If you haven't set out to scout whitetails yet this summer, the window for doing so is rapidly closing. As of now, the weather is cooperative, food sources are plentiful, and even if deer do spot you, it is still early enough in the year that they will maintain or quickly revert to their normal behaviors. Therefore, if you want to get an idea of what deer in your area will be looking like this season and where the prime hunting areas will be, it is time to go see for yourself as the first portion of the season opens in just over five weeks.
Sure, there is an element of luck involved in hunting. However, there is also a lot of legwork and research involved as well. Assuming these tasks ahead of the season will better prepare you, giving you knowledge of what animals can be found where. Once armed with this knowledge, you can make plan that capitalizes on what you know to be true rather than winging it and hoping for an outcome you may not get. Rather than crossing fingers in hopes that you'll get close to a trophy buck this season, you can give yourself a greater chance by conducting some summer scouting.
The first thing to consider is the basic needs of deer, those being food, water, and cover. Finding a place where deer like to eat and watching them from afar is easy enough but the information you really need to glean from their eating habits are the routes to and from bedding areas and preferred food sources. During the summer season, deer are known to bed down close to the areas in which they eat. When hunting season opens, the push of hunters will send deer into deeper cover, but knowing which way they're heading will help you move with them, giving you a better shot.
Once you're aware of where deer are feeding and the routes they take, you want to determine prime locations from which to hunt. This can be done via foot travel from afar but using topographical maps can help. Ideally it is best to watch from a distance so as to avoid spooking deer, but at this time of year it is still early enough to risk deer becoming aware of your presence for the sake of informational rewards. It is unwise to habitually enter feeding or bedding areas, but as long as deer don't feel threatened, they won't stray too far or remain gone for long. Even so, waiting to get closer when movement is minimal and conditions are optimal such as during periods of rain or high wind is a good choice.
Photo: Turtle Creek Outfitters
Based on what you discover in terms of feeding, bedding down, and travel routes, you will next to want to choose locations for game cameras and set them when deer movement is at a minimum. For patterning bucks, setting up cameras on trails is best. This will get you pictures that are more quality than quantity in terms of information about who/when/what/where/how deer are moving. If you are more inclined to simply see what is out there, then placing a camera near minerals will get you some shots of the herd but won't really tell you anything about their movements.
Having had the chance to view trail cam photos for directional information should have you in a good position to make some serious decisions about your hunting strategy and locations. Although deer behavior is going to be different by the time hunting season rolls around and food sources diminish, the whole point is to figure out where the deer are. Just because they were in one area last year does not mean they'll be in the same area this year. Deer go where the food is, and food sources are not always constant, especially when it comes to deer that feed on farmland. Crop fields are often rotated and some years will not be used at all, possibly removing a prime source of food and right along with causing deer to move out as well. The only way to know this is to do some scouting.
The ultimate goal of scouting is to confirm the presence and general location of deer as well as bedding areas, feeding areas, and routes of travel in order to place your deer stand. You want to place your stand on or near these routes and do so early. After a couple of weeks, the stand will become a normal part of the scenery that deer come to ignore whereas placing it a couple of days before the season opens will cause deer to be aware of and shy away from it. Since another goal in stand placement is to be downwind, you might want to consider placing more than one stand in an area so that regardless of wind direction, you will have a place to go that is downwind. The sooner you establish this, the better.
Have you got any other scouting tips you'd like to share? Is there anything in particular you prefer to be near to or avoid? Let us know in the comments.