Every deer hunter knows that to tag a deer you must hunt in an area that the deer are located in! For the rookie hunter, scouting may seem like a very daunting task, but with a few well written tips and a few pictures you will soon be on your way to becoming a pro at scouting for deer.
When I start my hike through some new hunting ground there are 5 things that I am looking for. Deer feces, deer rubs, deer scrapes, deer beds, and actual living deer! I will break these 5 tips down into its own category to help you become familiar with each when scouting a new deer hunting location. Keep one eye on the ground and one at about waist level and you will not miss a thing.
We all have a tendancy to find that pile of dog do in our yards with our shoes. Hunting for deer feces is no different. Walk through the woods with one eye on the ground. Deer poop is in pellet form and depending upon their diet it will come out and form a clumped pellet pile or a loose pellet pile. The softer the diet is to digest the clumpier it will be. A lot of deer poop in one area is a sure sign that you have a high volume of deer using that area.
Looking for scrapes can be a bit trickery than the other signs. Scrapes are usually only made during certain times of the season leading up to and during the mating stage. This is another sign you will be looking for with that one eye that is on the ground. Imagine if you took a rake with you in the woods and raked out an area all the way to the soil that was an average of 18 inches square. What you would have before you would look exactly like your typical deer scrape in the woods. Deer will scrape out these areas and then urinate in the soil to mark their territory or let other deer know that someone new has moved into the area. Scrapes are also a sign that bucks are in your area. Scrapes will sometimes have what is called a licking branch right above their location. The deer rub their glands from their face on this branch to enhance the scrape with their scent. Do not stick your hands in the scrape or on the licking branch. If you plan on hunting this area the last thing you want to do is alert the deer of your presence.
When looking for rubs I stop and scan all the trees that I can see from my location about 18 inches off the ground. Rubs are formed when bucks are exercising their neck muscles in anticipation of the mating season. They do this by lowering their head and rubbing the tops of their skull along the base of a tree. This will rub all the bark off and create a shiny section of the interior of the tree. When looking for rubs I also check out any small bushes that are around me. When bucks are trying to shed the velvet off their antlers they will sometimes rub bushes with their heads as well so that the branches will scrape off the remaining velvet. If you can find an area that has quite a few “horned bushes” you know you have a buck in there that was just trying to remove the velvet from his antlers. When you spot a rub take a few extra minutes and double check that there are no more in the area. Often you will be able to find a “rub line” and discover a bucks travel route.
Deer beds are also located at ground level and or a sure sign that deer fill comfortable in this particular section of woods or overgrown fields. When a deer beds they take into account how well they are hidden from view. Imagine if you laid down on some leaves in the woods or on some tall grass out in a field for an hours time without moving. How would the ground look when you first got up? All the leaves would be smashed or the grass would all be bent over in the shape of your body. A deer impression on the ground is no different. One thing I like to do when I find a deer bed in the woods is touch the leaves where they have been laying. It will surprise how often you find one that is still holding some body heat from the deer that was recently there.
I like to see live deer no matter what time of year it is and nothing beats this sign. If your new hunting area is near a road you can travel down frequently I would take every opportunity to do a drive by. Even if its an extra mile to get to the grocery store or pick your kids up from school you can learn a lot about deer behavior from the comfort of your vehicle. You can start to pattern deer way before the season starts by just catching glimpses of them in fields as you drive by. What part of the field were they in? At what area where they entering the woods? You also never know when you will catch a fleeting glimpse of that Boone and Crockett buck that would look lovely on your living room wall!
I hope these scouting tips help to make your next deer hunting trip a success.