Scouting may play the most critical role in your deer hunt. Spending an adequate amount of time in the field scouting prior to the start of the season without over exposing your presence can be the difference between an unsuccessful hunt and bagging the buck of your
Some things to consider while scouting the area you are planning to hunt for the upcoming deer season including timing, bedding areas and food sources, travel routes and high traffic areas, and rub lines and scrapes.
As I mentioned before, it is a balancing act between spending time in the field and overexposing yourself to your hunting area. That is why I begin “pre-season” scouting at least a month prior to opening day of the season. Most states begin their deer season with archery or muzzle-loader season, so check your handbooks or hunter’s guides and be sure to wear the proper amount of orange if you are scouting during those seasons.
I recommend visiting your hunting location no more than once a week. Visiting once a week allows me enough time in the field to collect the information I need to choose my entrance and exit routes, trail camera locations, tree stand placement, and shooting lanes. It also allows me to examine deer patterns such as travel routes, rub lines, and scrape lines without spooking the deer from the area.
Make sure to visit your hunting hot spot during the winter and very early spring at least once before the snow melts away and the leaves grow back on the trees. Although hunting season may be more than six months away, this time of year is still a prime time for “off season” scouting. During this time of year deer sign can be found and read properly by the most novice of hunters. Deer droppings and tracks are easily distinguished in the snow and you may even discover a high traffic area or even a bedding area for your fall hunt. This is also a great time to investigate that ‘other’ hunting spot that you have been dying to check out. I usually take my German Short-haired Pointer, “Buddy,” with me to check out new locations, and we walk the wintry forests and creek bottoms searching for deer sign.
“Off season” scouting provides you with the extra time you may need in the woods to find that perfect hunting location while at the same time, minimizing your exposure to the deer inhabiting the area during your “pre season” scouting. Using both “off season” and “pre season” scouting can provide the perfect balance between data collection and overexposure.
Bedding Areas and Food Sources
It is imperative to know where the bedding areas and food sources are in your hunting location. Bedding areas can range from dense cover like mountain laurel, multi-floral rose, or a string of coniferous trees to thin cover
like huckleberry patches, high timber, and even backyard gardens in more urban and suburban areas.
Finding food sources is typically much easier than finding bedding areas because the food sources are usually much more visible. Standing corn, apple trees, and acorn-producing oaks are mainstays of the whitetail diet. Determining where bedding areas and food sources are located is a vital tool to any hunter and is among the first things to consider when scouting a hunting location.
Travel routes and High Traffic Areas
Travel routes are important because they can help you determine where the deer are coming from as well as where they are going and can help you choose where to enter and exit your hunting location without being detected.
Travel routes from bedding to feeding areas may be the most coveted deer paths a hunter can find. These travel routes are valuable to a hunter because they can remain the same over the years assuming the food source has not diminished and will usually lead you to bottlenecks at both the bedding areas and food sources.
Bottlenecks and natural funnels are high traffic areas. Hunting bottlenecks and funnels will increase the number of deer you see and increase your chances of filling your tag. In early seasons during the pre-rut I prefer hunting away from the bedding areas and on
the perimeter of food sources. During the pre-rut you can find monster bucks cruising to food sources to fatten up in preparation for enduring the physical hardships of the rut and surviving the long winter ahead.
It is common to find deer entering and exiting food sources from the same travel routes. During your scouting it is imperative to find all entrance and exit routes to and from the food source. Knowing where your deer are coming from and going to is critical to success.
Finding meaningful and high traffic travel routes in larger hunting areas such as National and State forests lands at times can more difficult. In “the big woods”, deer tend to cross ridges at draws where they can transverse the terrain with higher ground protecting their location from either side. Also, deer will “run” ridges of steeper hills by following the edge of the hill. This provides them with less cover but more importantly an advantageous location for viewing their surroundings and avoiding danger.
When scouting “the big woods” look for a location that is host to a combination of travel routes including naturally occurring funnels and bottlenecks between thick cover to place your tree stand. Deer like any other animal will use thick cover to keep hidden from danger. Hunting in, near or around thick cover in larger areas can help your hunt become a successful one.
Rub Lines and Scrapes
For scouting purposes finding a rub or rub line is a good thing. It means that bucks are in the area. Rubs are made in the beginning of fall when bucks “rub” their velvety antlers on trees and saplings to remove the velvet from their antlers. They
also make rubs after the velvet has been removed from their antlers to strengthen their neck muscles in preparation for the sparring and fighting of the rut.
Rub lines can help you indicate a specific travel route that bucks may be using on a regular basis. Bucks will rub the same trees but sometimes will rub trees at random. From my experience the more rubs you find in the area the more bucks you will have in that area. Hunting rub lines is best when the rub line is found in a high traffic area such as a bottleneck or funnel and is paired with a series of fresh scrapes.
Scrapes are areas of the forest floor that have been “scraped” clear by a buck with his hooves and are usually located below a licking branch. The bucks will rub scent glands from their nose and hind legs on branches near scrapes as well as urinate in the scrape. This
practice adds an element of ownership to the scrape by letting other bucks know that this buck controls the scrape and for bigger bucks the entire area for breeding. Scrapes are reliable indicators of frequent buck activity and usually are excellent locations for hanging your stand. Bucks cruise from scrape to scrape during the rut and regularly check them for any sign of doe urine from a doe in heat.
Intimate knowledge of your hunting area and its adjacent areas is crucial to any successful hunt. Like all things in life preparation will have a major effect on the outcome. Identifying deer signs through proper scouting could be the catalyst that helps you put venison in the