I really enjoy shed hunting and use the size and locations of sheds found to locate the late-winter home ranges of mature bucks. Now that summer is here we're no longer shed hunting, instead we're scouting for summer whitetails.
The location of sheds is great information for late-season hunting. However, when it comes to where I place stands for hunting in the early and middle portions of the season, I'm more concerned with identifying a whitetail's preferred source of food, cover and water.
Find the 'Best' Forage
I continue my scouting throughout the summer months by watching deer. By late June or early July, bucks are showing their antler growth
potential. They are often in bachelor groups, creating the perfect time to watch deer.
Locating bucks that will be on my "hit list" this fall is an important step toward tagging a mature buck. Bucks can easily be found at this time of year, because they will probably be using the "best" food sources in their range.
The "best" forage is not necessarily the biggest field or highest quality forage. It's very important to understand that fear is usually a bigger motivation for deer than forage quality.
Think of it like this: I normally don't eat insects. However, if I was lost in a wilderness and starving, I'd gladly eat insects I felt would not harm me. Deer are much the same way. During June, they rarely associate standing in a soybean field during daylight hours with danger.
In addition, most trees are fully leafed-out this time of year, thus blocking the sunshine from reaching the soil. This means the only sources of quality forage will be in openings or fields during the summer.
Consider the Variables
It's tempting to see a mature buck feeding in a field day after day during the summer and get confident your scouting is complete. Heck, all that's left is to hang a stand, practice shooting and wait for opening day!
So, why do these scenarios rarely work out? Well, by the time deer season opens, several changes will have occurred. The change in the quality of forage between early and late summer is one factor.
"It's tempting to see a mature buck feeding in a field day after day during the summer and get confident your scouting is complete."
Most commercially farmed soybeans are bred to ripen and begin drying during late summer. This allows the beans to be fully developed and dry enough for farmers to harvest before winter weather arrives. When soybeans begin maturing and start to yellow, they become less palatable to deer.
A proven tip to keep bucks feeding in the same field through summer and into early fall is to plant an indeterminate variety of soybean. This means the soybeans will continue growing and producing lush, green forage until the first frost.
Another factor that influences changes in travel patterns is acorns. Early-falling acorns have spoiled the plans of many hunters. The best strategy is to know, based on past observations, which trees produce early. Then have a stand to hunt with an entrance/exit route planned well before the season.
Another huge factor during the early season is that the testosterone level in bucks is changing rapidly. Bucks that appear docile and very accepting, even seeking the company of other bucks, change to being very alert and intolerant of other bucks. This is especially true for mature bucks.
When anticipating a change in food sources and changes in behavior due to hormones, it is often best to place stands for the opening weekend of deer season based on knowledge of where the most desirable food sources will be; not observations of where deer were feeding in June.
Placing stands near the best food source bucks don't associate with danger during that portion of the season is a proven strategy.
Even with all my planning, I realize a buck's preferred food sources can change rapidly due to crops being harvested, weather, hunting pressure and other factors. That's why I scout year round.