How to Scout New Hunting Property
December 28, 2016
The Boone and Crockett Club has been keeping statistics on trophy animals for many years now. These records are a treasure trove of data for hunters, including those of us fascinated by big whitetail bucks.
When entering a deer into B&C, hunters provide such key data as weather conditions, weapon, date, time of day and hunting method. Among these records are hidden gems that reveal some interesting things about deer behavior — including one that might surprise you.
I can't count the number of times I've read in magazine articles and books that a whitetail hunter should hunt the midday hours. These authors claim bucks will get up to stretch and move around during the middle of the day. And that during the rut, they'll be cruising all day long.
This idea sounds plausible, even logical — but trophy kill data don't bear it out. Of all the thousands of B&C bucks entered in the record books, only about 10 percent were shot between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The majority of those killed during midday were shot on drives. Of course, not nearly as many hunters are afield then, but it seems clear midday isn't a time of great deer movement.
From a DIY hunter's standpoint, there are certainly times and places in which it's best to be on stand during midday. But the vast majority of the time, our efforts are best spent elsewhere.
In all of my DIY hunts on new properties over the years, it seems a pattern has developed in the way I hunt. It starts wide, with information gathering and scouting, then narrows down more and more as the hunt progresses.
After 3-4 days I've normally identified two, maybe three spots where I think I have the best chance of being within range of a mature buck. Prior to that, it would be foolish of me to stay in a stand all day with only the small amount of information I've gathered to that point.
I might not even get in a tree the first two days of my hunt. I'm more likely to spend mornings and evenings glassing some areas or driving along the dirt roads surrounding the property in hopes of picking up clues to deer activity. I'll spend the remainder of the day walking, scouting and hanging trail cameras.
In many cases, the first stand I hang will be what I call an "observation stand"; it will be in a place allowing me to see a large area in which I expect to see deer feeding or rutting. These first stands are more for scouting than for killing.
By the second or third day, the hunt is in full swing. I'll now be sitting mornings and evenings where I realistically have a chance to encounter a buck. I normally have three stands up by the third day. Early in my mistake-ridden DIY career, I'd put up a stand that looked like a great evening spot but then had to hunt it in the morning as well, because it was my only option.
Now I always try to be thinking at least 24 hours ahead. When I'm sitting in a morning stand, I'm checking a weather app for the forecast — especially wind direction predictions — for the following morning. If I don't plan to hunt the same stand then, midday today is when I need to prepare my morning set for tomorrow.
The same is true of evening stands. I'll be checking the weather, scrolling through trail camera photos and thinking about what I've learned; I'm planning for the following evening's hunt. Then I know what must be done during the following midday.
I'll normally be out of the morning stand by 10-11:00 and then be hanging my evening setup. Often I'll run some cameras during midday before making a final decision on that evening's hunt location.
I always try to plan one day ahead and then prepare for it during midday. The last thing I want to do is be sitting in an evening stand and realize I have no good place to hunt in the morning. In very general terms, I usually find myself hunting near bedding areas in the mornings and food in the evenings. This seems to hold true even in peak rut.
This approach holds true for the first days of my hunt or until I find some spots in which I've gained a lot of confidence. I'll be hunting mornings and evenings and checking cameras and adjusting stand locations midday.
Of course, every day is different. Many of my hunts are during the first two weeks of November in the Midwest. The wind switches from day to day, the weather changes, crops are harvested, the deer are chasing more (or less), bucks are becoming more and more locked down with does, more hunters are using the property on the weekend, etc. If every day you're parked in a stand from daylight to dark, you might miss many key clues.
After a few days of this, my stand time increases. It seems I have a good feel for the stage of the rut and movement patterns. I've identified bedding areas and primary food sources. I've taken a pretty accurate inventory of the bucks available by placing cameras on trails and scent-treated scrapes. By this time, I've identified some locations — or one — where my gut says, "This is where it could happen for me."
At this point I can eliminate the intrusion caused by checking cameras and scouting and spend more time on stand. That might even be an all-day sit if I feel I'm really in the right place.
The key to being successful on a property new to you is to learn it well. Then plan each following day, making adjustments at least 12-24 hours in advance. Spend midday learning the property and the deer that live there. Adjust stand locations based on new information as you acquire it. Once you have the confidence that your stand is in the right spot, only then is it time to settle in for a day-long vigil.