When you scout and hunt in October or November, you find some rubs and scrapes and scratch the surface of a buck’s core area, but you don’t walk around too much or explore too deep in the woods for fear of spooking deer. That’s smart. But you only get a glimpse of how and where the bucks are living.
But now, in early April and before the woods green up too much, you can walk every inch of your woods and investigate. The next couple of weeks are the best time to scout your hunting land.
Start walking and cover every ridge, draw and creek bottom. Stick your boots and nose in every field edge, thicket or swamp. You’ll bump a few deer, but who cares? You won’t come back to hunt them for 5 or 6 months. Here’s what to look for.
Cut a main trail, wide and muddy now, and follow it…walk, walk and walk to find out where it comes and goes. That trail will fork into secondary trails that link more food sources and cover thickets. Walk those too. Mark the trails on a map, and highlight pockets of good deer sign in red.
As you hike, note secondary feeding areas you might have missed—a grove of white oaks on a ridge, a honeysuckle patch near a swamp… When a trail cuts a creek, veers around a ridge point, etc. take note. Those funneling points are great places for tree stands next fall.
Rubs and Scrapes
Buck rubs and even some scrapes from last fall are easy to spot in the open woods. Look for “signpost” rubs–large, scarred trees that mark a buck’s core area. Top whitetail scientist Grant Woods points out that while only mature bucks blaze the big rubs, all deer interact with them. “They smell and touch them,” says Grant. “They act as communal pheromone wicks and are located in areas with high deer traffic.”
Woods has found a correlation between the number of rubs and the number of older bucks in an area. On one of his management projects in Tennessee, he’s observed an amazing 5,000 rubs per square mile, or 7.8 per acre. If you find a piece of woods lit up many rubs like that, start looking for trees for your stands for this fall.
Studies old and new reveal that bucks are habitual, and scrape in the same areas year after year. Key in on 3 scrape spots you might run across and mark them on your map:
–A cluster of large scrapes at the intersection of 2 or 3 trails, with big rubs nearby. This is a “rut junction” and a good spot for a stand.
–A line of large scrapes on the edge of a linear honeysuckle thicket or row of pines or cedars. Bucks run these edges frequently.
–A heavily scraped section of a hardwood ridge 100 yards or so off a corn or bean field. If acorns are thick this fall, bucks will stage and scrape like mad there again. Look for a stand spot.
As you hike you should also hunt for sheds, of course. Say this weekend you run across a 60-inch, 4-point antler glinting in the sun. That’s a tangible piece of evidence. You know that a 140-class buck survived last season (figure 60 inches for the other side, and an 18-inch spread).That buck will hang in that core area—remember maybe just 300 acres or so–next season, so plan to hunt him right there. And his rack will be larger by 10 inches or more!
So get out there and walk your woods the next couple of weeks. You’ll not only learn a lot, but the exercise will do you good.