As a part time whitetail guide here in Missouri, I spend 365 days a year scouting to ensure I know where and when the deer are moving to better put clients and myself on the deer. While each property you hunt is different with terrain features, food sources, hunting pressure, and other factors, some simple tips I provide you can improve your chances on targeting that buck you’re after.
Strap up the boots
My first step to scouting is and always will be putting miles on the boots. There is no better substitute than getting eyes on the areas you plan to hunt or if you’re lucky seeing the target animal you’re after. While using a map is important and a topic I will address, it can only tell you so much. For instance, putting in leg work will allow you to find active deer trails, food sources and better yet, that big old oak tree you’re going to hang your stand in this fall. I will usually spend my time walking the perimeter of the properties I hunt and work my way in to the center until I have knowledge of the lay of the land and its characteristics.
Along with walking the property I like to glass food sources during the summer months with my spotting scope to determine deer numbers and movement. I routinely grab my spotting scope and a high vantage point and try and take note of where and when deer enter the crop fields or food plots over which I hunt. I ask myself questions such as; where did that buck enter the soybeans? What time of day did I first see him? Has the buck done continued this pattern on consecutive or multiple days? Whitetail deer are creatures of habit and can be somewhat predictable; it’s putting in the time to figure out those patterns that really matter. I can’t really say more about this specific topic other than get outside and enjoy your day walking with nature, oh and take notes!
Bird’s eye view
Not far behind scouting on foot do I place scouting from aerial photography or topographic maps. They say a picture says a 1,000 words, well so do maps. Just from looking at any given map I can better predict animal movements and possible stand locations. A map will tell you things you can’t see from walking the areas, which is why I always do some map recon before I enter an area. As stated before, nothing replaces putting in the leg work, but adding a map to the equation greatly increases your knowledge of the area.
When I first look at a map I determine the property’s boundaries to identify the limits of my movement. Once the boundaries are identified you can determine where animals such as deer are possibly entering and exiting your hunting area. From there I look at major terrain features; is there a ridge splitting the property or a river? How does the timber lay in comparison to open areas such as fields or crops? Are there large blocks of timber or fence rows lined with trees? Are there any roads or trails? I could compile a large list of questions to ask yourself while doing a map recon but each property is different, so rack your brain and learn the property.
Three main things I look for on a map when dealing with whitetail are: 1. Food and water sources, their primal need, food and water. 2. Travel corridors, where are the deer coming from and where are they going. 3. Bedding areas, where does ol droptine rest his weary rack. Once, I identify any of these features, I trace to the map to determine how that feature connects to the other two. Ok, here is a crop of soybeans or a block of white oak trees producing acorns. If I were a deer how would I approach these food sources while still feeling safe? Well I would walk my lil white tail along this ridge line through the trees to the acorns or I would walk this dry creek bed or finger of trees through the field to reach those soybeans. Where did I come from? Well I was bedded in the saddle 200 yards down the ridge so I could have a vantage of approaching hunters or maybe I was bedded in the thick block of timber that is connected to the soybeans by the strip of trees. Each scenario will be different depending on the property and where you hunt across this great nation. If you can look at a map and determine those three items listed above from a whitetail’s perspective then you will have a pretty good idea as to where to tighten your search.
Hire a Private Eye
The next topic of discussion is trail cameras. These can be a very useful tool if you are limited on the amount of leg work you can put in. One property I hunt and guide on I am currently running 11 different cameras on. I’m not saying to run out and buy a dozen trail cameras but I will detail how I use trail cameras to hone in on my quarry.
First, I like to start each season and/or scouting a new property by placing my trail cameras along the perimeter of the property and slowly tightening the space at which they are placed, focusing on deer activity. For instance, let’s say you have a property that is square and four trail cameras to place out. I would begin by placing each trail camera on one of the corners or edges of the property, depending on terrain and cover. After week one, the camera in the Northwest corner has the most photos of the four, therefore I will move the other three trail cameras closer to the vicinity of the NW camera. After week two I have noticed that most of the deer activity is now equal between the Northwest camera and the Northeast camera. This pattern may continue until I realize that most of the deer are traveling along a creek bed that enters the property from the north and leads to a food plot in the center of the property. As before, each scenario and property is different, but if you can use your cameras to your advantage and establish a plan of attack with them, you will greatly increase your odds of patterning that buck.
A mistake I used to make early on with my trail cameras was only placing them on a mineral site or food plot. This is great to get an idea of deer population, to identify the different bucks on your property, and to determine what time of day the activity is occurring, but don’t stop there! Expand your search by using your trail cameras to determine when and where the bucks are traveling. Getting pictures of a 10 point buck on trail camera is exciting, but if you are only getting pictures of that buck on your food plot after dark, all you really know is that you have a nice buck on your property. Using the perimeter method I addressed earlier will help you find that buck during day light hours and then you know where you need to be to harvest him.
I’ve included a map of one of the properties that I hunt, earlier. Outlined in red are the property borders and the yellow markers indicate early season trail camera locations. Each year the patterns of deer may differ depending on food sources and the home ranges of bucks. From the photo you can see how I use the main ditch running from west to east on the property as an attack point for trail cameras as this is a main travel corridor. Also, I keyed in areas to place trail cameras on the perimeter from glassing from a high point in the center of the property. I used my spotting scope to see how deer were entering the property and then in areas that I couldn’t see from my spotting vantage point because of terrain or trees, I placed a trail camera. My method has produced countless pictures of the bucks on my hit list from this property.
While there are many other methods of scouting, the three I have detailed in the article above are very useful methods that I have used over the years to determine the locations where I would hang my stands in the fall. I know for a fact that using this method has allowed me to place stands to have clients and myself on deer throughout the season. One of the best things about using these techniques is that you learn the property and the deer patterns very quickly. It may not be an overnight discovery, but you will find that by following these steps, you will get better at scouting each season! Happy hunting and shoot straight!