Photo by: Robbie Mershon - Antler Addiction Pro Staff
How to hunt deer sign. Wow, that's another touchy subject! It's a subject though, that hunters have a tendency to think too far into. It's not rocket science, so stop trying to make it that way. I'm just going to hit on the basics for today. Ready? Let's get it!
The obvious and most common form of deer sign are going to be your "runs". A deer run is simply a path that deer use to get from point A to point B. Again, not rocket science. Let's talk a little about deer runs. It is extremely important to understand what kind of run you are looking at when you come across them. Your most obvious runs are mostly going to be your does and fawns. They will stick more to a specific pattern than old mature buck will. They will be traveling in sets so the path will be worn down clearly. A bucks trail is normally going to offset from the main path. It will be worn down, but not as much and usually just inside the edge of good cover. What's the best way to hunt these?
My opinion on trails, hang trail cameras. Then, discover what exactly point A and point B is. If this path goes between feeding and bedding, hang a set if stands. If it is not, chances are it's going to be a nocturnal path used for feeding. Your trail cameras will tell you the verdict on this. Deer runs are obviously a great sign, because it shows there deer in the area. Remember, the more noticeable a run, less likely a mature buck is using it.
Next, let's discuss rubs. There are so many misconceptions on how to hunt rubs. Hunting rubs can and will be successful. You have to hunt the right runs at the right time, though. Hunting buck sign can be extremely discouraging. You probably will see only one deer, the buck who made the sign, and he may not return to that area for a week, maybe two. Bucks make rubs from the time they shed their velvet until well up into the rut. That's 8-10 weeks of rub making. So, how do you hunt them?
If you want to save yourself the heartache, hunt them quick. After a buck starts shedding his velvet, his pattern is going to change. He will break away from his bachelor group and while getting settled into his new pattern, he's going to mark his territory. Chances are, that bucks going to change his pattern again. Between now and the rut, the pre-rut is going to come, meaning bucks will be establishing dominance and overtaking new territory. Between velvet shedding and the pre-rut, hunt your rubs quick. Within a day or two. After a few sits, if you don't see the buck making the sign, move along. Chances are, he already has. The rubs during the pre-rut, now that is where you can get lucky!
The rubs during the pre-rut are going to be made by more established bucks. The bucks are traveling funnels and bouncing between doe groups, checking them for estrous. Chances are Mr. Big Boy is traveling the area of his rub lines. Find an area where there are numerous of rubs, normally in a straight line, get off his path about 25 yards and hang a set. You'll want to catch him cruising through, scent checking his rubs on the downwind side. Still, this tactic is not promising. You do, however, stand a better chance this way while hunting rubs.
Now, let's discuss scrapes. Ah - yes. The one sign that hunters cannot wait to see during the fall. Scrapes are my favorite sign in the whitetail woods. I'm going to shock most of you hunters out here when I say this, though. Bucks make scrapes all year long! It is true. Find a huge soybean field in early August. Walk the edge if the field and count. You'll be surprised. Scrapes, though, are tough to hunt. They are my favorite sign, but they tend to be used by more than one buck. Bucks also have a tendency to not revisit scrapes very often. They mark their territory, scent check them from a distance and make many more. If you want to hunt scrapes, you need to hunt primary scrape areas. Let me explain.
Primary scrape areas are hard to find. Once you find them though, you've hit the lottery in the whitetail woods. These areas will be filled with scrape, after scrape after scrape. A lot of times, these will be in little transition areas. They will, however, always be in an area that the deer feel extremely secure in. Sometimes they will be right on the edge of a big bucks bed. Bucks are known to bed in primary scrape areas during the rut. He can relax, rest and all while waiting on a doe in estrous to cruise by. If you can find these spots, they are amazing. Get in there early, really early. Stay all day long and sit tight!
Ok, I've hit on rubs and scrapes, briefly! Notice I say briefly. I could go on and on over those two subjects. I want to fill you in on a little secret, though. Whitetails are hard to hunt for one main reason. They make choices. Just like you and I, a mature buck comes to a cross road. He either take run A or run B. At the end of both are the same thing most of time. Because of this fact, nothing is certain in the whitetail woods. Nothing. One thing is for certain, though, and that would be funnels.
Funnels, to me, are more important than the rest of your deer sign. You use your deer sign to determine a broad area in which your deer are using. Then, with an overview map, find your natural funnels. Deer have to and will use them. These are the best places to catch all deer traveling to and from. Remember that. It'll never change!
Guys/gals I hope you found today somewhat educational. I don't claim to know everything. I do, however, take a notion to study whitetail behavior year in and year out. Every time you step into the woods, remember, you can always learn something new. Always. Challenge yourself to question why, when you are hunting. You'll be surprised at the conclusions you come up with! Until next week - happy huntin'.