Scouting for Whitetail Deer

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Ask any hunter who regularly harvests a deer, how they do it ?  You will get the answer.  By scouting! 

To become an accomplished hunter, one must be willing to spend more time scouting than actually hunting.  This way by the time you step into the woods you will be familiar with the woods and know the habits of the deer that occupy them.   Scouting will improve your chances of seeing deer. 

Let's get started:

The main thing you want to accomplish when scouting is to become familiar with the cover and terrain of the area you will be hunting.   This will help you in predicting deer movements and in determining which hunting techniques will work best in that area. 

Scout an area that you can cover with relative ease.  Keep one thing in mind.   The area you are scouting must be large enough to include the home ranges of several deer.  Depending on your physical ability you can scout an area of several miles or just an area that contains abundant deer sign.  If you choose to hunt where you find good sign, as we all should, become familiar with every part of that area.  Also, locate several locations where deer sign is present.  It is not good to over hunt one area, the deer will pattern you and avoid the area all together, instead of you patterning them.

Sign: 

While familiarizing yourself with the terrain you should be looking for trails, tracks, droppings, rubs and scrapes, and and other sign that may mean deer are frequenting a certain area.  Don't just confine your scouting to well worn trails only, make side trips into cover that looks like it will hold deer.   If you do locate a deer, study it and try to learn as much as you can about it's movement pattern.   Below is a list of the most common type of deer sign you will encounter:

Rubs:  are the most important sign that bucks make before they start making scrapes.  Rubs are created when the deer "rubs" it's antlers on a tree to remove the velvet from their antlers or during the rut to leave a calling card for other deer.  Usually, the larger the rubbing tree the larger the buck that made it.

Scrapes: a scrape is made, usually during the rut, when the deer paws the ground to the bare earth and then rub-urinating on it.  Rub-urinating means the deer urinates down his back legs onto his tarsal glands, which are located on the inside of his back legs, he then rubs the tarsal glands together squeezing old strong smelling urine onto the scrape.  This odor is so strong that it can be smelled by humans.  Scrapes are always made near a small tree or overhanging branch.  The buck rubs his head on the tree and licks or rubs the branch leaving more of his scent.   A scrape is a definite sign that a buck is using the area.  Scrapes are usually made where they can be easily found, near feeding areas, trail intersections, along roads, fence rows or edges of clearings.  Afterall it is a calling card for does

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Droppings:  from a deer are usually elongated and for the most part tightly grouped.  Usually dark brown or black in color and soft and moist when fresh.

Trails: are made by deer traveling from cover to feeding areas and back again.  Follow the trails both ways to determine where the deer are coming from and where they are going. Locating frequently used trails is the key to locating the "high use areas" of the animals and setting up in the right spot at the right time for hunting. If you find the does you will find the bucks during the rut. Locating whitetail buck trails, especially rub routes, is the key to locating the buck's "high use" areas, which is the key to hunting whitetail bucks.

Beds: signify the daytime bedding site of deer.  It looks like a small depression in the grass or leaves.  Usually they are about 3 feet in length. On warm days, the Deer beds are often on sunny slopes or in a weedy field. However, on cold, cloudy, or windy days, the Deer take shelter and will bed among trees
Browsing Sign: is made when the deer tear off a bud on a small tree or bush.  Since the deer lacks upper front teeth the end of the branch is torn off leaving a ragged end.
Antler Sheds: are usually found in the spring in the area where the buck wintered.  These are proof that a buck made it through the hunting season.

 

Scout before, during and after the season.

Archers should start scouting during the late summer.  Look for good mast crop.  Active feeding areas will have lots of fresh tracks and droppings.  Firearms  hunters should scout just before the season begins.   To scout during the season you should still-hunt.  The slow deliberate pace of still hunting allows you plenty of opportunity to study sign and learn new terrain and a possible chance to get a shot.

After the season scouting allows you to closely inspect rubs, scrapes and trails without the worry of spooking the deer.   Chances are the sign that you find will be in the same general location the following year.

 

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