A deeply rewarding aspect of hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail is the richness of animal life. The trail weaves near towns and crosses roads and highways but it’s still “wild country,” and backpackers will meet the creatures who call it home. Your best chance to see animals on the trail is to practice “walking softly” for periods of time. Exceptions to this might be if you’re hiking in bear territory or rattlesnake country, where you’d want to create some stir to warn these animals of your presence and avoid a close encounter. Otherwise, walking without making undue noise will allow you to see and enjoy the woodland residents.
My first sight of white-tailed deer was along the Georgia stretch of the A.T. my third day trekking northbound. Hiking along the flat section of ridge line amid thick deciduous forest, I stopped to take a drink of water when a puffy white “flash” caught my eye. I saw the twitch of a white deer tail some feet ahead. I raised a hand hushing my hiking companions for silence, and we enjoyed watching a small band of adolescent deer as they fed along the trail side ahead of us.
White-tailed deer enjoy a vast range over North America. Estimates are that their population is up to 15 million in the United States alone. Since their diet includes seed, acorns, berries, leaves, shoots and twigs, you’ll find them grazing along trails and in fields. Streams and low areas of forest lands are also frequented by white-tailed deer.
Here’s a helpful suggestion on how to increase your chances of seeing forest fauna. During a rest stop shed your backpack and sit quietly against a rock or tree. Since many creatures scatter on hearing approaching humans, you’ll discover that if you’re able to sit quietly for five minutes or more the animals may return.