Become a Deer Detective

News & Tips: Become a Deer Detective

Some hunters face the task of scouting for deer as a chore that must be painfully endured and quickly completed, and their success in the field often reflects their disinterested approach to the task. Other hunters, however, know scouting is essentially "hunting" for all the clues about deer — or a particular buck — and all these hunters have to do after opening day is be at the right spot, at the right time, and simply shoot the deer.


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Scouting can reveal where bucks are spending a large portion of their time, and possible routes from beds to foods.

Ok, it's not always that simple, but nearly. Proper scouting means being a detective to find the many clues about the deer in the area where you hunt or for a particular buck, and then placing all the pieces together to determine what you have learned and where and when you should hunt. The more you know, the higher your success rate. Scouting should be an ongoing process.


You'll also find it beneficial to scout often because as seasons change, acorns drop, foods wilt under frost, apples disappear under snow, and other natural changes occur across the landscape. As the changes take place, the local deer also change their routines. Nature is always a force in motion.


Much like our human environments, deer face a changing world, and deer change with it. When one food source, like summer grasses, are killed by heavy fall frosts, deer switch and begin searching for apples, persimmons or honeysuckle and other late fall foods. When these foods fade or are gobbled up, it's on to the next foods. The change in foods can sometimes happen overnight. And there are other changes that hunters need to note to be successful.


A new road or fence, or a new dog at a local residence, can make deer move or alter their established habits. Smelling a human's odor in an area multiple times can also create alert deer and problems for hunters. Some changes are unpreventable, and others are. You just need to be certain that you note when and what has changed and adjust your hunting tactics accordingly.


So where will you hunt this fall, and when should you be there? Be a detective and determine the best answers.


Scout Often


The changes in forests that occur in September and October in whitetail territory can be drastic and sudden. You'll need to do a quick walk through your hunting area(s) to keep abreast of the changes and plan your adjustments in hunting strategy. A simple way to keep up with the changes is to use notebooks and maps. Keep notes and make marks on maps so you get a better understanding of the details as you discover places to hunt. Making notes can also help you see a pattern or understand something you might have overlooked. A top way to keep trails and foods pinpointed is a copy of a map from a page in a DeLorme map book that covers your hunting areas or using print outs of Google Earth maps. Looking down from above can help you determine funnels where deer numbers and movement are concentrated.


Pencils and papers can also help you guide friends and family members on their hunts when they join you. You'll be able to quickly determine where they should go, and help them know what to expect when they go to a location. Maps and notes make understanding the BIG picture easier.


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Scout often during the fall months as deer change their routine — you'll want to be aware of the changes.

Don't expect others to scout for you. You can forget the old adage about asking rural mail carriers and school bus drivers about where they are seeing big bucks and large numbers of deer. Nearly everyone hunts deer today, and no one is talking — at least to strangers — about where they have seen a monster buck.


You'll need to ride a bike, take a hike, or drive around the region where you plan to hunt and possibly do a reconnaissance of the area from afar with optics. For this task many hunters have found that a spotting scope attached to a window mount can be a great asset. And while morning periods are useful in spotting game, the last 30 minutes of daylight seem to be when most game animals are in view and on the move.


High Tech Hunting


One of the most effective tools for hunters these days is the game camera. These devices offer many options to scout when you are absent. Recent industry wide improvements permit footage or still shots, longer exposure times, and better results with higher pixels. Many models include increased flash coverage at longer distances. Many deer have been caught being natural on game cameras, and many hunters have been wowed by the results. You owe it to yourself to obtain several of these cameras and deploy them along deer trails and around preferred deer foods near where you'll hunt. The results are a better understanding of "Who goes there?"


A word of caution. Be certain that you can lock the model of camera that you buy to a secure anchor, and take all means to secure it. A best practice is to put it up in a tree and out of ordinary reach and have the camera shooting down at an angle. There's nothing as disappointing as discovering that nearly $300 of camera gear has disappeared. Then you'll possibly have to start scouting for who's trespassing and stealing.


Read the Fine Details


Many hunters are quick to take a cursory glance over important clues left behind by deer. They see a trail as a trail and a rub as a rub. Look closely. Deer tracks reveal which direction the deer was facing and walking as it passed through an area. This can help you plan for the deer's approach, and which way to position your stand and where you plan to shoot. Many deer trails are one directional and you want to avoid having a deer walk up behind you. For the most successful trophy buck hunters, death is in the details. Being a thorough detective will help you find the details.


Next, a rub reveals which direction the buck was facing and where it was standing when it rubbed the tree's trunk. That also normally indicates where the buck came from, and that's where you'll want to focus your search as you sit and wait. Undisturbed deer generally follow a routine, and their clues tell you where to look for them in the future.


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Scent awareness is important when scouting for fine details on deer activity — remember to wear gloves with scent elimination.

When bucks have started scraping and rubbing, you'll want to be carefully about depositing human scent and letting the deer know that they are being hunted. Remember that old bucks with massive record-book antlers did not live that long and grow that rack without paying close attention to human odor and intrusions into their territory. Use scent suits and sprays when scouting directly around the site where you plan to hunt. Odor can linger and is well noted by deer.


At a stand where I once bowhunted, a small limb hang in the path between me and a nearby heavily used deer trail. One morning I climbed down from the stand, went to the limb, and reached up to cut it off. As I turned to head back to the stand after cutting, a limb snagged the pocket on the side of my pants. I reached to pull that limb free with a bare hand.


The next morning shortly after daybreak a doe came casually strolling down the trail. She nibbled on green vegetation growth as she casually walked, and I observed. When she came to the site where I had cut the limb the day before, she tensed, turned and pressed her nose to the small limb that I had grasped the day before. After a moment she seemed to look around, then hurry down the trail. Human scent is a powerful clue for deer, so be cautious.


The more you know about the deer you'll be hunting, the easier it is to select a premium site and make a hunting strategy. You'll also build more confidence and be inclined to hunt longer hours. Gathering a large number of clues can help you be more successful, and definitely be motivated to hunt. And when it comes to success at hunting trophy bucks, death is in the details. Find the clues, and you've found your buck. Be a thorough and cautious deer detective.