Something that drives me nuts is when I read a bear hunting article and the writer goes into a lecture about what a bear is doing at a certain bait and it turns up they hired a guide and he did all the baiting. He doesn't have a clue what is going on. How could he — someone else did all the work for him.
To me, I think you learn 10 times more about bear hunting when you do the baiting yourself. As I drag scents to different canyons, hang scent bags and so forth I know exactly which canyon I drew in which bear from. It's not hearsay.
So with that thought in mind I think it's the same with deer hunting. If you just go out one week a year then you're just not going to really know much about deer or their habits.
I think the more that you're out in the mountains, the more you'll know about deer, I don't care if it's in the dead of winter long after season is over. You'll see how they live in the snow; how they interact with each other and so forth.
Just a few weeks ago my buddy Shawn Lee called me and asked if I wanted to take the horses up on a ride. Sure! It was the Friday after New Years and a little cool but not terrible and the snow wasn't over 6-inches. We busted through some 2-foot drifts but it wasn't bad.
I'm not sure what our real goal was. Ride horses, wolf hunt or scout for some new deer hunting spots. In the mountains game has summer feeding grounds and wintering grounds. So even if you see a nice buck in the winter he may be up in his summer zone 10 miles away by hunting season. But even so if you learn their migration patterns you may have a chance to find him again.
We found quite a few deer and one semi-decent buck, he probably had about 26-28 inch spread. Due to the low amount of snow they hadn't really moved down much. There was more sign the higher we got.
So my advice: Don't wait until a week before season to go out scouting for a place to deer hunt. It's barely January and I'm already in a low key scouting mode. It'll carry on into my summer backpacking trips. By the time hunting season rolls around, you can bet I've already got 3-4 good spots lined out to hunt.
I think that the more you learn about the habits of deer, the better you'll be able to understand them. I think it makes you a better hunter. Getting out in the mountains one week a year just isn't enough to learn their habits.