Gear and Tactics for Successful Deer Scouting
Early season whitetail deer scouting is a keystone to consistently successful deer hunts, season after season. However, the old saying of “work smarter, not harder” is absolutely accurate when scouting out deer hunting properties, resident deer herds and promising deer hunting stand locations. Let’s look at some tips and tricks for proficient early-season whitetail deer scouting tactics.
Think Macro Deer Habitat -
Sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when picking apart a hunting property and identifying key locations for the upcoming deer season. Take time to back out and away from a hunting property and look at it from a macro level. Zooming out and considering overall landscape features such as timber stands, elevation changes, waterways, fencelines, and crop fields can make finding the spot on the spot more feasible. Look beyond any individual hunting property and its boundaries, including neighboring properties, roadways and prominent topography.
Identify Key Whitetail Features -
Whitetail deer need a variety of habitat types to grow and thrive. By identifying those habitats, and how they interconnect on a macro level, piecing deer movement together becomes much more practical.
- Feeding Area - Deer herds require reliable, high-quality food sources for sustainability within a given area. Food sources change throughout the season, from acorns to grains, and legumes to clovers depending upon carbohydrate and protein needs and seasonal availability. October’s acorns will be long gone when late-season December deer are foraging on grain stubble.
- Bedding Area - Secure bedding areas with limited access, good visibility and consistent wind currents help give whitetails a sense of security and a place to rest. A mix of heavy cover, including thickets or mixed timber near open areas of tall grasses and prairie, can make ideal bedding areas for deer. Pre-season workdays at deer camp are the perfect time to help establish bedding and sheltered areas for any deer property.
- Travel Area - The deer hunter’s’ bread and butter is the travel area. Travel corridors between feeding and bedding areas make ideal stand locations that allow hunters to slip in and out unnoticed. Travelways should have enough cover to keep deer at ease without so much dense growth to make hunting difficult. Travel areas are ideal for establishing hunting stands and blinds and creating clear shooting lanes.
By utilizing aerial imaging, and hunt map applications online, hunters can put together a practical plan and a starting place for more onsite scouting and purpose-driven progress from the comfort of the kitchen table.
Game Camera Strategy
Utilizing game cameras or trail cameras is a fantastic tool to truly get eyes on a hunting property and have visibility into its inner workings. Be careful to hang cameras at the right height and angle to get the most from the camera’s presence. The best camera locations are not always the areas the deer frequent most on hunting property. Test a variety of camera models to establish trigger distance, the width of photo frame, video battery life and picture quality in low light conditions.
Consider setting up the camera and maintaining batteries and checking memory cards on non-cellular models. Constantly moving in and out of the hunting area is risky and can push deer out of their core area, change their habits, and even make their movements increasingly nocturnal.
Instead, consider transition areas, fringe travel corridors to bedding areas, and the edges of larger food sources to implement cameras with a lower risk of bumping deer and alerting them to human presence in the area.
Finding a Vantage Point -
For generations, hunters scouted whitetail deer with good old-fashioned techniques that included showing up, glassing, and looking for signs like tracks, scat, rubs, scrapes and licking branches.
Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of showing up with a pair of binoculars. Remember to keep your nose in the wind and find a vantage point to sit and explore the area with your eyes from a distance.
Basic hunting principles apply when it comes to spotting deer that are unaware of the hunter’s presence. Mind the wind, stay in the shadows, move slowly, and let your eyes do the walking.
Locate the Doe Herd to Find the Bucks -
Hunters subscribe to many theories regarding inding and hunting active bucks. Whether it’s barometric pressure, hours of daylight, dropping temperature or moon phase, one thing that is sure to attract male deer is female deer.
Scouting to locate a mature buck, his core area, and his travel route can be tricky, but finding the doe deer in that same area is generally much easier to accomplish. By investing time and energy into identifying the core doe habitat, it’s a safe bet that the area bucks will be by for a visit. Whitetail bucks are active during pre-rut establishing their territory, peak-rut breeding receptive does, post-rut seeking one last doe, and in some areas, second-rut or the young of the year's first estrus cycle.
Plan to Work then Work the Plan
This early season put strategy and efficiency to work for a successful deer season with effective scouting. Create an attainable plan by viewing the hunt and the property from a high level. Put tools like game cameras into action with purpose at key locations. Carefully invest time behind binoculars and spotting scopes, becoming intimate with the deer herd's habitat and movements. Locate every mature buck’s ultimate focus, the whitetail doe deer in the area, and be ready for the opening day of whitetail deer season.