February 17, 2023
By Josh Honeycutt
Once you’ve finished in-the-field post-season scouting and studied all your findings, it’s time to create target buck game plans for the coming year. If you know or believe certain deer are still alive, it can increase the odds of success for next season.
For bucks you have multiple years of history with, begin the process by revisiting sightings data and trail camera photos from past seasons. Observe the locations and conditions of these encounters and take notes.
Next, take the most recent information from the season that just ended and see how it’s alike or different for the same bucks in years before. If consistencies emerge, these things should be noted. Such things can be returning to the area at a certain day or time, bedding in specific locations, making scrapes in certain areas, using specific trails, frequenting certain food sources or moving in daylight in certain ways.
After studying past intel, it’s easy to determine when target bucks tend to be on the property. For example, a specific buck might spend the early and late season there, but not the rut, or vice-versa. Other bucks might remain there all season long. Whatever the case, this is important information, as bucks oftentimes repeat behaviors from year to year. Be ready when it comes to fruition again this fall.
After reflecting on each buck’s habits and tendencies, it’s time to create plans for each phase they are expected to be on the property. First, estimate where they will bed. That’s the foundation of the plan. Everything else builds out from there.
Remember, bedding is seasonal. Bucks bed in certain places under certain circumstances, including time of year, temperature, wind direction and more. In the early season, when it’s warmer, deer require bedding that keeps them cooler (summer thermal cover). During winter, they require the opposite: winter thermal cover (conifer trees like cedars, spruce and pines). Or they may utilize solar cover on south-facing slopes, which help keep deer warmer. Obviously, deer will use these areas at certain times but not others.
The same is true for food sources. All the things that deer eat are seasonal. Whether it’s crops, food plots, soft mast, hard mast or browse, they all peak at certain times; and they are unavailable at others. Knowing when these peaks are is crucial.
Any food plots planted, or other food provided, must be synced in relation to when and how adjacent bedding areas are used by expected target bucks. Ensuring food plot plant species hit peak attraction during the same period nearby bedding areas are most-used by target bucks boosts the odds they will use these lines of movement.
To further increase these chances, plan locations for small watering holes between the beds and their associated food sources. Giving deer everything they need within a linear format allows them to travel in the directions you need them to. This makes deer more patternable, safer from neighboring hunters and easier for you to tag.
Overall, keeping deer moving along these lines of movement in a predictable manner is what provides better chances of success in the stand. This systematic approach makes each future hunt a high-odds sit rather than a dart throw at the map.
Of course, with these lines of movement established, the final step in planning is identifying spots where bucks are vulnerable. These are the areas to hang tree stands and position hunting blinds. So, after compiling scouting information, analyzing the data and creating game plans, it’s time to make in-the-field adjustments and preparations. But we’ll touch more on that in part four of the Post-Season Scouting Master Class.