UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
Effective scouting is as much a part of hunting as climbing into a treestand in November. It is also one of the most overlooked aspects of being successful. As summer progresses, bowhunters start to get antsy in anticipation of the upcoming season. We all want to “get out there” and see what kind of deer are in the area and which ones we may have a chance to hunt when fall finally arrives. Yes, the urge to start scouting can be overwhelming. However, without the proper approach, scouting during the summer may do more harm than good. You see, scouting and EFFECTIVE scouting are two different things. When it comes to mature bucks…..less is more.
Summer is the best time to see deer during daylight hours.
For the purpose of this article we are going to focus on how to effectively scout for mature bucks during the summer months. When I say mature, I mean bucks that are 4 years old or older. And, although mature bucks are more visible during late summer than at any other time of year, they are still extremely wary so caution must be used. In order to maximize my scouting efforts, while still flying under the whitetail radar, I concentrate on the following methods.
The first tool I use is trail cameras. Trails “cams”, as they are commonly called, are invaluable to hunters who want to keep an accurate inventory of their deer herd while keeping intrusion minimal. When selecting a location for a trail camera, there are several factors to consider. Most important is access; how will you access the camera in order to check it. Ideally, you want a spot that is very easy to get to without spooking any deer, so forget about locations that are deep inside your hunting area. The better approach is to stick to the fringes. I prefer locations that I can almost drive right up to. This allows me to swap camera cards and re-fresh the bait in a little over a minute, and then leave; keeping human intrusion to a minimum.
Once I know the general area I want to place my camera in, I then narrow the location down to those that will receive a good amount of “natural” deer traffic. Sites such as gaps in a fence, trail edges coming into a major food source, or land bridges over irrigation ditches are all excellent choices. Once I have found a site that offers both good access and natural deer movement, I set my camera up. If at all possible I will face it pointing north. This diminishes the chance of getting sunspots and glare on the photos regardless of the time of day.
I also place attractants in front of the camera. (Make sure to check local regulations before using attractants in your area). From early spring through Fall I like to use mineral attractants. Right now I am using “Whitetail Antler Magic” by Heartland Wildlife Institute. They also make a mineral attractant called Whitetail Lick Magic. Once the camera is set in place I try not to check it any more than once a week; sometimes every two weeks. Historically, I tend to get the most mature buck pictures between July 1st and August 15th.
Attractants will help place deer directly in front of your camera.
When you download your pictures don’t just look at them….study them. And not just the deer themselves, but everything in the photos. For example, if a particular buck always approaches the camera from the same direction, there is a good chance he is bedding in that direction. That will give you a starting point as to where to begin hunting. There is a lot of information that can be learned from trail cameras if you take the time to properly study them. Without a doubt, they allow the hunter to be in the woods 24/7; which is a big advantage when trying to formulate a plan to hunt a particular buck.
The next method I use for scouting mature bucks is a computer. Technology has come a long way, and there are many things that a hunter can do to increase his chances for success right in the comfort of his own home. Programs such as Google Earth, aerial photographs, and topo maps are extremely valuable tools. For example, let’s say you get a trail camera photo of a big buck that seems to always approach the camera from a certain direction. You can use an aerial photograph to try and pinpoint where his likely bedding area is. I used this method on a particular buck last year.
His name was Twin Towers, he was on my “hit list”, he was showing up on my trail camera almost every evening, and he always approached from the west. Using an aerial image, I was able to surmise that the buck was most likely walking down a dry creek bed and popping up into the field where my camera was located. I knew there was a really thick area on top of a ridge about 500 yards to the west and that is where I guessed his bed to be located.
Summer-time scouting can reveal a big bucks preferred travel route when used in conjunction with another resource.
To test my theory I set up a second camera that pointed straight down the dry creek bed toward the ridge. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed! He was indeed coming off the thick ridge and making his way down the dry creek bed. I quickly hung a stand on the trail coming off the ridge and even though I didn’t harvest that buck, I did see him twice, BOTH times from that particular stand. As a result, I have since moved the stand closer to where I witnessed most of the movement taking place last year, in hopes that I will seal the deal this fall. However, I still credit the trail cam and aerial photo for putting me in the right spot. Without them, I might have hung my stand somewhere else and never even laid eyes on that buck. In all liklihood, my schemes would have been nothing more than a guessing game otherwise.
The third method I use in order to scout mature bucks is conducting long range scouting sessions near food sources. The ten days of the entire year where a mature buck is most visible are the last 5 days of July, and the first 5 days of August. I see more big deer on the hoof during this period than any other time. First, I like to find a major food source (either soybeans or alfalfa in my area) that a lot of deer are using in the evenings. Then, I set up an observation stand no closer than 90 to 100 yards from where the deer usually feed. Although I won’t be hunting these stands, I use them the same way; only sitting in them when the wind is right.
Getting velvet footage of the deer you are chasing is not only exciting, but it will allow you to review the pictures or video footage and study the individual deer more closely. This is a big help when deciding which deer are shooters and which ones you may want to let grow another year. If you have already studied the deer pretty extensively (through video or photos), you can easily make the “shoot or let walk” decision in the heat of the moment during hunting season.
Long range scouting can teach you a lot about your local deer herd while keeping impact low.
Scouting during the summer also allows you to take note of general deer movement patterns from an elevated position. There is no better deer sign than “observed” movement. I get almost more excited when I get good footage of a big buck in velvet as I do when I shoot one. It is a huge confidence boost when you know for certain that there are good deer in your hunting area and you have a good idea regarding their preferred travel routes. Scouting fields in the evening is also a great way to introduce youngsters or others to the sport. An evening spent watching deer can be an enjoyable family outing.
The most important thing to remember when scouting deer in the summertime is to be as “low impact” as possible. When I have compiled my scouting information and I feel like I need to move a stand or hang a new one, I try to do it with as little intrusion as possible. I make a list of everything that I need to do on that property and try to get it all (or as much as possible) done in one outing. Spending an entire day getting all your stands ready, trimming shooting lanes or making access routes to and from your stand is better than doing a little bit every few days. This allows the deer to calm down from the intrusion more quickly. Remember, the key is to do everything you can to keep the deer from knowing they are being hunted. The less stress your scouting puts on the deer herd, the greater your chances for success.
Although a gun kill, the fact still remains that the author (pictured far right) used a combination of studying aerial photos and summer time velvet footage to find success on this 2011 Indiana youth hunt. You can do the same.
Whatever method you may prefer, there is no better time to find a big buck than late summer. Put out a trail camera, ask the neighbors what they have been seeing, or just take a drive around the fringes of your hunting area in the evening. The time is NOW to be out there tracking down your next trophy buck.