There are so many ways of having this discussion. There are also so many different opinions on this topic. Today I am going to discuss a few scouting techniques, but also discuss when to scout. This is all personal preference. This is all just my opinion and I am in no way shape form or fashion claiming to be the deer whisperer. I will say that using these methods have heavily increased my odds while hunting. So, without further mumbling, lets dive on in!
Ok, so when exactly is a good time to begin scouting for next season and what kind of scouting is the most effective? Here is something I have found out the hard way, there is NO right answer to those questions. Yes, it is possible to pattern deer. Deer also have a brain and they do seem to become bored quite easily. This being said, deer are going to move around. What about a mature buck, does he have a home range? Yes, yes he does. We will discuss big buck techniques in a little while, right now lets get something straight. There is no definite answer to when you should begin scouting. Why? Because you should NEVER stop scouting. You should always be scouting, running your cameras and attempting to understand the way of the animal in which you are hunting. If you do this, I promise that you will learn more about your deer herd than you could ever imagine. One thing that does need to be taken into consideration, though, is giving your properties "space". What I mean by this is do not check your cameras every other day. Do not run crazy through your hunting properties in the off season. No matter what you think, the deer knew you were there before and they stressed about it. Give them time to relax and believe you are gone and never coming back. The more pressure you place on those properties the less deer you will see during day light hours. Continue your trail cameras, feeding and supplementing, but let your deer feel SAFE.
Now, we have established that you should always be scouting and learning about the properties that you are hunting. Lets get something out of the way here, are you ready for it? Deer patterns change. Oops, did I just say that?? Yes, yes I did. If you know your deer herd, then you should be able to look at the date, see what month it is and know where your deer are traveling. It constantly changes. This is why it is so vital to keep tabs on your deer herd throughout the year. Here is an example, I have a buck now that has been placed on my hitlist. I estimate that he is around four years of age and ready to rumble. He's a mature 5x5 typical ten pointer that has exploded this year, so good news for me. I have been getting pictures of this deer for three years now, year round. Not just in August, but all year. He is one of the few bucks that I have on my property that has three seperate home ranges. During antler growth, he stays inside of a clear cut thicket where nutrients in an abundance, along with thick cover and my mineral sites, which he frequents often. Now, as soon as velvet sheds, Ol' Buck travels to the neighboring 40 acres of Oak and crunches on acorns, begins his rub and scrape lines and becomes a complete loner. When the rut comes, he does not travel far, but becomes more sociable, in an aggressive way, though. After the rut, during late season and bitter cold weather in Eastern Kentucky, Ol' Buck travels to a section of my property where he devours my turnip and rape food plots, bedding close to the water and food plots, staying strictly nocturnal. As soon as the weather breaks and spring blooms, right back into the clear cut he goes! How do I know all of this? Let me explain....
Lets say that you purchase two trail cameras and place them on opposite sides of your farm over top of mineral or feed sites, in hopes of keeping all your deer in one easy to reach location come deer season. You go check your cameras every few weeks and see a smoking nice Pope & Young 8 point buck coming in consistently. Deer season starts and you see him one time the first two weeks, but cannot get a shot. All of a sudden, he disappears. No more trail camera pictures, no more sightings and no more tracks of his on the ol' logging road you use to make entrance to your stand. In this type of situation, it is very easy to get discouraged, isn't it? I did. I became furious. I wanted to know where my deer went and I wanted to know now! I refused to sit back and wonder any longer. I purchased two more trail cameras and placed them on opposite sides of the other two I had out. Guess what, I found my buck. Consistently,just like before, here he was. So, I studied that area on maps and on foot (slightly). There were all the acorns. There were several rubs and scrapes. This was his fall turf. Later, after the rut and obtaining hundreds of pictures of Ol' Buck, he began popping up on trail camera #4. I began to put a pattern together. The next year, same thing. Hopefully, you guys are staying with me here!!
I have patterned several bucks in this manner. One thing that I have learned, just because you can catch them on camera does not mean your going to kill them. Without the knowledge of the way they adapt to the weather and season change, you would be at a total lost. I know there are a thousand of hunters out there who every year climb into the same tree stand that they have for 20 years and continue to talk about the "big" one they seen 10 years prior out of it, claiming he is still alive. Do what makes you happy, ultimately. But if the challenge of taking a mature whitetail with your bow makes you happy, know your deer herd. Know your deer herd. Know your deer herd.
There are several topics I could touch here. I could talk about thermals, which I encourage you all to research. I could talk about wind changes with the season, nurtrients deer need at different times of the year and where they get it from. The list goes on and on. I have read a thousand articles and watched hundreds of videos relating to this topic. Bottom line is this, know your deer herd. Every herd is different. Know them, understand them and be among them. Get out and hunt. Trail cameras can tell you a lot, but not everything about the properties you hunt. This is one rule of thumb that I live by now, and it has forever changed the way that I hunt. When you see deer, #1 make it your goal to UNDERSTAND why those deer are traveling through that location, #2 figure out where they are coming from and where they are heading to. When you figure out where they are coming from and where they are heading to, UNDERSTAND why those deer are traveling through those areas as well. Do this, and I bet your hunting season will instantly improve.
Remember something, when you see deer or deer sign, be sure to make a mental note of what time of year it is, if it is sign, how fresh it is. All of the facts matter. There are a few instances where a deer's pattern will never change but most of the time the pattern will change several times. There are good rut stands and then there are what I call "Timely" stands. A timely stand, to me, is a stand that really does not get hunted much. Only in the right times of the season, weather and wind taken into consideration, will I hunt that set. Too many times, during the rut, the young hunter climbs into a tree and sees the best action he could ever imagine. Bucks chasing does, multiple bucks or kills a giant. The next year, beginning of season, he climbs right back into the stand and gets skunked. He tucks his tail between his legs after a week of zero activity and heads to a different farm, never to return. Do not be this hunter guys. There are rut stands, stands that bucks consistently, year in and year out, chase does by. Any other time of the year, it sees little to no action. Knowing your deer herd will aid you in picking out these locations and I cannot stress that enough.
Late Season can be an amazing time for activity while in the woods. Knowledge of your whitetail's diet will come in handy here. One thing you have to look at here, it is cold, the deer are tired after the rut and without packing back on the pounds your deer know they'll die. They go into instinct mode here. They are on very high alert, being shot at several times and having the orange army infringe upon their door step for weeks. This causes some nocturnal feeding patterns, but not always. The colder it is, the more they are going to want to eat and move around. Find your key late season food source. Deer are looking to pack on the pounds and put some fat on to survive through the cold. Find the food, you'll find the deer. Don't believe me? During a hard winter, watch your fence line out in your back yard of the evening. Bet the deer are cleaning it off for you! Like I said, deer go into survival mode here. I have witnessed some bucks get just as stupid over food during this time as they did during the rut looking for love.
Some believe that doing all of this is a severe waste of time, because every year they climb into the same tree and kill a nice buck. That is all fine and dandy, but I like to know WHY. I like to know why because learning these things I have discussed today, like what trees are producing the best acorns and where are the deer feeding in early season, that information carries over to all my properties and all the future properties I will hunt. I encourage you all to research, study and understand your deer herd.
Before I leave you today, I would like to say one thing. You get what you put in. That simply means that the more work you put into your properties, the more time and effort before season that you put in, the more you will get out of it come hunting season. It does not have to be killing a monster buck. At some point, the knowledge you obtain, it will solely be the reason you get the chance at a monster whitetail, but the shot is obvioulsy in your hands! Knowledge is priceless, and it will take you a long way in the woods. The more knowledge, the less lucky you have to be, do not forget that!