“Championships are won in the off-season.” Or in the weight room. Or in the practice gym.

March Madness is upon us and if you listen to enough college basketball post-game interviews this time of year, you’re bound to here a coach drop a quote somewhere along these lines. And it’s true: Success comes to those who work for it year round, not just during the season. For deer hunters, a big part of this off-season work comes in the form of scouting. And if you’re not already, now is the time to get moving.

Prime Time
In many areas of the country, the snow has just finished melting—and with snow now gone you can finally see sign on the ground from the previous fall. This window of opportunity is short though, as new vegetation and leaves will soon grow up and cover the sign. Additionally, much of that fall sign preserved by snow will soon be replaced by spring and summer activity. So get out now to take advantage of this sweet spot of great visibility while it’s still relevant.

What To Look For
Once you’re in the woods, there are a few things in particular you should pay close attention to:

1. Identify rut-related sign
Rutting buck patterns tend to be duplicated year after year—assuming there are no changes to the habitat—so pay attention to the location of last season’s scrapes and rubs, and plan on it happening again in the future.

2. Confirm travel routes
Pinpoint where movement is occurring by looking for tracks and trails, and keep it in mind when you’re thinking about where to hang stands.

3. Focus on bedding areas
A deer’s day is centered around its bedding location, and your hunting strategy should be too. When searching for doe bedding areas, look for clusters of beds close together or in a semi-circle, in varying sizes and shapes. A buck bed, on the other hand, will typically be isolated, larger, and might have rubs nearby or be situated tight against some kind of backdrop. Bucks will also tend to bed in the best possible locations, so check spots at the end of points or on areas of isolated high ground in a swamp.

4. Take notes
It’s not enough to just look for this stuff—make sure you record it too. If you don’t write down or mark where you discover sign, you’re likely to forget it when hunting season finally rolls around.

If you want to win that “championship” and fill your tag this fall, it’s going to have to start now. It’s time to get scouting. It’s time to get serious.