Summer Patterning Tips and Tricks

By Noel Gandy

Independence Day is annually celebrated on July 4th. It is the anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. Patriotic displays and family events are organized throughout the United States. Fireworks are popped, hotdogs are consumed, and generally a good time is had by all.

For me, the Fourth of July has become another holiday of sorts: the beginning of deer season! By this time, whitetail bucks have grown enough antler to really start showing what they will turn in to. What a rush! In Iowa, whitetail deer cannot be hunted until October 1st, (unless you fall into the youth or other special categories in which case you may begin a couple of weeks earlier) but we all know that deer season does not begin on opening day. Time and preparations have to be made in order to consistently bag your buck. Sure, a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and then and stumble into a whitetail harvest without much scouting. However, for consistent success there are some steps that can be taken in order to make your time in the field more efficient.

Before the “how” is discussed when it comes to early season scouting we need to determine the “why”. The natural response would be, “because I want to shoot a great buck.” While that is a very notable reason to scout it should not be the end all. A better way to pose the question would be, “What do you hope to accomplish by scouting?”

Is locating and patterning a particular buck your goal? Is finding a particular stand set up for a farm part of your rationale? Do you hope to find a new piece of ground to hunt that is holding deer? These questions give you a better understanding what you are looking for when scouting rather than going about the process without a plan. It is totally okay to jump in the truck and hit the Iowa backroads on a late summer evening with binoculars in tow. However, it does not do much good to find out where the deer are hanging out on farms where you do not have permission. Go into every scenario with a purpose and a reason and resist bumping or disturbing otherwise undisturbed deer.

Hit the Trail
My number one favorite go-to way to scout is by utilizing trail cameras. The past ten years of technology advances among trail cameras has been wonderful for locating and patterning deer. Nowadays, one can better afford these products. In fact, some are so reasonably priced I would dare say that an arsenal could be employed.

As for setting summer trail cameras, hit the trails. Often, we hunt the same farms that we have hunted before. There are certain instances where we have acquired new properties but for the most part I would wager that most hunt familiar properties. Likely, you already have a good idea of areas that deer like to frequent during different times of the year so go ahead and put an eye in the sky and leave a trail camera behind. The great thing about summer scouting is that you can sneak into a place where trails are intersecting near water, food, and bedding and place a camera without much fear of running deer out of their home range. The key to running trail cameras in the summer, though, is setting it and forgetting it. By this I mean leave the cameras running for long periods of time between checking them in order to avoid too much foreign intrusion.

During summer months mineral supplements are allowed in Iowa. While all of this remnant must be removed before deer season begins (I recommend pulling all feed and supplement at the end of August to avoid manipulating deer behavior and movement) it can be beneficial in taking your farm’s inventory. Remember, summer scouting is more about finding which deer will be “near” your property come fall. Just because a deer is holding on your farm during August does not mean he will winter there. However, it does mean that he/she will probably be living within shouting distance. Summer trail camera pics go a long way towards checking the inventory of deer and getting us super excited for the season to come.

Get the Glass
As far as favorites go, glassing deer runs a tight second place to trail cameras for me. There are several vantage points on the farms that I hunt that offer a view down into crop fields. While this is not the case everywhere it is certainly a major benefit for my scouting. Taking time during a late summer evening to hike to a vantage point and glass for deer has become a favorite pass time for my family. This gives us up to the minute information on what deer are using the farm because we don’t check the trail cameras that often.

There are a few strategies to employ when distant glassing:
1. Stay Back
No good can come from getting too close to the deer you are glassing. The further you can stay away from the deer the better in my opinion. Sure, I want to see how many stickers my target buck is growing off of his bases. However, I would much rather count them in person and up close during October after a harvest rather than through the glass during August. Stay away now in order to get close later.

2. Maintain a Good Wind Strategy
Deer have some of the best noses in the business. Even distant glassing up to 400 yards can become dangerous if the wind is not judged correctly. Couple natural human odors (late summer, stinky sweat type of odors) with the mosquito sprays and other things that we need in order to be out in late July and we get a wealth of aroma. If deer are not used to smelling these types of things then even unwary summer deer will be on alert. Don’t risk blowing your deer away due to a marginal wind.

3. Water for the Win
Another fine place to find a bachelor group of bucks or a family group of does could be around the local watering hole. This seems like a no-brainer. There is significant data proving the percentage of deer that leave their bed and go to drink before heading to summer feed is significant. However, this is easier said than done. On the farms that I hunt there is a wealth of water due to the creeks and tributaries that run their lengths. However, after several years of hunting this area, I have found that there is one low spot in the creek that the deer prefer when it comes to drinking. This was found during turkey season on accident. The only reason I stumbled across it was because I was making a move on a gobbling turkey and I was looking for a good place to cross the creek myself. Deer are not much unlike us in the fact that they will usually take paths of least resistance. This, I have found, has been a phenomenal trail camera and early season bowstand spot. If you’re thirsty then chances are everything else is getting thirsty too during these warm summer months. Look for ways to get near water and chances are you will see an abundance of critters.

Other Thoughts
There is a fine line when it comes to patterning a deer during the summer and hunting him in the fall. Usually, as the beans begin to turn yellow, the summer patterns of deer begin to break up as the landscape is ever changing. I have found that for the past three years the deer hunting has been similar to the summer patterns for the first 6-10 days of the deer season into October. My son got his first buck last year that was totally on a summer bed to feed pattern. This, however, was in late September during the youth only season. I, on the other hand, had a crack at a target buck on October 11. It was only due to a cold snap that he got off of his feet because the field where I was hunting had gone barren for about four days after having been filled for the previous two months every afternoon.

With this information, is it even useful to “pattern” deer during the summer? My answer: yes and no! If you intend to hunt the first few days of the archery season then by all means spend plenty of time scouting and make a plan. I’ve hunted Iowa for three years now and have had shots at two target bucks two out of the three years before

October 11.
If you do not have plans to hunt the early season then the idea of “patterning” the deer should not be as prevalent as taking inventory of the herd. Figure out who is and has been using the property and adjust your later season hunting plans accordingly. Just because you do not plan to hunt the early season does not mean you should not enjoy seeing which mature bucks and up and comers have been using the property that you plan to hunt. Understand, though, that after the first couple of weeks of season the bachelor groups will disperse and the countdown to the rut will begin. Don’t be surprised when the buck you’ve dreamed about all summer does not show up during the rut. However, don’t be surprised if a brand new deer that you’ve never seen before graces your presence.

I have found no special art to summer scouting. Using solid principals, however, will increase your chance of locating and potentially harvesting a bruiser Iowa buck. Enjoy the anticipation and build-up to another deer season and get outside every chance you get! Scout from afar, utilize trail cameras on feed and water, and dream about the hunt to come!