Scouting new hunting property is an exciting part of the bowhunter’s journey. Few things can fuel anticipation like discovering a whitetail’s lair within a newly explored patch of timber.
Maybe it’s the hunter-gatherer in our DNA, but innate curiosity can only be satisfied after I’ve trekked through cedars, cross creeks and stopped to admire the size of a rub. For me, scouting is as much a part of the hunt as hanging a stand—its imperative to my definition of hunting success.
Moving On To New Hunting Property
After a discouraging season I’ve begun scouting several new hunting properties. While it’s easy to hang on to the familiar, sometimes it’s best to pursue the unknown.
Although it’s never easy to start over again, success often demands we leave the old and seek the new in order to increase the odds. This quest is no easy chore. Finding hunting property can be difficult, but is possible if one is willing to couple determination with persistence.
Seeking A Refuge
Our scouting begins by scouring aerial photos, satellite images, and GIS (geographic information systems) mapping within the county we desire to hunt. This tedious chore means locating properties of interest then contacting multiple landowners. Although it can be a daunting task, the rewards far outweigh the disappointments.
While carefully combing the various maps, we are attempting to locate areas that provide prime whitetail habitat. We are also trying to locate funnels, ditches, and terrain features that will serve to our advantage.
Since most of our hunting is done in agricultural areas, these properties can be large stands of timber that hold deer year-round or small-secluded woodlots that will provide a refuge for pressured deer during the late season.
The Big Three
After getting permission to scout a particular piece of property we start by looking for the “Big Three.” These key elements are food, bedding and water. It’s no secret that food sources and adequate cover are key when attempting to find property that holds mature whitetail.
While most of the properties we hunt will border some sort of row crop, we are also scouting for a potential source of mast crops. If the acorns (especially white oaks) are plentiful, a good stand of oaks can be just as productive in October as a lush food plot.
Remember food sources can change through the season. When scouting take time to consider how deer may change their travel patters according to available food sources. You will also want to observe if the area offers sufficient habitat to hold does groups and if the property might be a place a buck would visit during the rut.
When locating water sources remember what may look like a viable water source this time of year might not be when September rolls around.
Tracks and Trails
The soft earth of springtime offers telltale signs when scouting. This time of year one can easily see well-used trails and deer tracks. These signs offer visual clues as to where high traffic areas are and how deer are traveling within the property.
Most mature whitetail will travel directly into or quartering to the wind. These travel patters are important to take note of when understanding how deer travel to and from bedding and food sources in accordance with the wind and overall lay of the property.
As most hunters know, whitetail will also use terrain features to their advantage. If you locate distinct changes in landscape, study it carefully. Deer like to travel the edge of two distinct terrain or landscape features.
Signposts and Scrapes
As a boy I was told, “Once a scrape line always a scrape line.” While not 100% true, there is some truth to this old adage. Scrapes and rubs offer telltale signs of buck activity in a particular area.
Finding numerous scrapes and rubs while scouting is exhilarating. Just remember to consider how these scrapes and rubs correspond to bedding, travel patterns and food sources. Putting these pieces together will help you know where to hang trail cameras and maybe a stand at a later date.
One of the most important aspects of scouting is to correlate the prevailing winds in your area with the layout of the property. This will give you an overall idea of how deer are using the wind when traveling to and from bedding and food sources. (We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming article.)
Scouting new hunting property can be likened to putting together a puzzle. Each piece is important to understanding the overall habitat and movement of deer within the property. When properly assembled the odds of success can increase.
If you have additional scouting tips please feel free to share them with us.