Pre-season Deer Scouting

by Naomi K. Shapiro

One thing that successful deer hunters do is pre-season deer scouting. No... that doesn't mean two weeks before the opener. It means both preliminary winter scouting (which we've previously written about), and fine-tuning what you've already learned in the spring. Do those "final touches" in the spring, and you're going to have one great, successful hunt when the season does arrive. The main purpose of pre-season scouting it to find the right place or places to put your stands. If you place your stands in the spring, the deer will not be spooked during the season. They will have gotten used to the stand being there. If you wait until a week before the season to put up your stand, the deer will note that things are different, and this unusual "thing" is now present. This may very well spook them. It's like you seeing a picture hanging on the wall in your home. The first few times you see it, you notice it. After that you become so used to it, you don't even think about it. That's what you want the deer to do when they see your stand.

You've got to do this pre-season spring scouting every single year! Some hunters assume that the deer will stay in the same areas. That isn't true. Deer seek out food sources and water. If either is not available, they move on. Hunters often forget that farmers rotate their crops, and at times leave fields that had a lot of corn or beans or alfalfa lay fallow for a year -- and at times, many years. So if you've seen deer bedding near a good winter corn field, that doesn't mean that when the farmer plants in the spring, that he's going to plant corn, or even plant at all. If there's no food source, the deer move on, and you've got to be prepared to move on with them.

There are some "keys" on which knowledgeable hunters concentrate: The first is finding the deer bedding areas -- a sort of "deer safety zone," where the deer will stay. Then scout out and find forage areas. This, along with wind direction, will determine where you want to place your stand(s). Stand placement is determined by the direction the deer travel from bedding to forage areas and vice versa -- and VERY IMPORTANTLY -- wind direction -- because you always want to be downwind from the deer. It's a good idea, once you've found where you want to put your deer stands on a trail, that you put stands on BOTH sides of the trail. That way, if the wind is blowing in any direction on the particular day you're hunting, you will always be able to select the "side" to hunt from, which will put you downwind from the deer.

Wind direction can be very influential on whether you're successful in your hunt. Indeed, there are areas that Phil Schweik will not hunt, not because they don't "look great," but simply because he's been "busted" due of the vagaries of wind direction and the like. A few examples: If you're in hilly terrain, thermals may very well "bounce off" hills or timber and take your scent to the deer even though you thought you were downwind. Watch hills and consider thermals. Then, pay particular attention to hunting field edges, open creek bottoms or particularly marshes. They all share one negative in common: Wind currents, regardless of direction will swirl over the tops of trees, or over creek bottoms and marshes creating wind eddies that will blow your scent into a field where the deer are; and, believe me, the deer will immediately take off. Phil's had situations where there's a perfect west wind; he's downwind from the deer, and then a swirling eddy created by a creek or marsh turned that wind direction literally back to him in an easterly direction, and gave him away.

Bottom line: Set up your stand after thoroughly testing the winds in the particular area you want to hunt, and that's a very compelling reason in and of itself to do a complete pre-season scout.

(Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Services contributed to this article).