Wild Fruit Few food sources are a more sure bet to a deer than hunting near persimmon, pear, apple and plum trees, which are easily seen on field perimeters, near large woods openings, and around old farm buildings. Scout them now with binoculars, and pinpoint their locations. When persimmons, apples, pears and plums ripen and begin to drop, deer should be on them in a hurry. Sometimes “backtracking” a trail leading to a fruit patch from a thick deer bedding area is the best way to set an ambush for a stealthy buck.
Damp Bedding Areas In early season heat, deer seek cool shade, often near spring creeks with a high timber canopy. Soft-ground glade type areas not only are many degrees cooler than other regions, but dense underbrush also is desirable to deer, especially does with vulnerable fawns in tow. Scout them for fresh sign, monitor them regularly, and hang stands accordingly.
Early-Drop Acorns Live oaks, water oaks, pin oaks and other similar hardwoods often “drop” small acorns many weeks before other “big nuts” like white oaks and red oaks. While smaller acorns usually are less desirable than white oaks, for example, deer love the little nuts, too. Learn to identify these trees, and scout them with good binoculars to learn areas loaded with “green” acorns that will be dropping by opening day.
Velvet Rubs Some hunters call abundant, small sapling rubs “velvet rubs,” believing that bucks rake velvet on them toward summer’s end. It matters not whether this is true, as such rubs show buck presence, and that’s what’s most important. Look for “velvet rubs” along large stands of saplings near field edges and creek draws. Old velvet rubs from last year are a tip off to hot spots for similar rubs this season. Check them often, and when they are “freshened,” read deer traffic sign for stand placement.
Seed Pods Early in the deer season seed pods from trees like the honey locust are high on whitetail menus. When pods turn dark and fall, deer often are on them in a hurry. If you spot a tree full of ripe pods, note its location, and keep checking for deer activity. You may have found an early-season hot spot.
Lush Early Food Plots Most hunters have learned that deer love man-made food plots. However, not all plots are best early in the season. Often wheat, peas and special-blend commercial seed mixes offer whitetails what they want and need in late summer and early fall. Check all plots. But hunt only those early in the year with good deer traffic and sign that whitetails have been dining regularly.
“X” Marks The Spot A well-used deer trail gets every hunter’s pulse working hard. But scout a trail thoroughly before placing a stand beside it. Walk a trail edge as far as possible, and learn where it leads. If you can locate a trail juncture, or “X” spot, you double the chances for deer walking within range of a stand you place there.
Timber Management Funnels Land management usually rules hunting property, and manipulating terrain from one year to the next can have huge effects on how deer use an area. Cut timber not only can remove deer cover and food sources, but fallen trees can direct deer activity. Timber management practices can “funnel” deer into narrow corridors where whitetail ambushes succeed well.
Woods Browse Most green growth on hunting land is not eaten by deer. But certain plants like greenbrier, honeysuckle, grapes, hydrangea, sassafras, dogwood, poison ivy and other browse are eagerly sought by whitetails. You don’t have to be a botanist to identify woods plants, but learn to look at the ground while scouting, and watch for nipped green shoots that deer eat. Find their food, and you’re well on the way to locating a hot spot for early whitetails.
Whitetail deer hunting season is six weeks away (or less) in many parts of the nation. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind, and things to look for, when scouting for those opening day, “first strike” hunts.