Poop! Nobody likes to talk about it, unless you’re a hunter who knows a thing or two about how to track wildlife. If you’re that guy (or gal), you’ve likely handled scat, tested its firmness and temperature to judge its age. You may have even smeared it with your boot, because … well, why not smear it with your boot and examine further?

Some hunters feel the need to take scat and smear it all over. Why? What does a dog do when he finds a dead, stinking squirrel or raccoon? He rolls in it, right? The reason for this is purely predatory. If a dog can smell like his prey and mask his own predatory smell, he’ll become a more efficient hunter.

There are two key ways scat helps hunters track wildlife:

  1. Poop can tells hunters what type of animal species are occupying a wild area or potential hunting spot.
  2. The shape and texture of droppings can offer clues about what an animal has been eating.

Often a hunter selects his hunt site based on the concentration of scat in an area. If the concentration is high, that’s an indicator of a high-traffic area.


Your Animal Crap Chart

Here’s a scat cheat sheet for four big-game animals often pursued by hunters. Take a peek at the chart below and earn your degree in pelletology.

Whitetail Deer

Whitetail deer scat.

Semi-round, individual droppings often indicate deer are concentrating their feeding efforts on browse such as leaves, bark and mast-producing nut trees like acorns.

Those long, lumpy droppings that resemble a pinecone (and look like they probably hurt coming out) tell us the deer are chomping on fruit-producing mast trees, grasses, clover, alfalfa and the like. If a hunter knows where deer are focusing their feeding efforts, the hunter knows where to hunt.

In addition, a lot can be said for where we find the droppings. Sure, deer will scatter a line down a trail from time to time, but when hunters find a concentration of droppings, it tips them off that they’re either in or very near a deer’s bedding area or food source.

Related: Scouting and Hunting On Public Land

Elk

wildlife tracking

Individual oval-shaped Elk piles indicate a diet of twigs, leaves and aspen bark.

Elk droppings are similar in shape to those of a whitetail or mule deer, but the pellets are larger and more oval shaped. And those long, pine-cone piles are so impressive in size that you can’t help but gawk at them.

Like deer, the individual oval-shaped piles indicate a diet of twigs, leaves, aspen bark and the like, while the softer piles indicate mountain clover and grass. Elk are great travelers and will hit the No. 2 button whenever they feel the urge. But when you find a grassy meadow loaded with fresh elk bombs, you might want to plug that locale into your GPS. If you find a spot in dark, cool timber littered with rubs, stained earth emitting the pungent odor of urine and piles of scat, you’ve found a bedding zone.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn scat with scrape.

Contrary to popular belief, you can rarely distinguish if the scat made by an ungulate is male or female. Yes, I’ve heard the stories and have hunted with lots of guys who swear that the poop was made by a buck or bull based on scat size. But here’s the issue: I’ve watched whitetail does drop deuces that made my lower-jaw fall open. And I’ve watched a bull elk pass four nuggets that could have easily been produced by a mule deer.

Pronghorn are the exception to the rule. Their scat is smaller than deer droppings and often a tad more oval-shaped like elk nuggets. The distinction that’s unique for pronghorn is the droppings are  stacked on top of each other like a tower. They’re often in the middle of a torn-up piece of earth, which means you’ve found a male pronghorn scrape.

Bear

wildlife tracking

Black bear scat found in the New Mexico mountains. Note the seeds which indicate that fruit has been a key part of the bear’s diet.

Oddly, bear droppings kind of look like human feces. Typically, from my time hunting bruins, the size of the poop often indicates the size of the bear. Hair in the scat suggest the bear had a recent, furry meal. This scat  usually contains remains of an eaten animal and often takes on a fowl smell, though nothing like that of a household dog.

Softer, less-formed bear poop typically doesn’t have any odor and showcases signs of berries, seeds, acorns and other vegetation. If you’re hunting bear in an area that doesn’t allow baiting, poop can be your best friend. Bears — especially spring bears — are lazy. They want to stay in an area and eat as much as they can. If you find multiple bear piles, you’re likely in his feed zone. If you back off of that zone and glass, it’s likely you will locate the bear in the early morning or late evening.

Related: Spring Scouting Pays Fall Dividends

If you’re just getting into hunting and need to learn the basics, check out this post on scouting a hunt site and choosing the right tree for bowhunting whitetail deer.

Featured photo: iStock