Scouting Whitetail deer
Swamp buck taken last day of season
Early scouting for deer pays big rewards
For successful deer hunters, season never really ends, we just shift to a different gear. At the end of deer season many hunters start preparation for next season, refreshening mineral beds, replanting food plots, repairing tree stands, and my personal favorite scouting the woods. By taking the time to scout early spring, you're increasing your odds of finding antler sheds or locating holes where a mature buck could be bedding.
Taking the time to scout allows you to stay away from bedding areas and bottoms that could pressure deer to go nocturnal during season. This gives you a chance to set up along areas where the bucks will come to you without all the human scent spread thru the woods by scouting when you should be hunting. Last year when scouting we discovered a small mud hole in the swamp with a lot of deer tracks. After finding the small opening we decided to put a lock-on stand with some climbing sticks back in the swamp and wait until the end of season to give it a try.
Nobody sat that stand until the very last evening we was going to hunt. We didn't want to leave human scent in the bottom until season was coming to an end. Well low and behold just as it was beginning to get dark along came a doe, she stopped looked straight at the stand. Thinking that this deer has just busted our stand and were not going to see any more deer. Instead as she stood there stomping her foot, here comes the buck lagging behind and not knowing what is going on. That's when the moment of truth paid off with a nice 8pt. buck that we had never had a picture of or ever seen on our lease before. Well the results are in the picture here to the right. Once again proving that our early scouting pays off.
Where to begin scouting for deer hunting
A good place to begin is using topographical & aerial maps you can cut scouting time in half, use them to locate your water sources and major changes in contours. If you have a stream or creek bottom you would begin looking for deer sign there, looking for scrapes, rubs, deer droppings, fresh deer tracks, nibbled tree branches and such. Look for locations where deer are coming to water or crossing the creeks.
As you work your way along the creek bottom look for the ditches, fingers and run offs coming down to the creek, these are great travel areas for bucks especially if there’s thick cover along this route or curves and hills so the deer can stay out of sight of predators. Keep looking for the same deer signs as well as places that are pushed flat in taller grasses and brush where deer have been bedded. Always keep an eye open for cross trails or hidden trails when your scouting deer love to use these.
I found this rub sign post leading into a pine thicket
Deer sheds show that bucks use this area
Bucks use hills and ridges for winding
Another place to look for signs is ridges and changes in contour or thickets and heavy vegetation. These are usually travel routes that deer will use to work their way up from the bottoms to doe feeding areas, look for the hidden trails or cross trails these are great stand locations. Deer are creatures of habit and will continue to use the same trails over and over, it's because they know the area and feel safe.
Finally look at the edges of fields or food plots for signs of deer droppings, beds under trees or in heavy grass, scrapes under the hanging limbs of trees and fresh tracks in the field. Always look for the freshest sign first but if you have old rub lines even if there’s no sign now, bucks continue to use the same travel routes and will come thru. probably winding for does if for no other reason.
I like to carry an aerial map of the property with me as I scout, marking trails, good looking spots to hunt, possible bedding areas, food sources and such as I go. Many times deer will lay at the top of ridges and hills, use their nose to wind up top, while watching below. If you find a shed at one of these locations just means you're on the right track. If your scouting before hunting season, it gives you a chance to explore and put together a game plan for hunting later.
Watch for deer tracks
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