This installment is intended mainly for non-hunters who wish to communicate more effectively with hunters, or new hunters who don’t want to make their status too obvious. We’ll deal mostly with deer, as they’re by far the most popular game animal in North America.

Let’s start with the basics. One does not catch a deer, or a duck or a turkey, so questions like, “Did you catch anything?” are right out. Acceptable terms include: get, shoot, kill, bag or harvest. Some on the non-hunting side might find kill a bit too strong, while a hunter may cringe at the term harvest, as it sounds like you’re trying to avoid using the K word. In fact, game is a renewable resource, a crop; so you are indeed trying to harvest some of that crop.

A male deer is a buck, a female, a doe. A young deer, less than 1, is a fawn, though you may sometimes hear alternate terms like skipper or lamb. It’s not a lamb, but just let it go. After its first birthday, a deer becomes a yearling.

Only bucks (note: the plural for both sexes includes an “s”) sport antlers, which hunters sometimes refer to as horns, as in, “I bagged a big buck with a nice set of horns.” Technically, they’re not horns; let it go.

Those horns, er, antlers, typically consist of two main beams, each with points or tines rising up from them. Hunters also count the tip of the main beam as a point, so a buck with three upright tines on each is an eight-point. The first pair of points closest to the beam base are called brow tines, brows, or occasionally, eye guards.

Yearling bucks sporting single-point antlers are referred to as spikes or spike-horns, the latter further adding to the confusion. If their antlers bifurcate at the top, the buck is called a fork-horn or alternately, a crotch-horn.


A doe is a doe, ordinarily, but hunters occasionally attribute more colorful appellations, like flat-top, skinhead, propeller head or nanny. The former two refer to their lack of antlers, while the latter is probably a reference to their strong maternal instinct. Old nannies tend to be particularly protective, often to the chagrin of hunters. When they detect danger, they may snort or blow a loud exhalation of air through the nostrils, alerting all other deer to the danger, and potentially ruining your hunt.

Bucks use several types of scent posts to announce their presence and attract a mate. They rub the bark of trees with their antlers, and this patch of bare bark is called a rub. They also paw away leaves and duff, creating a bare patch of earth in which they urinate. This is a scrape. Don’t confuse the two. Scrapes often have an overhanging limb, called a licking branch, that deer will sniff, lick and rub their face and forehead on to deposit scent.

Things can get a bit more confusing when it comes to methods. For the most popular method, stand hunting, the hunter sits, perhaps on a stump, a rock, the ground or a stand. So a stand can be a manufactured seat, possibly on a ladder, or just a favorite spot to sit. When still-hunting, the hunter is not still, but slipping quietly and stealthily along. Tracking means you’ve picked up the trail of a potential prize and are following, possibly still-hunting. It doesn’t become stalking until you’ve actually laid eyes on the prize and are trying to get closer. Trailing means you hit it, but it didn’t go down right away, and now you have to track it.

All that is merely a primer: Whitetail 101. It should at least get you started, and you’ll know what is meant when someone says, “I was still-hunting a scrape line when I saw an eight-point with big brows. Then an old nanny with two skippers blew and spooked him.” Whatever you do, don’t ask, “Did you get your deer yet?” That’s a bit of an inside joke among deer hunters and a sure tip-off you are not one.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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