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Home >> Hunting >> Deer >> Scouting For Deer << Back

Scouting For Deer

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Scouting plays perhaps the most critical role in your deer hunt. A few hours spent out in the field before the season can make all the difference when the season starts. Here are some things to keep in mind as your scout the areas you are planning to hunting the season and what signs to look for.

Start scouting for deer a couple of weeks before hunting season starts in your area is good starting point. Most states open with a bow season or a primitive weapons season. When scouting during this time be sure and where your hunter safety orange vest to identify yourself as not a target.

The winter and very early spring, before the woods have had a chance to leafed out again, is when some of your most successful scouting for upcoming deer hunts will happen. Why even consider this time of the year that's months and months before deer season opens again? The answer is simple: Signs are plentiful and extremely easy to find and read, even if you not a seasoned veteran of the deer woods.

Another advantage of winter time scouting is that mature bucks will tolerate only so much intrusion into their core areas. Winter time provides you the best opportunity to investigate and so you spend as little time as possible rambling around the deer woods in the weeks prior to hunting season.

You will be reading sign left by deer during the past hunting season and, assuming nothing drastic takes place in your hunting area.

No matter what time of the year you hunt be sure to look for:

Locate travel routes

Many time deer will use the same travel routes from bedding to feeding areas year after yea. The winter time will allow you to locate them quickly and easily.
In the fall, these trails can be tough to locate but in late winter and early spring, deer trails show up like interstate highways in the barren woodscape.

When scouting new land for these travel routes, a bit of common sense is all it takes to put you on the right track. Keep in mind that deer will take the path of least resistance traveling from their food source to bedding areas, providing this path provides amble cover.

Concentrate your search around strips of hardwoods along creeks or wooded belts leading from one feeding area to another. Deer often enter and exit agricultural 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, mark these easy-to-find trails on a topo map or by figuring out its distance from a landmark such as a fence corner or tree, so that you can set up to hunt these travel corridors in the fall.

Elevation is another prime element to consider when scouting for primary trails. In hilly country, deer will almost always cross ridges at little "saddles" or small draws where they can go up and over with the protection of higher ground on either side.

Keep in mind that deer, like all wild animals, do things that make perfect sense. Whether the deer has the ability to actually think and decide where to cross a ridge or enter a field is a point on conjecture but, if you ever doubt the efficiency of, say, the whitetail deer's survival ability, consider the fact that they always do things that seem perfectly logical.

Rub Lines and Scrapes

Nothing is worse than marching into the woods a week before the season opens and disturbing the animals by cutting branches as well as rearranging their familiar environment.

Deer hunters everywhere agree that rub lines indicate only one thing: the presence of bucks. Some rubs are made early in the fall by bucks removing velvet from their antlers. Other rubs are "fighting" rubs where bucks actually spar with a sapling in preparation for the rut. These bouts with saplings can be likened to a professional boxer working out on a punching bag.

The buck's neck muscles are pumped up and, no doubt, his aggressions are taken out while sparring with the trunk of the sapling and its lower branches. Bucks sometimes use the same trees as rubs but, as often as not, rubs are made at random prior to and during the rut.

There is one exception to this rule: In an area with primarily hardwood trees, bucks will almost always single out that occasional conifer such as pine or cedar to rub.

Rubs are extremely easy to spot in the woods this time of year 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 next fall. Everyone who has spent time in the deer woods has seen small "mock" scrapes, often only 6 to 8 inches wide by 18 inches long, almost always made under an overhanging "licking" branch.

These scrapes are made at random by traveling bucks and never again frequented. It's those big "breeding" 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 such as this can be 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.

Clear shooting lanes

Locating deer sheds, travel routes and bedding areas are all easier to find during late winter. Once you have located prime travel routes in the winter months, that is the best time to clear shooting lanes for next fall's hunting season. 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.

Shed antlers

Finding the shed antler of a big buck is most definitely a confidence builder for the upcoming season. On you scouting trips keep you eyes peeled for sheds.

Once you train yourself to look for sheds, you will be surprised at how many you will find. Rather than looking for an entire antler, concentrate on spotting a tine or two sticking up through the leaves. March and April are prime months for locating sheds.

When doing your early season scouting, wear rubber boots and rubber gloves. Trying to minimize your human scent 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.

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