July 4 is the official kickoff to deer-hunting season, the time when you start laying the groundwork to shooting a big deer in 3 or 4 months.

Take a few days this month to tuck your pants into knee-high boots, spray down with strong bug dope and go for a power walk across your hunting areas.

Look for the food and cover that will be available to deer from September through December. First, start with the easy stuff, noting the lay of corn, soybean, alfalfa and clover fields and clover plots on the land.

Then probe deeper into the woods and point your binoculars into the tops of oak trees to see what kind of mast year it will be. Do you see big bunches of green nuts within two feet of the branch tips? Or are the limbs sparse?

Remember: A big crop of acorns this fall will draw and concentrate deer in the timber, so your hottest stands will likely be on ridges and in oak bottoms. Conversely, a lack of nuts and a poor mast year will scatter the deer as they move around and seek other food choices; you’ll do better to hunt the edges of fields and food plots, and browse thickets where does and bucks browse.

As you hike, note pockets and strips of thick greenery, saplings and the like in proximity to fields, plots and oak trees. As a rule, mature bucks prefer to feed withing 200 yards or so of security cover.

Walk edges, creek bottoms, strips of woods and other funnels that look good on maps. Look for main and secondary deer trails, and spots where they converge and cross water.  Food and conditions will change as summer turns to fall, but some deer will still use these trails and funnels come bow season.

It’s way too early to find fresh rubs on your advance hikes, but look for brown, scarred trees and saplings that bucks blazed on previous autumn days. Pinpoint and follow as many old rub lines as you can find that wend loosely between food and security covers. Some bucks will blaze and run those routes later this fall.

As you hike, flag strategic trees in various corners of the property where you might hang stands in a month or two. Or go head and set a stand or two on an oak ridge, plot edge or near a creek crossing where you believe bucks will travel in a few months.

Advance scouts will put you ahead of the game as the 2020 bow season approaches. It’ll be here before you know it!