The season has ended and you’re sitting at home with nothing to do. A great cure for cabin fever is a late season scouting trip to your hunting area. Many hunters consider pre-season scouting as a week or two before the season opens but pre-season scouting can be as early as February or March. In my opinion the best time to scout is soon after the season closes and there are several advantages to this approach. My favorite reason to scout now is to get out of the house and into the woods.
I usually only hunt in November and by scouting in February or March I already know the trees I will be climbing when November rolls around and I can focus on fishing instead of trying to find a weekend to scout. I believe that the best reason for scouting this time of year is the fact that you’re not educating mature deer in your hunting area. Impacting your hunting area with human odor, even a month before the season, can alter the local deer population and its use of your hunting area, especially on public land. Here are a few things to look for and consider during your late season scouting trip.
LAY OF THE LAND: By February all the leaves have falling from the deciduous trees and the sign is very visible throughout the area. This is the time to just focus on the lay of the land and try to visualize the travel routes of the deer in your area. If you have hunted this area then you have an idea of the direction the deer come from or go to and now is the time to follow their trails and figure out where they went and why. It is always advantageous to know where the deer are bedding and where they are feeding. This allows you to select a tree in between and mark that tree on a map and study that map at home and mark wind directions for that tree so you know when to hunt it and when not to hunt it. Knowing the deer’s travel routes will allow you to choose when to hunt that spot with confidence and all of this is best obtained now when the woods are not so grown up and these travel routes are easier to find.
STAGING AREAS: If you watch deer hunting videos you have seen successful hunts along field edges and open woods. These areas make for great videos and are even a good approach when hunting low pressured whitetails on private land where the deer pressure is strongly regulated but for most hunters we are limited to hunting public land or heavily pressured private land where field edges and open woods just does not come into play for harvesting a mature whitetail. Yes there are always exceptions but to increase your odds you have to focus on thicker areas of your hunting ground.
Staging areas are places that big bucks will “hang out” while waiting for the cover of darkness before moving on to the open woods or fields. Locating these hot spots in your deer woods can offer some fantastic opportunities for harvesting your next trophy. Staging areas can be close to these open areas or several hundred yards away. It really depends on the pressure in your area as well as the cover to and from the open areas which is usually the deer’s feeding areas. Does congregate in these areas and mature bucks know it and will parallel these does but will stay back until they feel safe to move in.
Staging areas are usually located within small patches of thick cover somewhere between their bedding area and the fields or open woods. These thick patches can be very small and I have even seen bucks use a single fallen tree to stage at. These areas are noticeable by the amount of buck sign with rubs, scrapes and droppings concentrated in a small area. Staging areas are much easier to locate in February and is a great place to hang a stand when November rolls around. While bucks will use the same staging areas season after season they may only use this staging area during the rut because he is hunting does to breed so this is yet another great reason to scout after the season because this sign not only would be hard to find in a grown up woods but might not even exist until the pre-rut. In February this sign is very visible even if the buck is finished using it for the season.
LOCATE BEDDING AREAS: Thick areas are usually where the deer bed during the day but locating where deer spend their day can be vital to a successful hunt. During February you can penetrate these thick areas and look for heavy browsing which indicates a deer’s core area and where they choose to be most of the day. This core area can be vital in setting up a stand come deer season and knowing precisely where these core areas are only tips the odds in your favor. I have started on the edge of possible bedding areas before and slowly moved my stand deeper trying to figure out where the deer were bedded. This is time consuming and can either lead to no deer or spooking deer but by finding these areas now you can also locate great stand location and be ready when the time comes.
There are some hunters that consider bedding areas a “sanctuary” and should be treated as such and this is a great practice on private land or hunting clubs but for the public land hunter bedding areas can be your only way to get a shot at a mature buck, especially once the bullets start flying. Scouting now and locating core areas where the deer bed will only add valuable information to your scouting logs. Once these areas are located and trees are marked then you can stay out of these areas until the season,. Knowing where the deer are heading when you spot them is vital and can also help you devise an educated move into the bedding area, without going too far, if hunting the fringes just hasn’t paid off.
If you have never scouted this time of year you should give it a try. Remember to always practice strict scent-control even on late season scouting trips and get in and get out gathering information as quickly as possible and don’t linger too long. This might seem extreme but I spent many years hunting public land without seeing any bucks and when I adopted this method of scouting and began taking it seriously I began to see a lot more deer and have even harvested some good bucks. This is a great time to be outside and enjoy a day or two in the woods scouting for next season while also searching for a couple of backup areas as well.
About The Author
Ken McBroom is a freelance outdoor writer/ photographer and active member of Hoosier Outdoor Writers. For more information please visit www.ramblingangler.com