February 03, 2023
By Josh Honeycutt
Scouting whitetails is a massive topic full of rabbit holes. We could discuss it for days and still not cover all things relevant. But for those who plan to scout more effectively than ever before, one thing is certain: you must understand whitetails and how they behave.
There are numerous layers to this skillset. The most basic of which include a firm grasp on general bedding, feeding and watering behaviors and tendencies. These are the base-level requirements for being successful scouting in the field. Not only must the individual know what sign to look for, but they also must be able to translate these findings into actionable advantages. We’ll talk more about that in future parts of this series.
Of course, it’s crucial to mark bedding areas and even specific beds within bedding areas. Knowing these locations is critical to building out a hunting property and planning future hunts with a chance at success.
While scouting bedding areas, look for concentrations of bedding sign in thick areas with high stem counts. Deer prefer such early successional habitat for daytime security cover. Also, check solar bedding (south-facing slopes), thermal bedding (conifers, such as cedars, spruce and pines), benches, leeward ridges, ridge points, marsh edges, swamp interiors, islands of cover, CRP fields, cutover timber, oxbows and other overlooked areas where deer might bed. Keep track of key discoveries.
Food sources are important, too. Knowing exactly what foods are on the property, and their location in relation to nearby bedding areas, is crucial in predicting lines of movement. With these important point A and B locations, hunters can not only know how to intercept deer along these routes, but they’ll also know what time of year to expect movement, based on when the bedding areas best serve the local herd and when adjacent food sources hit their peak in digestible energy.
For example, most food sources are only available and consumed at specific times of the year. Likewise, some bedding areas are only used at certain times of the year. It’s important to recognize the seasonality of both. Assigning scouting discoveries to certain phases of the season is part of turning scouting finds into future successful hunts.
And don’t forget about water. Deer need this, too. Remember all water sources, even small watering holes that might just be the size of a bucket in the ground. That’s all deer need, especially within or near daytime bedding areas.
While scouting, mark up physical maps or drop markers on your preferred app. Various layers and tools will amplify, highlight and even help interpret scouting efforts and discoveries (I prefer to use HuntStand).
Furthermore, with your path-tracing feature activated on your app, hunters can walk every trail, effectively lighting up an aerial with the entire network of trails on the property. (Just remember to pause this feature if you must get off a trail). This effort, paired with dropped pins for all promising scouting finds, will help illustrate exactly how deer use the property.
Then, once all bedding areas, food sources and watering holes are located and recorded, it’s important to analyze and translate these behaviors and patterns into an actionable post-scouting planning. But more on that in part two of the Post-Season Master-Class.