By Tony J. Peterson
While recently recording an episode for a podcast I’m working on, my guest and I got on the subject of time in the woods and what it means to the whitetail hunter. This isn’t revolutionary stuff, but where it took an interesting turn is when we got onto the topic of springtime hunts and how they can influence fall success in the deer woods.
Throughout our conversation it occurred to me that the largest buck I’ve ever killed, a public-land 10-pointer with serious palmation, ended up wearing my tag because of a turkey hunt a few years prior. In fact, more than a few of my best whitetails have hit the dirt because of what I’ve learned while turkey hunting, and now I plan run-and-gun style hunts just to visit new areas under the guise of gobbler hunting. I am, of course, looking for a longbeard, but that’s not the sole goal of these trips.
The other purpose is to find quality whitetail spots. Here’s how.
Spring Scouting With Distractions
The idea behind spring scouting for whitetails is to simply cover ground while deciphering last year’s sign. Simple. The problem with spring scouting, however, is that most of us don’t - or won’t - do it. The carrot is hanging way too far in front of our noses to get us out there, and so we pass on the opportunity.
If you’ve got a nonresident turkey tag in your pocket and a 12-gauge stuffed with magnums, you might not feel that way. While you will (hopefully) be distracted by longbeards, you’ll also likely have plenty of incentive to cover serious ground, run across a few sheds and rubs, and learn what a property has to offer.
That’s not nothing.
This spring, for example, I’ve got a late-season tag for Iowa. I’m sitting on enough deer points to draw any unit I want but am lacking in public-land confidence. Hopefully by the time the May drawing for deer kicks in, I won’t have that problem. I’m going to run-and-gun down there to see if I can find a place worthy of the price of a deer tag and 10 days of my time in November.
What About Bowhunting?
So you don’t want to jelly-head a gobbler with a bunch of lead shot? I get it. I rarely shotgun hunt turkeys these days unless it’s on a dual-purpose hunt designed to learn deer ground. If you refuse to pick up the scattergun, don’t fret. You can still learn a lot about fall deer through spring gobbler hunting.
The previously mentioned numero uno buck in my life happened because I spent a few days turkey hunting a specific ridge. The view from my blind let me watch for approaching toms but also see deer coming and going from food to bed and bed to food. They passed through a patch of cedars often, and when I first hunted the spot for deer I arrowed a good eight pointer as he emerged from that small patch. Two years later, I shot the bigger buck in the same patch - largely because of what I witnessed in deer activity while sitting in my camo prison.
Remember You’ll Forget
Whatever app you use to navigate, use it to mark promising spots. I used to drink copious amounts of whiskey so it’s been a long time since I trusted my memory, and because of that and just what life has taught me otherwise, I mark waypoints for everything interesting. There are several apps that allow you to do this, and I tend to lean on onX pretty heavily.
I like being able to drop various waypoints and then write notes about them. It’s not enough to pepper a map with “good spots” if you can’t remember why they were good. I note things like available stand trees, what wind directions would work best, and if I feel a spot has an edge as far as seasonal timing is concerned. For example, if something looks like a killer rut pinch point, I don’t want to show up there on September 15 thinking it’s a done deal.
If I’m going to run-and-gun public land, I like later in the season for overall turkey success. Usually the crowds have thinned, the gobblers have dispersed, and you’ve got plenty of cover to slip from setup to setup. The downside to this is that last year’s deer sign will have either disappeared some, or at least become muted by the new growth.
Understand this while you’re working on the details of your trip. If you can make an early trip work and are truly interested in scouting new deer ground, go. If you can’t, or are leaning toward making sure you get another rope for the beard board, that’s okay. You’ll be able to figure plenty of stuff out in May that will benefit you plenty come deer season.