Scouting for deer.
Many hunting magazines and videos offer articles about scouting for deer during the year. These articles offer some good information, but I believe that time in the woods is the best teacher if you pay attention to signs and understand what to look for. A few hours spent out in the field before the season can make all the difference when the season starts, but your scouting techniques should not stop there. Scouting should continue throughout the season at every hunting opportunity you get.
If you are strictly a morning and evening hunter, scouting should start the moment you step foot out of your stand while leaving and heading out for the afternoon. This will give you a good idea as to what type of movement and activity had occurred the nights or days before. It may even entice you to change your hunting location for the days to come. Following are a few things to keep in mind and what signs to look for.
Many times deer will use the same travel routes from bedding to feeding areas year after year, all depending on the hunting pressure. Keep in mind that deer will take the path of least resistance traveling from their food source to bedding areas, providing this path has amble cover.
If you have a water source within your hunting area, concentrate your search around strips of hardwoods along creeks or wooded belts leading from one feeding area to another. Deer often enter and exit fields from the same trails.
When scouting a fenced field, locating these entrance and exit points is easy. Simply walk the perimeter and look for spots where deer have been going under, through or over fences.
Deer hair will often be clinging to barbed wire fences, helping you locate crossing points. Once located, figure out its distance from a landmark such as a fence corner or tree, so that you can set up to hunt these travel corridors.
Elevation is another prime element to consider when scouting for primary trails. In hilly country, deer will almost always cross ridges where they can go up and over with the protection of higher ground on either side.
Rub Lines and Scrapes
Deer hunters everywhere agree that rub lines indicate only one thing: the presence of bucks. Some rubs are made late summer into early fall by bucks removing velvet from their antlers. Other rubs are territorial rubs where bucks mark their "home" in preparation for the rut. Bucks sometimes use the same trees as rubs but, as often as not, rubs are made at random prior to and during the rut. Some articles will agree that the smaller the tree the bigger the deer and visa versa with smaller bucks.
There is one exception to this rule: In an area with primarily hardwood trees, such as pine or cedar, bucks will almost always single them out to rub. Rubs are extremely easy to spot in the woods and they are an excellent indicator of the number of bucks in the area. Don't use last season's rubs as a landmark for spots to set stands for this coming fall, just make note of their general locations and know that the area is one frequented by bucks.
Old scrapes on the forest floor are much more reliable indicators of potential spots to hang your stand for the upcoming season. Everyone who has spent time in the woods has seen small scrapes that are almost always made under an overhanging branch. These overhangs are called licking branches. These scrapes are made at random by traveling bucks and never again frequented. It's those big scrapes that you want to be looking for. Through the years, deer will return to the exact same spot and make their scrapes year after year.
Prior knowledge of deer hot spots found during the winter and spring months and locating them now will most definitely help you put venison in the freezer and antlers on the wall year after year during deer season.
Clearing shooting lanes
The best time to clear shooting lanes for next fall's hunting season is during the winter and spring scout. But for me, I make it a point to put a day aside to clear shooting lanes 2 months before the season starts. It's also a great time to choose the trees you wish to hang your stands from and take your pruning saw along to clear shooting lanes.
Once the trees leaf out, you can always fine-tune your shooting lanes in late summer by doing some light pruning of new-growth branches. Be sure to leave as much cover as possible in the tree you plan to hunt from. Once the stand is set in late summer, there is plenty of time to cut little shooting holes through the branches.When doing your early season scouting, wear rubber boots and rubber gloves. Make sure to minimize your human scent as much as possible so the deer and other wildlife won't know your there. Also if you know where your going to hunt on opening day, you should scout at least 2 weeks ahead of time, clear a couple of paths in to the specific area where your stand is.
A working knowledge of deer foods and feeding patterns is important to a hunter's success. Whitetails like to feed close to their bedding areas. In the fall, they may bed within a couple hundred yards of a food source such as soybeans, corn, alfalfa, clover, apple trees or acorns. There are a large variety of oak trees that have acorns. Often, their trails will naturally lead to and from these food sources. Food sources change constantly throughout the year. Deer travel routes and bedding areas change with food sources. Constant scouting is critical to success. In early fall, deer will fill up on green vegetation and acorns.
Whitetails choose beds primarily for concealment. They lie in the thick grass or brush, beneath deadfalls or by mounds. Bucks like to be up high where they can see a predator approaching. During rut, bucks bed where they can watch does. Deer use several bedding areas within their home range. Bucks have been known to bed in a small grass patch or thicket in the middle of a field or even by the road. Deer don't sleep for long periods of time but rather doze on and off, always aware of their surroundings. It's tough hunting deer around the bedding areas because of their high state of awareness. You're better off hunting a trail leading to or from a bedding area.
Deer will always have a source of water within a short distance of their bedding areas. It could be a lake, river, pond, bog, or even a puddle left from rain - anything that has water. This spot will be the first and last place a deer stops through its travels. Rutting deer get thirsty from the day's activities, so having a stand by a watering hole could pay off.
The droppings can vary based on diet. A deer feeding on apples or some other form of soft food will drop dark, moist, clumped pellets. When their diets shift to acorns, the droppings will be dry and lighter in color. By examining their droppings, you can tell what their diets are. This will help you in focusing on feeding areas. A mixture of large and small droppings could indicate a doe with her fawns. A single pile of large droppings usually indicates a buck.
These are just a few out of the many signs available to you. If none of those listed above are retained, the most important scouting feature to remember is keeping your scent to the absolute minimum. Hopefully these guidelines will help in seasons to come. Good luck and safe hunting.
By Stephen Gallagher – PABucks.com ProStaff Writer
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