Hunting season may officially begin in the fall, but if you want to improve your chances, then the season begins much earlier. Scouting deer is an important part of the hunting process, and if you don’t do your due diligence, it may cost you in the fall. Many hunters take this process for granted, but if you take the time to do it, then you’re sure to increase your chances of a successful hunt. Check out our list of ten time-tested tactics for deer scouting and see what you can do to find more deer this year!
GET IN THE WOODS
This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but even putting in the bare minimum will go a long way. So many hunters don’t do anything before opening day, so any form of deer scouting will put you ahead of the curve in a major way. It can be hard to find the time to get out to the field, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn even if you can just swing by the land for an hour or two.
FIND THE BEDDING AND FEEDING AREAS
Once you arrive at the land you’ll be hunting, the first thing you need to do is locate where to find deer. The best place to start is to find the bedding and the feeding areas on the land. Try to find areas where you can tell deer have been laying down — look for bent grass or noticeable patterns in the ground. Then, try to locate where they’re going to eat. Are there beans or a cornfield nearby? This will give you a better picture of what the deer in the area do on a regular basis.
WHERE ARE THE DEER’S TRAVEL POINTS?
Once you locate the bedding and feeding area, try to plot out how the deer are moving between the areas. This may seem easy, but it’s not necessarily always a “Point A to Point B” scenario. Try to look at the route from a deer’s perspective. Are there any hazardous obstacles that are getting in the way? Is there a detour they have to make between the feeding and bedding points? The more you can understand their commute, the better your chances are of being in the right position to strike.
LOCATE THE CORN
Corn is a deer’s best friend — if you can find the closest source of corn, you’ll find where the deer are headed to and from. Of all the deer scouting tips on this list, this is the one that is the most universal and time-tested. Deer will always be on the lookout for corn, meaning that deer hunters should be as well. Search for the corn nearest to your hunting land and make a plan for how you can meet the deer before they get into the cornfield because once they get into a field that hasn’t been harvested, your chances at getting off a shot are slim.
HOW WILL YOU APPROACH?
Understanding how the deer are moving around the land isn’t enough — it’s also important to determine your own personal plan of attack. Deer are timid creatures, but they aren’t stupid. You won’t be able to just walk up to them while they’re heading to the cornfield or bedding area. Instead, you’ll want to come up with a route that you can take to sneak up on them based on the directions that they are headed.
Find a route that provides you with plenty of cover in case you have to stop and hide. It’s also preferable to pick a route where you blend into a background rather than stand out on a horizon. The eyesight of a deer is based a lot on movement — the more movement they see, the more likely they are to take off running. If you’re able to blend in with a background, such as a group of trees or tall grass, you’ll make it harder for them to see you, which leads to an easier shot.
Also, try to think about how scent will play into your approach. Is where you park your car potentially downwind from the hotspots? You won’t be able to accurately predict the wind until the day of, but you can formulate a plan — or even a few different plans — so that you’re ready on the day of the hunt. Human scent has scared countless deer, and it can be the number one mistake that hunters make. Come up with a good plan so that you know how to get to the deer before they notice you.
SCOUT DURING THE TIME IN WHICH YOU’D HUNT
Have you ever heard the term “practice how you play?” It’s a term that athletes and coaches use to describe how it’s important to simulate game-like situations in practice in order to promote preparation. The same principles apply to scouting deer.
One of the best ways that you can “practice how you play” is to go out scouting at the same time of day that you plan on hunting. This will give you a clearer picture of what the deer are actually doing at the specific time of day. You’ll have a better chance of actually observing some deer rather than just looking for tracks and clues, and if you can spot one, you can watch it for as long as possible to pick up on behavior patterns. Observance provides valuable insights and can go a long way toward improving your hunting strategy.
KEEP YOUR EYES AND EARS OPEN
Once you’re out in the field deer scouting, try to avoid getting tunnel vision. It can be easy to go out there and only look for deer, bedding areas, and cornfields, but there are more clues out there that can tell you a lot about a certain ecosystem. Here are some things that you can look for that can give you some valuable insights:
- Deer tracks
- Rub marks on trees
- Small animals fleeing an area
- Hair on the ground
- Half-eaten corn cobs
These things will help point you in the right direction, even if you can’t see any deer in the current moment.
Also, keep your ears sharp. The more you can listen, the more you may be able to pick up. Do you hear rustling in some trees? Are the birds squawking and shooting up out of some tall grass? These things could all be a sign of where the deer may be, so leave the headphones at home on this trip.
LOOK FOR WALKING PATHS
You’ve found the bedding and feeding areas, you’ve picked up on clues and you’re confident that you know where the deer are coming from — now, it’s time to plan your attack. Plot out your route through the field and try to think of where you could go to kick up some deer that may be in hiding.
Is there a spell of tall grass that isn’t too tough to walk through? You’ll want to find something that you can both walk through easily and be able to get a clean shot off in, especially since any deer you kick up will be running. Take note of the area and be sure to notice where cars or humans may be coming from — you don’t want a shot ruined because of a car driving by behind the deer.
LOOK FOR PLACES TO SIT
You’ll also want to take advantage of this time to find good places where you can sit. Are there any spots that provide you with a great angle of where the action will be? If you have a tree stand and the ability to set it up, this is the time to move it around and put it in the best spot possible. If you have a deer blind or will just be sitting out in the open, this is when you should be picking the best spots and taking notice of what the deer will be seeing from their perspective. Remember, preparation is key.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE FULLY EQUIPPED THIS SEASON
Now that you know what you can do to find more deer, it’s time to get your hunting gear ready for the hunts ahead.