Outdoor writers have turned deer hunting into a year-round affair. When deer season closes, we urge you to get back out there and scout for old rubs and scrapes. Snoop around the woods in spring-glass for bucks in late summer put it all together and hang your tree stands early to ambush Mr. Big when the next season opens. C’mon, let’s get real!
Truth is, most hunters aren’t able to scout year-round. People work long and hard, often in cities or suburbs far from where they hunt. During the off-season it’s all they can do to cut the grass, paint the house and run from one kid’s ball game to the next. But can they still whack a buck this fall? Sure. Here’s a solid game plan for all you weekend warriors.
**Scout From Home **
Suppose a buddy calls and says, “Hey man, let’s go hunt the opener. I just got permission on an awesome farm. It’s two hours away, so we’ll have to make it a long weekend. You in?”
“You bet!” you roar. After hanging up the phone you wonder, “Hmm, what does that spot look like? Is it crowded?”
Well, scout and find out–right from your own den. Get your hands on aerial photos of the land you’re going to hunt. Buy them from a county Extension or Farm Service Agency, check the local yellow pages under “Photographers-Aerial” or try the Internet.
Spend a few nights poring over black-and-white aerials of the new property. Study the lay of crop fields or food plots. On heavily wooded tracts, look for burns, cutovers or power-line cuts where whitetails are likely to feed and mingle.
Check for cover grown-up fields, cedar stands, beaver swamps and the like. Ridge thickets that overlook crop fields or creek bottoms are especially good places for bucks.
Finally, search for strips of woods, hollows, cover-laced streams and other funnels that connect feeding and bedding areas. Mark a couple of potential stand sites in and around these travel corridors. These are the hot spots. It’s that simple. By studying aerials, you can often eliminate up to 50 percent of marginal habitat before you ever leave the house. Then you’re ready to load up, drive out and initiate a ground game in spots where deer should be active.
One More Day
Say you plan to hunt Saturday and Sunday. Well, stroke your boss, take a personal day, swap vacation time with a co-worker, but somehow find a way to play hooky one more day. You need to get to a new property early on Friday to “speed scout.”
Slip on rubber boots, spray on an odor neutralizer and take a walk, preferably around lunchtime when most deer are bedded. Refer to your aerials and hit those spots that look the best.
Hike the edges of fields, checking for deer trails that wend back into thickets and security-cover areas. Drop into a creek bottom or hollow, looking for fresh rubs (the bigger the better) and scrapes (in most places the serious ones begin popping up in late October). Find deep, splayed tracks in the three-inch range near rubs and scrapes and, guess what? You’ve probably stumbled into some corner of a good buck’s core area.
You’ll likely discover the heaviest sign near feed, such as alfalfa or corn or near stands of oak trees that allow acorns to fall onto ridgetops or into bottoms. Here’s a quick tip always to remember: When your time is really limited, you can never go wrong by posting for a buck near a hot food source.
Make a quick reconnaissance mission through a property, reading your aerials and evaluating sign. Make a second loop if necessary, but be careful. A major benefit of speed scouting is that it’s low-impact; you don’t want to bump too many deer.
Finally, use your scouting day to monitor where other hunters park their trucks and hike into the woods. This is vitally important when hunting public land. Then try to set your blind or tree stand in a honey hole a little off the beaten path. TThat way others won’t mess you up.
One evening I bumped into a young guy wrestling with a freshly killed buck. “Let me give you a hand,” I said, reaching down and grabbing half the heavy rack. “Some deer,” I quipped. “He’ll score a solid 140.”
We dragged and the kid yapped: “I can’t believe how lucky I was. I’d never hunted this place. I got here two days ago, scouted a few hours and found a bunch of rubs and scrapes on that oak ridge back there.
“Yesterday morning I hung my climber; then I sat all day and saw a lot of does. I figured a good buck must be around someplace. Today I went back and an hour before dark this big boy cruised by!”
The kid did it right. He scouted, found a spot he liked and then went for it. He didn’t get antsy and jump from one ridge to the next, or waste time back at camp or in his truck. For two days he hunted virtually every minute of daylight he could. Do the same and you, too, might drive home with a good buck one Sunday night this fall.