LAST UPDATED: May 8th, 2015
Slowly scanning the timber before me, my eyes became fixated on the large yellow-colored spot worn raw on the stout pine tree ahead; there was no missing the giant rub nestled into the heart of this tight bottleneck. I could certainly tell this was the handiwork of a big, mature public-land buck. I followed the faint deer trail with the large tracks past the rub and on through the bottleneck into a tangle of greenbriar searching for a high point overlooking the hollow. The vantage point I stumbled upon was covered in buck sign: big tracks and rubs were everywhere. It was a perfect bedding site for a mature buck, offering consistent winds and an excellent vantage point.
Ten months later found me hunting that very location for the first time on a rainy Halloween night. Just before dusk, movement caught my eye as a blocky body ghosted through the bottleneck leading from the high bedding vantage point. I could plainly see tall tines coming my way; my heart raced as the buck closed the distance to 30 yards and a well-placed arrow ended a very successful public-land hunt. I wish I could say all of my best stand sites were so easy to locate, but most hot stand sites are not just stumbled onto, but instead take a lot work to find and a well-laid out plan to execute. I am going to discuss some of the strategies that I use to scout and ultimately pick my stand locations for pre-rut and rut setups.
First and foremost, it starts with studying aerial and topographical maps to learn the lay of the land and property boundaries. I search for points, saddles, likely locations for beaver dams any other terrain feature that could force the deer through an constricted area. I set out for my maiden scouting voyage in the winter months, as it’s easier to see the past season's buck sign the best at this time. The lack of foliage means you can see rubs, scrapes and licking branches from a distance as well as the runways and deer trails. Another benefit of winter scouting is the absence of insects such as mosquitos, ticks and deer flies. They can really put a damper on a great day in the outdoors. I consider a mostly sunny day in the mid 30's to mid 50's perfect scouting weather; you can walk all day with minimal layers on and stay very comfortable without overheating.
While winter scouting, I go slow and try to take in as much as I can in the areas of interest that I locate. When I find an area that was hot with deer sign, I will circle the area on foot so I can look at it from different angles; you would be surprised what you see that you missed by only looking at it from one vantage point. I take an aerial map of the area with me on new properties and draw points of interest on it with a sharpie marker. I will also take notes along my way in an attempt to not overlook anything when I later form my plan of attack. Once I have the area covered, I will use the information from my map and notes to determine whether this is an area I want to hunt or not. This tactic may help relate some things I didn't first notice once I have every thing plotted out on my aerial map. I can then see the big picture so to speak.
Read more about Planning Now for Post-Season Scouting.