by Chris Wheeler of WheelsUp Outdoors
Summer Scouting and Prep
With summer in full swing, most of our focus is on other things, like fishing, vacations, golf and late night barbeques with friends. Deer season isn’t always at the top of our list but for the few like myself that are addicted to the process and the chase of the whitetail deer, it’s always at the top of our list. For those of you like myself, summertime scouting can be where we start to align the puzzle pieces for the upcoming season. Here are a few tactics on how I like to put those pieces into place. I like to start by picking up my phone or laptop. Yes, I said phone or laptop. I’m going straight to my mapping apps and I start looking at the aerial maps. Next, I put boots on the ground. From there, I will monitor the property with cameras and continuously watch the open areas and collect data.
This is probably my favorite way to scout. Who doesn’t love sitting on their couch, looking at maps, dreaming of big bucks? Ridge systems, water, food and access points are a few of the things I start with while looking at a new area. From there I will be looking at potential bedding areas, transition lines, and funnels that connect all of those together. While doing this, I will place pins that come into play when I finally dive into the area.
Boots On The Ground
Once I’ve finished E-scouting and I’m headed into the area, I’m going to be checking the pins that I have placed. The first thing that I’m going to be looking for are beds in the areas that I’ve marked potential bedding. Once I find the bedding areas, I’m going to walk out the major trails coming in and out of the area. I’m looking for water sources and potential food, such as oak flats, possible agricultural fields and natural browse. After I locate the bedding, water and the food, I’m going to place cameras in and around these three areas. Next, I’ll be looking for stand locations along the trails, pinch points, and natural funnels leading in and out of these areas. From here, I’m going to be looking at my access points. Asking myself, what is the best way to my stand locations without being detected and blowing deer out of the area? These access routes might look like a small drainage, a standing corn field, where I can skirt the edge without being seen, or a path where you won’t make a lot of noise.
Leave It Be
After you have put these steps together, I have found it best to monitor the area from a distance. Let the cameras that you placed while putting boots on the ground collect the intel and if possible watch open areas such as agricultural fields and powerlines for deer movement. This way you can still stay in touch with what’s happening in the area without leaving traces of yourself. Following these three steps have led me to success and this is the approach that I continue to take leading into the season. I hope these tips help you succeed in the upcoming season and I wish you luck.
I live in Kentucky and hunt mostly large tracts of public land. I have found several ways to be successful in these hills, and one of the very best ways is to get out in the summer with the spiders and humidity and find where those fuzzy antlered whitetails call home.
These timbered hills and hollers with limited agriculture do not lend themselves to glassing, so most of my scouting is done by canvassing as much area as I can with trail cameras. I deploy my cameras over mock scrapes placed in the best terrain funnels that I can find on topo maps, whether it be the head of a drain or a saddle in a ridge. I try to cover as much ground as possible searching for that next true public land monarch.
If I locate a buck that I want to target I will leave that camera alone and in place. If not, I try to move them every week. Once I have a list of animals, or just one that I really want to target. I shift the rest of my cameras to that area and try to close the web in. I try to learn as much as possible, and if I am lucky I can get a shot in early September before their patterns change. If not, I have found that most of the truly large bucks don’t relocate much.
The work you put in now can be hot and at times miserable, but the excitement and anticipation of sitting in the stand and knowing that a Booner lives on this piece of ground, gets you up a few more mornings when you would otherwise sleep in.
Early season scouting for me is all about food. In the hill country around me, bucks – and deer in general – tend to bed very close to field edges from summer all the way through early season (mid-end of September). Here’s the three main ways I find bucks during late summer and early fall.
Walking field edges – This is the fastest way for me to inventory an area or property. Walking along the outside edge of any destination type ag field will tell you a lot about deer density, hunting pressure, and sometimes age structure of bucks in the area. Beaten down trails entering/exiting the field with a lot of browse occurring on the outside few rows would indicate a high deer density. Most properties, public and private, will have a majority of hunting pressure/human sign on field edges, so look for trail cameras, stands, boot tracks, etc. to tell you about the hunting pressure in the area. Lastly, big tracks and licking branches can be a quick way to verify mature bucks in the area. Those outside few feet on most fields is mainly dirt or mud, so tracks will really stand out, and any overhanging branches can be a great community licking branch for any bucks around.
Trail cameras on scrapes/mock scrapes – Something I’ve really gotten into the last few years is creating mock scrapes either right next to food sources, or in between bedding and food. The best luck I’ve had is refreshing scrapes I know have been used most of the year in past years. These seem to occur right where bucks converge as they exit bedding and head to food. Some great examples of this in my area would be crows foot ridges and thermal hubs, and they can make great early season spots to hunt.
Glassing/shining – During late summer and early September I will try and glass bean/hay fields in the evenings. Bucks are very visible this time of year, and you can see a lot of deer in one evening. This can give you a live look at how deer are entering food sources and give you a general sense at travel routes if you know the bedding on that property. In my area, shining at night is legal outside of hunting season as long as no weapons are on person or in the vehicle, and it is legal during season before 10 p.m. again with no weapons allowed. This is a crazy effective way to cover a lot of ground, and see a lot of deer in each area. You can sometimes cover an entire county in just a few nights, especially later into the fall when it gets dark at an earlier time.
Getting inventory of an area is a lot about sticking to the basics. Take notes, pin some stuff, and most importantly, have fun just learning. Once you learn to appreciate the process, it makes the heat and bugs much more enjoyable. Hopefully, everyone has an exciting early season coming up!