By Bill Winke
Most bowhunters want to start their post-season scouting by walking everything and looking for the best sign: the heaviest trails, biggest rubs and widest scrapes. It's very tempting to take this route — and even a lot of fun. If you scout before spring green-up, all sign from the prior rut is right there for you to find. It would seem the perfect time to scout up a new stand overlooking the most heavily used funnel or the line of rubs on fat saplings.
The stands you hang over such spots might work, but you may also spend your whole season chasing your tail as you jump from one to the next, never experiencing more than a few good hunts all season before your top choices are dead. I wrote an article a few years back titled, When Good Stands Go Bad. That article dove into the many ways seemingly great stands can burn out quickly.
If you are hunting right in the heart of the action and the deer know (or figure out) you are there, you will educate a lot of them and burn that spot out really fast. So, when it comes to stand sites, you have to be careful what you wish for — or look for.
Scouting backwards may not be as glamorous as looking for big sign, but it is the best way to find great stand sites. This approach puts the priority on being undetected — something that is much more important than sitting over the hottest sign.
With that in mind, here is a different way to scout — a way that produces low-impact stands you can hunt all season without burning them out.
Find Entry & Exit Routes
Here is where the backwards part comes in. While most whitetail scouts will search for sign and then a tree, far too many will never consider how they will get to that tree until the first day they go in to hunt it. That is the main reason good stands go bad and why you need to start with the route first and work backwards.
So, in that spirit, turn yourself blind to the deer sign. It is a distraction at this point. Instead, focus all your energy on finding the sneakiest ways you can get into your hunting area. Get creative. Now is the time to explore every option.
Finding creative access takes time, thought and an open mind. Otherwise, you will just keep hunting the way you always have — and you will get the same results you have always gotten (for better or worse). Finding new ways to access your area without the deer knowing it is how you will get better as a deer hunter, and that is the number one reason to scout after each season — so you can get better.
Here are some of the stands I hunt, and how I get to them.
Match normal human activity
When I hunt one of my stands, I actually park in the neighbor's driveway, walk down the county road for a few hundred yards and then sneak through 30 yards of brush to the tree. The deer never cross the road in that area but travel parallel to it, out of sight the entire time. They are just down the hill from my stand. I hunt it when the wind blows toward the road.
Nothing smells me, and I never bump deer going in or out. Even on still mornings, one of the most challenging entry scenarios, the deer ignore my truck coming to a stop because the neighbors are in and out of their driveway all the time. My truck means nothing to the deer. It works amazingly well.
Mowed paths and tree lines
I have a blind in a thick tree line of cedars I get to by walking a path I mow through a field of switchgrass. The tall grass keeps me out of sight when I am walking, and I can hide behind the tree line as I make the final approach to the blind. I have sneaked in and out of that one many times with deer nearby. It is the most foolproof stand I have ever hunted.
A number of my better stands over the years have been near ditches. I can use the ditch to enter the stand from above or below — depending on the setup. I have even used ditches to get into a bottom and then used other terrain features to hide me as I sneaked to the stand. Ditches are great avenues to sneak into a hunting area undetected. I have crept past deer several times that I knew were there, but they never detected me.
My absolute favorite method to enter my hunting area is through a low-water creek. Most of the creeks in my area are seasonal. By fall, they don't carry much water. These sand-bottom creeks offer the perfect way to get deep into my hunting area without any deer knowing it. They are awesome. I go well out of my way to hunt near them as much as possible.
Flowing creeks and rivers
I don't have stands on flowing water right now, but several of my friends do. They use canoes to slip into these areas undetected. As with ditches, you may find yourself clearing out logjams before the season that would otherwise make the trip impossible.
I have some spots where I plant tall screens of forage sorghum and Egyptian wheat to hide my entry and exit. If you have some control over your hunting area, this is an option when you can't find a natural low-profile route to use when heading into a certain area.
I am sure there are other features of cover and terrain you can find that will serve as perfect routes. I almost never think about sign until I have found all the great ways to get into each part of my hunting area.
Find the Best Stands
Don't blow it now by striking off across country or through the open timber. Just look for the best ambush sites you can find a very short walk from your entry/exit superhighways. In other words, a stand overlooking decent sign but with bullet-proof entry and exit is way better over the long haul than a stand overlooking the best sign on the property with only marginal entry and exit.
Consistent success over the course of several seasons comes down to keeping the deer from knowing you are hunting them for as long as possible. There is no better way to assure this result than to find your best stands by scouting backwards.