Author: James L. Bruner
It happens to nearly every hunter at one point or another where everything is piled up weeks behind where they should be. For some it’s business schedules, others it’s family issues, while for another group it’s just a plain old lack of discipline and desire to do the work involved in scouting out a proper deer hunting area. I can’t change your desire to scout earlier in the year and some would say these people don’t belong in the woods, but I won’t judge anyone here. Instead let’s hop on the quickest trail to a productive deer hunt.
First of all let me jar your memory for a second and remind you once again how important field notes and outdoor journals can be. If you spend a lot of time in the woods throughout the year you probably have crossed paths, literally, with several places that caught your attention as possibilities for an upcoming deer season. A good friend of mine use to lament about the time I would spend viewing deer trails when we were fishing the river banks of some secret brook trout hotspot. It’s just a natural reaction for me to always have an eye open looking at my possibilities. This is where your notes come in handy as your memory might be a tad sketchy on the location. In hindsight I have to admit that most of these areas that were found by chance have turned into good standby and even primary hunting spots. If you have such an area in mind, and it fits into your now restrained schedule, it’s probably a good time to have a closer look. In essence search your notes and mind for these little possibility places before running off to the woods hoping for the best.
Next we’ll move on to those who have nothing to work from. Maybe it’s your first year deer hunting or your old hunting spot has been lost. Maybe you’ve relocated and have no choice but to start brand new. Whatever the case you’re starting from scratch and have very little time. First I would get a plat book or land ownership map for the area you plan or hope to hunt. This will immediately point out the public hunting areas available to you. This will also show the borders and entry points, or lack thereof, to each parcel of property which again can be detrimental to accessing the land. It does you absolutely no good to hope for access to any property only to find out that it is landlocked by private property. Some of these maps are available online so take a moment to research exactly what you’re looking for and you may save yourself a lot of time and a few bucks. Once you have this map it may be unclear what you’re looking at in terms of the makeup of the property. It may be brushy or possibly even have been clearcut if you’re looking at older maps. It won’t take but a few minutes to view the property with a program like Google Earth which will give you some defining views of the land. Keep in mind the date of those pictures also as they may be older stock. All in all this is simply a homework assignment that can take place once daylight has faded.
There are those times when a hunter is so blessed that public land stretches as far as the eye can see. Imagine the number of big whitetail bucks wandering an expanse of forest that easily exceeds a thousand acres. Now you can imagine the scouting involved and why next year you will be out here much earlier. Right? It’s practically impossible to set out on foot and cover an area like this when time is not on your side. Some will call it lazy but this is when you put your tools in motion. Literally. It’s time to put your vehicle in idle and drift down the road looking for some decent deer trails to explore. There’s no doubt you will find more than a couple and there is a benefit other than covering this much property so quickly. You know that according to a deer’s home range of roughly one acre that you can be scouting more than one deer range which increases your percentage of success by hanging more than one stand.
Once you have a few trails chosen it’s time to go back and put your boots on the ground. Now even though you’re short on time and you’ve used a vehicle to help you out let’s still try to turn this into a scouting trip. A short 50 yard walk away from the main road probably isn’t going to cut it. Besides, unless you’re hunting in an urban environment you’re not going to be happy watching vehicles drive past not to mention any county regulations that may exist about hunting so close to a road. Most likely you will need to investigate both sides of the road to determine the travel of the deer and hopefully pull some knowledge as to why the deer are using the area. The key is you’re moving along while you process the information you’re seeing and hopefully writing some of this info down. As with any scouting keep noise to a minimum and refrain from touching or brushing anything that will leave more scent in the woods. It’s bad enough you’re strolling down the deer’s sidewalk so try to keep the impact as small as possible.
Scouting at this point is really no different than scouting deer earlier in the year with the exception that the resident herd is going to be set on offense just days before the hunt. That’s a tough sell to try and hope the deer don’t feel threatened especially in a more confined system like a swampy area filled with conifers that restrict movement. In the past when I had to vacate a hunting spot and needed to scout during the season I would drag a scent rag behind me. Nothing of an attractant since that would draw attention. A simple earth or matching pine, anything similar to the surroundings, helps to keep at least a few cards hidden in your hand. Once you have your scaffold or blind setup then you might want to drag an attractant rag behind you on your walk to the hunting area. Little hint here – don’t start dragging the attractant rag from the time you jump out of your truck.
Some other key elements to keep in mind is to look for signs of other hunters. You’re new to the area but the locals may have been hunting here for years. There’s nothing worse than showing up at your hunting spot on opening morning only to see another vehicle parked nearby. That tells you for one that you didn’t scout very well and for two, you’re late. Just as maddening is being all set in your hunting spot and some late hunter shows up at daybreak and ruins your morning.
And speaking of locals. If you’ve passed by the option of asking a local to hunt their property you may have missed the boat so to speak. There are a lot of private landowners out there who see you coming a mile down the road and will turn you away before your knuckles touch the door. Then again there are others who will welcome you with open arms at their kitchen table simply because they’re tired of the deer eating their garden. In any case always act respectful when seeking permission and offer a service or some fresh venison in return.
Also keep in mind that you will need a decent tree to hang a stand from if you’re archery hunting. If you’re fortunate to have several treestands then use them accordingly in different areas. At this time of the season it would be ideal not to do any trimming so you may have to make a judgment call of whether to hunt from a specific tree that offers good height or background cover or, do some trimming and risk the obvious. You can always opt to hunt from the ground even with archery gear. Yes. Even with archery gear.
And nothing else plays more true than the words you have had pounded into your head since you began hunting about watching wind direction. Need I say more? Probably not so also consider the direction of sun. A bright morning of the sun shining directly in your eyes is going to make for a long morning of squinting or staring at the ground.
Last but certainly not least is don’t expect to hit a homerun when you step up to the plate this late in the game but in the same breath don’t lower your hunting standards and certainly not your expectations. And don’t be unwilling to move if the hunting isn’t working out in your favor. I move from one stand to the next quite often during the course of the year. Sometimes that is simply due to wind conditions but others have been a decrease in deer sightings or I simply want a change of pace due to my restless nature. All in all you have probably spent some years doing a lot of work for a single hunt and maybe the payoff wasn’t what you expected. Maybe this will be the year where a minimal amount of preparation actually works in your favor and that last minute deer scouting reveals the buck of a lifetime.