One thing I have learned over the years is that big bucks don’t like pressure. Mature whitetails are so incredibly edgy that, if they’re bumped at the wrong time of year, they can vanish from your property. That’s why I rarely walk in bedding areas or scout new properties too hard. If I haven’t been able to pre-scout, I like to hunt my way into an area rather than walk it right before I plan to hunt.
My favorite time to scout is during shed season. February and March are overlooked months by most bowhunters, but in my opinion, they’re the best for scouting big bucks. Summer is when everyone is out planting food plots and hanging stands, but the deer sign from the previous season is mostly gone by then. Late winter and early spring are perfect for penetrating sanctuary spots and gathering intel — two birds with one stone.
Even though I love shed hunting, my main goal in shed season is to learn how deer are using specific areas. Scrapes, rubs and trails are still visible, and without the foliage to cover things up, it is easier to determine how they intersect and what the deer are doing. You can normally see a long way off, too, which helps you view the contours of the land.
Another thing I do in February and March is locate trees with good cover for treestands. The problem with picking trees in the summer, when I normally hang my stands, is that every tree can hide a hunter pretty well then. When the leaves start to fall, though, there goes your cover.
Still, summer does have its advantages. By late summer, I’m running trail cameras pretty hard and know which properties, even which parts of certain properties, hold big deer I want to target. This allows me to focus on or eliminate areas from my strategy, making my bowhunting a lot easier going forward.
Once I have a few deer targeted, I can combine their locations with my intel from earlier in the year. This will give me a good idea of how these bucks are using their respective areas, and I will have already picked my trees. I can then go in and hang my stands, cut lanes and get out with very little intrusion. I also continue to run cameras in “dead” areas throughout the season, because giants have been known to show up out of nowhere each year.
These are the high points of how I scout for big whitetails. While this much homework on a property isn’t always possible for me, it is great if I can make it happen. As I said, mature deer are elusive creatures even under ideal circumstances, but when they know they are being hunted, big bucks can become almost impossible to kill. Spend time in the woods in the off-season to maximize every step when penetrating a buck’s home so you don’t have to go back until it is game time!