1) Deer Espionage: Before visiting any hunting area, foreign or familiar, use Google Earth to learn its basics: boundaries, terrain features, hidden openings, and land-use patterns of the neighbors. Satellite views reveal subtle funnels and trails, and you might even discover features like adjacent crop fields that influence herd movement.
If the property contains open fields, road frontage, or elevated vantage points, begin scouting with a binocular from your vehicle. Watch at dawn and dusk, but if you get a full moon and a couple of hours to stay out after dark, top-quality optics–or even night-vision units–can reveal much about individual deer and travel patterns.
2) Boots on the Ground: At some point you must get in the woods to pinpoint stand locations. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, the best time for this is just after buck bachelor groups break up, usually in early October. That’s the time an individual buck’s patterns begin resembling what they’ll look like during hunting season.
If you already know your stand locations, hang them in August or early September to minimize the weather’s toll on your equipment. If your stands are weatherproof, hang them as early as possible.
This is also the time to cut shooting lanes. Be conservative when cutting, however, as mature bucks generally choose thick cover for just that, and thinning it can leave the stand location less desirable.
More important are pathways to your stands. Making noise going to or from your stand is one of big-buck hunting’s cardinal sins. A clank of metal or thrashing through briars is an alarm bell to a mature whitetail. Reducing the noise you make going to your stand now will pay off later. Mitigate scent by wearing boots stored in a tub; put them on just before entering the woods.