Finding target deer and identifying their patterns now paves the way for success this fall
The buck of your dreams is out there somewhere; fat, happy and lounging in the heat, his furry antlers still growing. Now is the time to start laying the groundwork to find him and then hunt him in two or three months, when his rack will be polished, tall, wide, and handsome.
A good summer scouting plan can put you in the chips come opening day. Image by Russell Graves
TAKE A LOOK
On these sultry August evenings, drive to your hunting spot an hour before dusk, and glass fields of soybeans, alfalfa, or clover from a good distance. No crops or plots on your land? No worries. On my best Virginia farm, I glass bucks in pastures that haven’t been planted for years. After those fields are hayed in late summer, deer visit them to feed on green forbs that pop up, especially after a summer rain. You might also glass a bachelor gang of bucks mingling in a clear-cut or power line right-of-way.
Although the best buck movement in August occurs around food sources in the evenings, get up and scout a few mornings, too. Grab a cup of coffee, drive out and glass the fields and edges at sunrise. Look for bucks cutting across fields, walking tree lines, and slipping back into the woods as they head for bedding areas. This reveals another link in their routine.
TAKE A HIKE
Let’s suppose you’ve hunted a 200- to 400-acre block of woods for years, which is typical for millions of hunters across the country. You’ve probably only hunted 100 of those acres, or maybe even just 50 or 75. You don’t want to spook bucks, and you figure other people hunt the ridges and hollows beyond your stand anyhow, so you stay put. Plus, you’ve gotten comfy and lazy. You bust a buck in your familiar spot once in a while, so you stick with it.
Well, get out of your rut this season. Slip on snake boots, spray down with bug dope, and spend a few mornings hiking every acre of your property (well, most of it, anyhow). Break the woods into 20- or 30-acre grids. Hike the perimeters of each grid first, and work your way into the centers. It will take several days or even weeks, but hiking is good for you, and you’ll learn a lot. Carry your phone, and consult your favorite land app. Drop pins on new discoveries — a fence gap where two trails converge, a ridge point that deer skirt, a hidden creek crossing, or an oak grove heavy with green nuts you never knew about. Come back in a few weeks and hang a stand or two at a new choke points or oak flat you found. You might bust a buck there in bow season.
TAKE A SPIN
It’s easy to get wrapped up in glassing and scouting your land that you neglect the adjacent properties. That’s a mistake, because what happens across the fences dictates 50 percent or more of the deer movements in your area.
Spend a few days driving the perimeter roads of the spots you hunt. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have permission for the neighboring properties. It never hurts to look. Take note of nearby ridges, draws, creeks, and fences that should funnel bucks onto your spot. Travel corridors that lead to and from crop fields in the area should really catch your eye.
PLAY THE LONG GAME
Scouting early and often in August pays off, even if you don’t connect on a good buck during early archery season. As late summer turns to fall, you might spot your target buck only a few times, or you might “lose” him altogether for weeks or even a month. But the onset of the rut will bring a big deer, running on increased testosterone, back to his home core area. One day in October or November, you might finally shoot the buck right where you scouted him this summer.
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