Post Season Scouting for Deer Strategies
How many hunters suit back up immediately after the last day of deer season to start scouting for deer? Days after the season there are probably only a handful of hunters who would. A couple weeks after the end of the season and the numbers probably start jumping up. Why? Burnt out, tired, cold, or just needing to simply get the honey do’s done, hunters often start thinking about deer again after a short break. And they should! As the offseason arrives post season deer scouting is what successful hunters know they must do. They are maximizing their time to document deer sign, find bedding areas, and survey what bucks have survived all in an effort to select the best locations for their tree stands for next year.
Although it takes a certain amount of will and excitement to get back into the woods right after a tough deer season, successful or not, in winter conditions, late season scouting for deer will surely improve your odds for next year. Mature bucks that have survived will have one more year of experience under their belts making them that much wiser next deer season, which means your tactics need to evolve as well!
Why Scouting for Deer in the Post Season is Worth It
Deer scouting should not only be a late summer and early fall activity. The amount of knowledge you obtain while scouting in the winter is many times more than you can gather in August or the days leading up to archery season. There are three reasons the post season is when to start scouting for deer.
The first is the possibility of snow on the ground. In more northern states, snow accelerates the scouting process. You can cover lots of ground and use tracks in the snow to identify deer movement. Deer trails that may be otherwise unnoticed during summer are clearly visible. Sure, main trails are obvious when scouting in summer but smaller, side trails are the ones big boys are using to get around. These offshoots, which are highly visible in winter, are places to mark for possible tree stand locations next fall. In addition, following trails may lead to undiscovered bedding areas that are ideal for stand placements for hunting late season bucks.
The second advantage to late season whitetail scouting is bumping deer is not a season ender. Trekking through the woods in the post season has little effect on deer. In contrast, pushing some deer days before the first day of archery can be detrimental to your season. In fact, running into deer while winter scouting can open up some areas to further explore that you may have otherwise passed by.
Often finding rubs during deer season is a good sign if you already have tree stands deployed, but scouting rub lines for a new spot during the season is risky. A third advantage to scouting for deer in the post season is being able to explore rub lines in more detail. The good news is the rubs have not gone anywhere since the rut, but there is a possibility that the buck has moved on or been harvested. Finding fresh tracks in the snow along with this year’s and older rub lines is a scouting technique used to pinpoint a holdover buck’s core area. Scout out the area and find some stand locations for next season.
Northern vs. Southern Late Season Scouting for Deer
Shockingly, there are differences in deer herds in more northern states versus deep southern states. In northern areas with hard winters, deer will herd up in places they may not typically go during deer season. For example, deep snow and frigid temperatures will undoubtedly send deer to dense stands of conifers where there is protection from the winter weather. Finding these spots while scouting is nice but clearly, post season scouting for deer in these areas will yield little potential for tree stands come next deer season.
In more southern states with less severe winters, scouting after the season can provide a clear picture of deer patterns. Pressured bucks are now back to normal activities and finding deer sign is a good indication of where to hang a tree stand for the upcoming deer season.
Post Season Scouting Tips for Deer
In order to see deer tracks in the snow or examine a rub line, you have to put boots on the ground. Let’s face it, that is scouting and in the winter it can be challenging. In order to maximize the value in scouting for deer in the post season, here are five post season scouting tips to get a head start on next year’s deer season.
Digital Scouting First
The more time inside the less you will be cold when scouting in winter. With digital aerial images, you can quickly pick out dense cover and changing forest types that may hold deer. Using mapping software, especially for scouting on public lands, will save you time and help to narrow down areas to scout on foot.
Start Big and End Small
Scouting for deer in winter, as we discussed, has its advantages. With snow on the ground, you can cover large swaths of land looking for deer sign. Once you find areas that have potential like those with rubs, tracks, food and cover all adjacent, mark these areas and spend additional time scouting here. Now you have smaller areas to assess and think about for potential spots for stands.
Always Scout the Food
Food sources are the main areas of deer activity in winter and primary locations for tree stands during hunting season. Agricultural fields, oaks and early growth timber are places to find deer in the winter. When scouting food sources in the winter, think about annual patterns and how deer will be using those areas at different times of the season. Concentrate your post season deer scouting along the edges near what deer are eating in the late season. Identify trails coming and going from food sources as places for hanging tree stands to cut them off from bedding areas.
Use Buck Sign
Buck rubs are easy to pick out while scouting in winter. Single rubs are nice but do not tell you much about patterning a buck. Usually, a single rub is done out of frustrating or because he just felt like it. More important are a series of rubs (a rub line), which are the link to closing in on a buck’s core area. Find old rubs mixed in and you know you are scouting an area with a potential mature buck.
Scouting Truck Hotspots
On public land, try to remember where you have seen the concentrations of trucks parked this past deer season. Hunters are there for a reason and post season deer scouting is a great time to find out why. This is a way to unlock new potential hunting areas or also determine if adjacent hunters may be affecting your tree stand locations.
Scouting for deer in the post season can be a game changer. Do you want to know the secret to getting on big bucks year after year? It is post season deer scouting. Patterning deer is much more productive in winter than in early fall. With these post season scouting tips, you can get a jump start on next year’s deer season.