Winter scouting for autumn deer hunting success

With archery deer season still six months away, and firearms season even farther, most hunters aren’t thinking about deer scouting. Lose those assumptions and get out of the easy chair, because now is a great time to scout whitetail haunts. 

Getting a jump on next year’s bucks will not only make for a more enjoyable hunt, it could also result in more meat in the freezer or even the buck of a lifetime. Either way, thinking and planning for hunting beats sitting around waiting for baseball season.    

Keeping count

Discover what bucks are on your property by going on a “bone hunt” for sheds. If you don’t own property, search public land or private parcels where you have permission. 

Take a map of your hunting ground and grid it out so that you and your hunting partners scour every square foot this spring.  Snow cover is minimal across most of Minnesota right now so it’s a perfect time. But get out there before the spring greenery pops. 

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a pile of sheds on the property. Bucks will congregate in the winter and might have spent the majority of time on a neighboring property. 

Watch for more than just antlers. This is a great time to scout for whitetails because you’re seeing the woods in their bare-bones condition. 

Watch for food sources and think about annual patterns. Pay attention to heavy trails near bedding areas and follow them to food sources. Determine what time of the year deer are hammering those trails so you can hang stands for different times of the hunting seasons. 

Invest in a tree and plant identification guide so you can examine the trees and bushes you find. Leafy greens are largely gone by the time most hunters hit the woods, and those are the food sources that will distract you in the fall. Woody plants that can survive multiple frosts are what deer feed upon, so search for that browse now. 

Bring your GPS and map, and record key locations. If you employ the use of your buddies, make sure they have their GPS and a copy of the map. When you get together, compare notes and monitor the patterns on your hunting ground. 

Check your stands

If you haven’t already, pull down your stands and check the straps. Mammal friends like mice and porcupines (among others) enjoy chewing straps throughout the wintertime. 

Check the bolts, cables and overall condition of your stand. Cart in some hardware and tools for a variety of repairs. A few cents of hardware could save a trip to the emergency room. 

You should take your stands down for psychological reasons, too. Unless you are 100 percent confident that the same tree will produce year after year without any problems, consider moving it. Leave it, and odds are you won’t evaluate the site properly. Remove it, and you’re more likely to place it in a better location based on all your great scouting data.

Scouting procedures

Proper scouting will produce great spots. Take a roll of orange survey tape and mark those trees now so you can locate them in the spring. 

If you’ve scouted in the spring before, you know how different the woods look in a few months when everything has greened up, so you need to mark the trees. Remember, the woods look more like they do during the hunting season now than they do during summer. 

Remove any ivy or oak vines growing up a stand tree now. It’s a lot easier to cull those vines out with a machete during winter.

You should cruise through your hunting area at least a few times in the summer, but it’s better to get out there now when there are fewer distractions.

It’s amazing how productive you can become at reading the patterns of the deer on your hunting grounds by scouting now versus in the early fall. Not only will it help you jump-start next year’s hunt, but it also will better acquaint you with your hunting property.

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