How to scout for deer hunting year-round
Most have their own method of scouting and it usually starts during the specific season itself but for me, scouting is an ongoing event
Editor's Note: The following column is part of our new TacticaList series, a collection of expert columns and features on all things tactical — from fishing and hunting to camping and shooting. These columns are featured in our monthly TacticaList newsletter. Check out our most recent issue and let us know what you think! Click here to subscribe to the TacticaList.
By Bradley Routh, The TacticaList Contributor
Scouting, defined as “Exploring an area as a means to obtain information” when applied to hunting, means gathering many different types of information, using varying skills and understanding what you are looking for, all of which may vary between hunters. Most have their own method of scouting and it usually starts during the specific season itself. For me, scouting is an ongoing, yearly event. As an avid bow hunter, I am scouting 365 days a year. But when do we start, and where do we start? For this article, let’s start at the beginning of the year and work our way towards bow season.
January and February are great months for scouting. Although the rut is over, I still look for rubs and scrapes that let me know bucks were in the area just months earlier. It is also a great time to locate the trails and paths deer use to go from bedding to feeding areas. The best times to find out this valuable information is when there is snow on the ground. I like to go into areas that I normally hunt and look for deer tracks. Almost anywhere you look in the woods, you will find tracks, but I'm looking for heavy tracked up areas that form a trail from one destination to another. If you find an area that the snow and leaves underneath the snow have been disturbed, it normally is a feeding area where deer have gathered to eat. There will be trails leading into this area, so I want to find the one that has the most tracks and is heavily traveled.
If I follow that trail and find their bedding area (which is usually indicated in multiple areas on the ground where deer will bed down) I have found their bedroom. This isn't a place you want to hang around too much or disturb, but at least you know where it is. I will write this spot down in a notebook or mark it on a map and come spring and early summer, I will hang a game camera up to find out what deer are using that trail.
March, April, and May are a little more difficult to locate trails and feeding areas due to the foliage and abundant food supply. This is when I like to start putting out my food plots and mineral sites. You might ask, “why put out a food plot if they have ample supply of natural food?” The answer is to get them coming into an area that I can control.
With the use of food plots, I can, hopefully, get the deer coming into a spot of my choosing and keep them coming in there during the fall hunting season. It is basically the same thing for mineral sites. I like to strategically place a mineral site where there is deer activity and give them an incentive to come and not only get the nutrition they need but to give me an opportunity to harvest them, too. With mineral sites, I have found that placing them beside a water source work the best.
Like us, too much salt isn't good for animals, so it is beneficial to add some vitamins to your site if it isn't already an ingredient. The use of salt, in my opinion, normally leads deer to find water. So putting the two together might lead to a better opportunity for a successful deer season.
June, July, and August are usually our hottest and driest months, so I really focus on water sources. During the summer months, deer really search out water, which is a great benefit for us. If you have ponds or streams that are accessible to you, it is a great place to hang a game camera and get some great photos. It is also an excellent time to check out the tracks that are on the pond bank and see what caliber of deer are coming in. I really enjoy hunting over water in the early season and have had great success doing it.
For most of us, September is the opening month of bow season. I try to incorporate the past eight months’ worth of scouting into where I hang my stands. Again, I love to hunt water sources early season. It is still dry and somewhat hot so the deer are still in search of water. So I check my camera's I hung during the spring and summer and find the best pond or water source with the most deer activity. But the scouting doesn't stop there.
September, October, and November are a prime time to scout. Now, it will be a little different than the previous months because now we are hunting. But when I'm walking to my stand or checking cameras, I'm still on the lookout for deer sign.
October and November normally brings out the best deer sign of the year. The bucks are making tree rubs and ground scrapes and it is the best time to find out where deer are moving and spending most of their time. I'm an advocate of hunting the sign. That means when I start finding rubs and scrapes, that is where I focus all my attention.
Early October the deer are starting to make rub lines to mark their territory. It is a great place to set up and hunt. November begins the ground scrape phase, which is even better. They will come through and periodically check those scrapes for other deer activity and that is, in my opinion, ground zero for hunting.
December is a time where the deer are getting back to their normal feeding habits, so food sources and those food plots we put out come into play. I again look for trails and bedding areas and get right back to the hunt.
Well there it is, Scouting 365. The more you are out in the woods learning about deer movement and deer sign, the more successful you will be from the stand. Good luck and happy hunting.
Bradley Routh is the founder and host of the Missouri-based television show Full Draw Madness TV. Although he hunts using many different styles, bow hunting is his area of expertise. He has been hunting for 30 years with many successful hunts under his belt. Bradley writes hunting articles for two Missouri newspapers and a national Midwest hunting magazine.