Deer Scouting 101

By Ryan Graden

August is here and the impending deer season is rapidly approaching for you! The seconds can’t pass fast enough for us as we await the sunrise of that treasured date. However, there is a lot to do if you are going to enter into the deer season prepared. There is more to the hunting than just entering the timber with your weapon. Whether you consider yourself a trophy hunter looking for the maximum number of inches to put on your wall, or you are a meat hunter and just desire to fill your freezer, either way you have some scouting to do and here’s where you need to start.

Growing up, I was lucky to tag along with a great group of my father’s friends. We would gather every shotgun season ready to get the deer rolling through the Iowa timber and fields in order to harvest what we could. Although we always had luck, we never were certain of what was in the timber. We never did any preparations, scouting, or have any understanding of our hunting area. Over time, we began to figure things out which increased our success. However, had we taken the time to do our homework and a bit of scouting, I’m sure that we would have done a lot better much sooner.

As I matured in my deer hunting experiences, I expanded my skills and began to hunt with other weapons that would give me a greater challenge when chasing whitetails. For me, when I harvested a whitetail with my bow or muzzleloader, I have an increased sense of satisfaction. Moreover, to have that success, I have realized how important it is to do some scouting prior to the season. I want to “increase” my chances of success, especially when I know that I have a stick and string, or just one shot to make it happen.

Where do you start?
Every year, when August rolls around, I begin my annual scouting checklist. First things first, I need to find the deer. Sounds logical, but you’d be surprised how many hunters enter the woods not really knowing if there are deer there or not. If it’s timber, they just assume that their quarry will be there. Sometimes, that assumption is dead wrong!

If you have a good pair of binoculars, or just a good set of eyes, you have a way to start. Take them out to where you are hunting and see if you can begin to find the deer in that area as they come out at dusk to feed. Start by following your “hunch” of where they should be and make a plan (and time) to go out and seek.

For me, this means I jump in my truck and drive the roads along the fields and timbers that I hunt. I will usually park my truck, turn it off, and begin to watch. I stay inside my truck for the simple fact that deer are used to seeing vehicles. It ends up being my blind of sorts. Some times I go to the same place two to three days in a row. Some weeks I move to a new spot every evening. If you are hunting a deep timber property, throw on your camo, walk into the timber (keep in mind the wind direction) and find a place to sit and observe. Be making mental notes when you have success doing this.

In many ways, this is “hunting”. You are laying in wait for the deer to appear. Of course, you are not there to make the harvest, but you are doing your best to figure out where the best place is to increase your odds for a harvest. I now bring my video camera and my camera in hopes of getting some pictures of the bucks that are appearing as I’m out looking for them. This is where my family begins to make a “hit list” of the deer we’d like to harvest. Be it buck or doe!

Find your place
As the deer show up, make note of where they are coming from. If you are doing some morning scouting (which is just as important), pay attention to how and where the deer are returning to the timber for their daytime cover. Knowing the variety of entrance and exit points the deer will use will help you begin to position yourself for your hunt.

Keep in mind, the wind will also play a big role in where you position yourself to hunt these deer. You also want to make sure that you are placing your stands or blinds strategically in order to give you a chance to make a harvest.

For example, as you have been scouting a field edge that you will be hunting come season, notice where the deer are entering and exiting that corner of the field. During the daytime hours, quietly walk out and verify their trails. Once you have that figured out, look to a few areas that will work for different wind directions. Then, place one or two stands appropriately in order to give yourself a shot no matter what the weather conditions might be. I try to have two stand options in each of my hunting areas. Both set up for opposite wind directions. There is nothing more frustrating than blowing a hunt because you only chose one spot for your stand and the wind direction is not cooperating for you to hunt that area.

Practice Makes Perfect
This last season, two of my four daughters made harvests by absolutely knowing that the deer they were after were going to show up in that certain area. Along with that knowledge, they also knew that they would have one chance to take a shot that would successfully make a harvest on those deer. If they screwed up their shot, those deer would be educated and the chances of seeing them there again would be slim to none!

So, what did we do? Practice! Practice! Practice! We spent an ample amount of time in August preparing our skills for that “one shot” that would send us into celebration mode! My daughters use a muzzleloader that we load with 60-80 grains of powder. We put targets out at 50 to 100 yards to practice taking carefully aimed shots at. We pay special attention to squeezing off the trigger, letting the gun surprise you, calming our breathing, and shooting in between breaths.

For me, bow season was my chance to chase after a buck of a lifetime. Just like my daughters, I knew that I needed to practice, practice, practice. Getting out and shooting my bow over and over again became a regular evening event. I fine-tuned my accuracy out to about 50 yards and entered the timber after a few bucks I had scouted for. That produced a buck that I had known for a few years. Thankfully, that night I was where I needed to be and I was ready for the shot. I knew the travel patterns of these bucks, their food sources, and what time they might be showing up.

Scouting is a time consuming chore. However, if you want to increase your chances for success, I would encourage you to get out there and do some intentional scouting prior to this year’s season. Find out what is going on with the deer in your area. Find out what is out there to harvest. Find out the best way to make that harvest. Moreover, if you do things right, I’m sure you will end up with pictures of a trophy that you will be very proud of.

Therefore, may you have the best success this seasons and good luck with your scouting!