June 14, 2016
By Jason Herbert
Scouting is a household term for a "Whitetail 365" type of hunter. But what some don't realize is that with our ambition and passion for whitetail scouting comes a bit of risk.
Some people make common mistakes, don't scout properly, and accidentally decrease their chances of connecting with a mature buck. Here are a few common scouting "No-No's" to avoid.
1. Starting Too Late
The months of Jan. and Feb. find most deer hunters nursing their "hunting hangovers" on the couch. What many people overlook is that winter is the best time to do some post-season scouting.
Post-season scouting yields plenty of helpful information about the deer's habits during the season -- like where they bed, what they eat, and how they travel. Many deer seasons end around the first of the year or shortly after.
With plenty of snow in a majority of whitetail country come January, the sign left behind is plentiful and easy to read. Another nice feature of post-season scouting is that any deer bumped won't be shot at.
This is one of the few times in the year I'll freely romp through a buck's core area looking for clues. The other time I will enter a core area or sanctuary is later in the spring while looking for shed antlers. Shed hunting in March is a great way to do a bit of research on the local deer herd, but don't let it be the first scouting mission of the season.
2. Being Too Aggressive
Many passionate hunters tend to be very ambitious, almost to a fault. In fact, a hunter who is too aggressive will educate a buck one way or another, sending him to the next county. Once summer rolls around and post season scouting is a frozen memory of the past, it's time to act a bit conservative. Glassing fields from a distance is a safe way to scout on a hot summer evening.
Sitting in a treestand in 90 degree weather sweating bullets and swatting mosquitoes is not. Monitoring a high traffic area with a trail camera is a way to keep tabs on things. Hanging a trail camera in a buck's bedroom is not.
Late July and early August are some of the best evenings to catch a glimpse of that big old buck, don't scare him away by getting any closer than necessary. Tune in the baseball game on the truck's radio, sit back with good optics, and relax. Conservative glassing from a distance is a low risk way to see what is going on.
3. Abusing Trail Cameras
Trail cameras are fun but need to be handled with discipline. A hunter with extra battery money can really ruin a hunting spot. Every time a hunter checks a trail camera, there's a risk of alerting the deer.
The usage of summer trail cameras is a controversial topic because patterns can change. Summer is a great time to get velvet pictures of every buck in an area. At this point, they should simply be used for inventory.
If a summer buck sticks around come fall, there's no need giving him reason to be nervous. Place a summer trail camera in a high traffic area where the deer will expect a bit of human presence. Tempting as it is, don't place them in a sanctuary.
Another rule of thumb for trail cameras is to hang them high if possible. Though, I don't hang a camera high when I am trying to cover a bigger area. Remember to be as scent free as possible. No matter the time of year, "Leave No Trace" needs to be our motto if trail cameras are being used.
4. Not Respecting The Change
As I mentioned earlier, what deer do in the summer doesn't always dictate what they will do in the fall. In fact, once bucks start to shed their velvet, many of them relocate. There are several reasons why a buck may leave his summer haunts such as fear of the upcoming season, less competition for does, more preferred food source, or another buck bullies him out. What's important to remember is that they do change from summer patterns.
Many hunters will watch a deer all summer long, hang a specific stand to kill that one particular buck, and never seem him again until the neighbor two miles away pulls in to show off his newest trophy. Remember, the most recent sign is the best. It's fun to watch deer casually eat away a hot summer evening, but that doesn't mean they will be doing the same thing come October. Don't prepare for a fall hunt based on summer information.
5. Being Too Cautious
Some hunters take precaution to a whole new level. They don't scout at all, or think once the season has started they're done scouting. Nothing is further from the truth. These hesitant hunters are either afraid or lazy. They're afraid to scout for risk of spooking a deer.
As the saying goes, "you gotta' swing to get a hit". If killing that one particular buck is the goal, then put in the time and effort that he deserves.
If the sign isn't there, look around and learn where the deer are. Just because the season has started doesn't mean scouting has to come to an end. Patterns always change, food sources and pressure change, and hunters need to be able to adapt.
Sitting back, watching and waiting to get lucky rarely works. If deer sightings aren't where they should be, strap on the old hiking boots and find out where they went. Monitor trail cameras and food sources. Deer don't simply vanish, they just adjust. To be successful, we hunters need to sometimes adjust as well.
6. Not Knowing The Property
By not properly researching a property enough, the hunter is going to waste valuable time learning or making costly mistakes. With my limited time and resources, I scout online with aerial photos more than anything.
I get to know properties well, and by the time I do show up, I have a specific plan in mind and waste no time getting to work. It's really important that we hunters know the property they are going to be on.
Bedding areas, food and water sources, travel routes, access and exit routes, and boundaries are all important pieces of information that the hunter needs in order to be more successful. Analyzing a map online will never replace physically walking a piece of property. Many disciplined hunters will dedicate the first few days of a week-long hunting trip to scout, so they do not waste time sitting in unproductive stands. Either way, learn about the property before hunting it.
The best time to brag about a deer is after he's killed and safely in the truck. We've all seen guys who e-mail out their most recent trail camera pictures of the monster buck they've got out back. Sadly, hunting has become rather competitive and I've heard horror stories about how loose lipped hunters have gotten "their" prized bucks killed by others.
If visible landmarks are anywhere in those pictures, or if others know the location, the security is now compromised. Someone could come and lease the land away, sneak on and poach the deer, sabotage hunting efforts, etc€¦ the list of negatives is endless.
Also pay attention to roadside scouting habits. If a hunter wants to keep the location of a buck, or his hunting property a secret, it's probably a good idea to not glass the field every night for all the neighbors to see. It's important to remember all of the details of the deer, and equally important to "forget" exactly where he is, should the topic come up.
8. Everything In Moderation
Each and every scouting disaster blossomed from a good intention. If they weren't good ideas, we wouldn't do them. Hunters just need to learn a bit of moderation. Killing a specific whitetail buck is a lot like putting together a puzzle. Every piece of information we gather gets us one step closer to putting our tag on one of his heavy beams.
We hunters can't let a buck know that he is being hunted. Whitetails are the ultimate survival experts and if that wise old buck does sense that he is being hunted, he will not stick around long enough to see if his instinct was correct. Remember, leave no trace and scout smart. Don't be your own worst enemy.