Staccato footfalls on frozen leaves shattered the morning stillness like machine- gun fire.

There was little question it was a deer, coming fast. The buck broke cover at 80 yards, closed another 20, then stopped behind a tree. I fought for composure, awaiting the deer’s reappearance. When it happened, I wasted no time finding him in my scope and firing.

Several things contributed to that successful hunt, not the least of which is something I’ve found to be among my most useful deer hunting tools. I’m talking about most recent information, or MRI. Until the previous day, I had no idea that buck even existed. After coming out of the woods the previous afternoon, I bumped into another hunter with whom I shared the woodlot, and often information. He was generous enough to advise me that an adjacent landowner had seen two bucks crossing his field the past two mornings. “I can’t hunt tomorrow, but you might want to look into it,” he kindly offered.

The field was off limits, but I had a pretty good idea where the deer might ultimately be headed, and so I slipped in there the following morning and waited. It was barely 30 minutes after shooting light, and less than 18 hours after I received the information.

On another occasion, I bumped into a friend at the local registration station. He had just taken a nice buck and was relating how the buck had been hot on the heels of a doe when he shot it. He even told me where he shot it, a location I introduced him to several years earlier. “You don’t mind if I go in there tomorrow, do you?” I politely asked. “Well, no, of course not,” he began, then hesitated, scratching his head. “But I already killed a buck.” I explained, “Yes, but the reason he was there is still there, and she might attract more suitors.” Sure enough she had, and MRI paid off for me again.

In recent years, I’ve found trail cameras to be a great source of MRI. I know some folks think it’s cheating, but I view it simply as taking advantage of the latest technology. It’s not more cheating than the first troglodyte who brought the serendipitous side effects of a lightning strike home and used it to heat his cave and cook his meat, or the first Neanderthal who turned a couple disk-shaped rocks on their side and used them to move heavy objects.

Signs – like tracks, trails, droppings, scrapes and rubs – are useful in telling you deer were using an area, but they don’t tell you how often or how recently. They also don’t tell you which deer use it. Cameras do, and they’ve saved me a lot of time eliminating areas that aren’t used very often or are only used at night. I can also dismiss areas used only by small bucks, or those used only by does, at least until the rut kicks in. Then I want to be in those doe areas.

Just last year, I used cameras to hone down my list of prospective stand sights to a half-dozen or so. Then I put my time in.

The first 21/2 days passed without a deer sighting at the first five locations (cameras are only so helpful). I might have been a little more discouraged when I settled in for my sixth sit were it not for photos that showed a nice buck visited the area two days earlier. But the day wore on and with barely minutes left before the end of shooting light, I was already planning to leave when I heard the distinctive sound of a deer coming my way.

“He’ll probably hang up in the thick stuff until dark,” I thought, because that’s what they always do. But no, on he came. Straight to my location. He paused just long enough to have his picture taken before I took a more lethal shot, again using MRI.

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

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