in your moments of failure. In short, it can be a very lonely way to hunt. Fortunately, there is a way to track down a big buck while also having some company along to share in the glories of the big woods—double team tracking.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Double-Team Tracking

Aside from having someone there to help you get your buck out of the woods or to take pictures and celebrate the moment with you, double teaming has a lot of advantages. You have two sets of eyes to sort out the trail and to help spot the buck when the moment comes. You also have someone there to plan with should the buck you’re following be smarter than the average bear.

“Double teaming definitely has its good sides,” expert tracker Rodney Elmer, host of the Mountain Deer Podcast and YouTube Channel, said. “You can notice much more with an extra set of eyes and ears. When one guy is looking down at the track, the other guy is watching out for the buck. You can also see both sides of the trail at the same time, so when you’re heading along and the tracker needs to look down, their partner is still watching everywhere. Tracking is a game of who has the best radar and who can detect who first, and just like when you’re a fighter pilot, having a wingman can be a BIG help.”

Double-team tracking has its downsides as well. With two people in the woods, you’re doubling the scent, doubling the movement, and doubling the chances of the buck seeing you before you see him. Hunting with a partner can also be a real challenge because you’ve got to be sure that your hunting strategies, expectations, and personalities are all in sync or else you’re simply doomed to fail.

“I think being able to detect a deer at a maximum distance helps to dampen most of the odor and sound problems,” Elmer told MeatEater. “But one of the other problems with double-team tracking is a mixing of hunting energies. There can be pressure from one hunter to another to move faster or to slow down and a lot of arguments in picking different paths to move through an area. Also, having that company there can lead to extra talking and joking around which can be a major distraction. Plus, it can be dangerous.”

Rodney Elmer stresses the importance of not only picking the right double-team tracking partner, but also the significance of planning beforehand to make sure both hunters stay safe before either one of you steps into the woods.

“It’s wise to choose one person to do the shooting and to keep them in front. You want to minimize the chances of someone stepping in front of a gun barrel, this probably can’t be stressed enough. The other thing is to keep your wingman close, I like to have them right off my back pocket, filling in my steps as soon as I leave them. It’s quite common for the person in back to see the buck first, and if they’re looking to the side or whatever and spot the buck, it’s very easy when the shooter is at arm's reach to stop the lead tracker and turn them towards the buck without having to speak. It really is like flying in an F-14 Tomcat with the guy in the front deciding the speed and direction and doing the firing with the guy in the back running the radar and helping to spot the target.”

Now double-team tracking doesn’t always mean that two hunters must stay close to each other when they’re behind the buck, which is why planning is so important. There are a few ways to double team track, and knowing which method best suits both you and your partner’s hunting style is often vital for success.

Follow the Leader

Follow-the-leader tracking is the more classical double team tracking method where one hunter stays close behind another on the track. As previously mentioned, it can be an incredibly effective hunting strategy as both hunters can sort out the trail and look for the buck at the same time. It involves having one hunter in the lead, following the track and sorting out the trail, with another hunter staying close behind them, keeping their eyes up and looking for the buck.

Hunting this way can be challenging as both hunters must be perfectly adjusted and dependent on each other. The hunter in front must be able to sort out the buck’s trail and know when it’s time to speed up and slow down as they get closer to their quarry. The man in the back must be able to step in the lead hunter's tracks to minimize noise while keeping their eyes up and alert for the sudden appearance of the buck. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of trust in your hunting partner.

“You’ve got to be able to work as a well-oiled machine to hunt this way,” legendary big buck tracker Landon Benoit said. “The front guy breaks trail, meaning that they bust through the crust on the snow and breaks the twigs and branches, making all the noise. The back guy has to be able to slide their feet into the same spots, so they don’t make the same noise twice. It takes a lot of practice, but eventually you can do it without even having to look down, which is good because you’ve always got to keep your eyes up to spot the buck.”

The follow-the-leader strategy is a great hunting method when you’re hunting with an inexperienced or new hunter. It allows you to stay behind them so they can learn to sort out a buck’s track but still be close enough to help them when they need it. It’s also a great strategy when you have an extremely experienced tracker to work with as you can trust in them to bring you to the buck, allowing you to keep your eyes on the woods and not on tracks in the snow, minimizing the risk of jumping the buck.

“Two pairs of eyes are always going to be better than one,” Benoit told MeatEater. “The person in the back can spot the buck. Most importantly though, taking a big buck is best experienced with your dad, son, brother, mother, or just a good friend!”

Looping and Ambushing

Looping and ambushing is a tracking strategy where one hunter stays on the buck’s trail while another loops ahead and finds a spot to ambush the buck. It can be an effective hunting strategy, especially when tracking a buck that has been tracked before and knows how to get away. However, it can be a real challenge to know exactly where and when to employ the strategy.

Looping and ambushing a buck requires a lot of knowledge about both the terrain and about buck behavior. The hunter on the track must know exactly how fast to push the buck and must have a general idea where the deer is going while the hunter looping ahead and setting up must be able to find a good spot to set up to wait for the buck to pass by.

Generally, the two hunters will start out in the more classical follow-the-leader strategy until they start getting closer to the buck. Then by using a map or a mapping app like OnX, one hunter will choose an open spot such as a field, power line, or recently logged area that is parallel to the buck’s trail. Then they will circle out 400 to 500 yards and move into the area while the other hunter stays on the buck’s track. It can be a tricky move to pull off but one that will bear fruit so long as the buck stays on its course. However, if the buck breaks off, doubles back, changes direction, or beds down, the hunter on the trail can still stay with it, doubling the chances of success.

It should be noted that looping and ambushing must be carefully planned, not only to ensure that you’ve got all your bases covered but also to guarantee that both hunters stay safe. The ambusher will want to choose a spot that is well off the buck’s trail with a wide field of view and a good backdrop to ensure that they won’t accidentally send a bullet in the tracker’s direction. At the same time, the tracker must be aware of where the ambusher is going to set up so if they get a shot at the buck they won’t be shooting in the ambusher’s direction. It’s a strategy that takes a lot of planning and trust and it is vital that both hunters are wearing blaze orange clothing to prevent any accidents from happening.

Sharing the Trail

The thing about deer hunting is that it’s meant to be shared. The beauty and wonder of the forest and the challenge of finding a buck are not things that are meant to be hoarded and kept to yourself like some sort of dragon guarding a pile of gold. Deer hunting is a sport full of fantastic traditions that were meant to be passed on.

Now while there is a certain challenge to hunting solo and tracking down a big buck all by your lonesome, every now and then it’s good to bring someone else along. Because, if you’re tracking by yourself all the time, you won’t get the chance to teach someone how to do it. Nor will you get to show others the wonderful world of the deer woods so that they too can appreciate what it is to be a hunter, thus ensuring that we will be out there following buck tracks through the woods for generations to come.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.

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