Deer How-To: Scout in February

winter rubIf you’ve got a free day this weekend, go back out to the stands you hunted last fall, walk out from them in an ever-widening circular pattern and look for old sign. You will learn a lot about how deer used the terrain, structure, cover and wind when traveling from bed to feed 3 or 4 months ago. You will find spots where bucks rubbed and scraped the most. You will learn if you need to move your stand 50 to 100 yards…or maybe you’re in a good spot and should stay put…or maybe you should pull out of the area all together. All this will double your chances of whacking a big deer when you come back to hunt in 8 or 9 months.

 

Trails

Cut deer trails near your stands and follow them. They will all lead, if in a roundabout way, to food sources and bedding sites. The freshest trails in the snow, mud or leaves come and go to winter food sources. But older, drier, fainter trails are more important. They lead to and from food sources that deer hit back in the fall and during the rut, when most of your hunting took place. If you missed those trails by 100 yards or so when you hung your stands last fall, move them closer before next season.

As you hike the trails, note how they hug brush, cut through low spots, curve around fence corners—all potential funneling spots for stands next season. Also, use a map, compass and your imagination to visualize how the deer on those trails worked into the predominant wind, especially the closer they got to food sources and bedding areas. The more you can nail down how deer use the common winds in your area, the more bucks you will see and shoot.

Rubs

Take note of every “signpost” you run across in the woods. A dominant buck blazed that monster rub last October or November. A cluster of rubs as thick as your calf is really what you want to find. It is sign that the rubber spent a lot of time in a core area close by. He or another mature buck will be back in there rubbing trees this fall.

I’ve noticed that in some parts of the country, notably the Midwest and Southeast, bucks show a preference for rubbing aromatic cedars or pines. Look for trends like that. For example, if you find that 70 percent of last fall’s rubs were on evergreens, you’re on to something. As you scout, veer over to investigate every green patch or strip, especially those near crop fields, oak flats and creeks. You’ll turn up more and more rubs in those spots. You’ll know where a lot of bucks will hang out and blaze new rubs this fall, and you’ll want to hang some stands there.

Look for a rub-location pattern, too. Suppose you find twice as many scarred trees on the tops of ridges than on the sides or in draws. Well, the resident bucks are “ridge toppers,” and it reveals a travel pattern that they’ll use from September through the late season. Work that into your plan and set most of your stands on ridges and hilltops.

Scrapes

In moderate climates and after the snowmelt up North, old scrapes are visible for months. Look for clusters of scrapes, which are hubs of deer traffic and good spots to hang stands this September. Try to find a scrape line and follow it. Put yourself in a buck’s hooves. Scan the woods ahead and visualize how he prowled for does. See how he worked the wind, hugged brush, cut around points, etc. You might find great new spots for stands…or get a better idea of where to watch for bucks coming and going out of your same stands next November.

Sheds

As you hike on the freshest, muddiest trails between winter feeding and bedding sites, look for just-cast antlers. Find a big chunk of 4- or 5-point bone (and both sides if you’re lucky) and you know one thing—a shooter that you saw last season (or maybe you didn’t see him) survived the hunting season, and if doesn’t get hit by a car over the summer, there’s a good chance he’ll be on your land next season.

It gives you something to think about as you analyze all the old sign you just found and work it into a fresh hunting plan for the fall of 2018.

Shed Antler Trivia

sask shed 2Did you know…

#1 Typical Whitetail Antler in Shed Record Book: 6-point 104 6/8 left side picked up in Illinois 1992.

#1 Non-Typical Whitetail Antler in Shed Record Book: 24-point 156 5/8 right side found in Saskatchewan 2007.

Individual bucks often shed their antlers the same week every year.

As a rule, older bucks shed earlier than younger ones.

Increasing daylight and a buck’s falling testosterone cause antlers to shed.

Once a buck drops one antler, the other one usually falls off within hours.

Squirrels and porcupines chew on dropped antlers for the calcium they provide.

Shed antlers are valued by size and grade, from Grade A Brown (best) to old, white Chalk.

Antlers can fetch $5 to $18 a pound, depending on grade and size.

A matched set of fresh sheds from a large 6-point elk can be worth $500 to $1,000.

Kansas Sheds: The Electric-Fence Buck

ks shed 2018 1

From our friend Mike Charowhas, The Antler Collector:

Around noon the other day I was driving in central Kansas and passed a truck on a 2-lane with an older couple in it. About 5 min later, I looked in my rear view and saw that same truck getting closer and fast. Hmm. Their headlights start flickering so I pulled over.

The truck pulled up alongside me and the Missus says, “Hey, we saw you go by. We have antlers. Do you live around here?”

They couldn’t miss The Antler Collector logo on my truck. I said, “Yes I live not too far away.”

She gave me their number said, “Please call us if you’re passing by.”

I said, “Okay great.” I proceeded on my way and got to thinking about it. I called them and left a message.

About 20 minutes later the husband called me back and said sorry we missed you, but we are home now. I asked where and by luck I was only 15 minutes away.

I headed over and they invited me in. We talked for 15 minutes and the man said, “I have something I don’t think you’ve ever seen.”

I said, “Well let’s take a look,” and we proceeded out to his workshop.

What I saw did amaze me. I never had seen anything like it, and I have seen a lot of antlers!

ks sheds 3

The gentleman had found the sheds—heavy, tall-tined upper 150s/160 class–10 years ago beside a pond on his property while out bird hunting. From my understanding, one of his neighbors that year had lost 1/4 mile of electric fence and never could figure out where the heck it gone. The mystery was solved when these sheds were found.

I was surprised the deer had survived, and even more amazed that he was able to shed his antlers and slip them off his face! Incredible.

After talking it over with the man, we worked out a deal and I was able to bring the unique sheds home.

James and Janice are quite the couple. They are both 80 years old and look amazing. After 58 years of marriage they are still going strong. The antlers are rare, but even rarer is the pleasure of meeting two great people so dedicated to one another. It was a pleasure today.–Mike

Shed Hunting: Try a Grid Search

shed hunting compressedTo find sheds you need to look close, real close. Try a grid search. Look over the ground before you and mark off a 20-yard block. Walk slowly and cover every foot of it before moving on to the next grid.

It’s our nature to look out front and up as we walk. Do that while you’re shedding and you’ll look right over antlers. Instead, take it slow and look straight down at the ground; scan every inch of each grid.

You might spot an antler lying on the grass…or mostly buried with just a tine tip sticking up. You want big antlers, but the spikes and fork-horns are cool souvenirs too. You’ve got to look down and real close for to see the little ones.

Once you finish each grid, stop, turn around and give the ground one last look. From a new perspective with different lighting you might spot an antler that you missed.