Scouting is essential for deer hunting success. Those who merely walk into the woods, pick a random tree, and hope to fill a tag might get lucky — but luck is all you can hope for. The smart hunter does his or her homework, scouts for likely ambush spots, and harvests the deer they’re after.
Here are some likely places to accomplish that.
Most hunters consider scouting food sources first. Think about this: The primary component of a good hunting spot is good bedding and cover. While whitetails travel miles to find food under the cover of darkness, they need to feel safe within their daytime lairs. You have to be close enough to the lairs to see them during daylight. Some likely places include:
Cedar thickets: A stand of cedars doesn’t do much in the way of food, but it will shelter deer and provide cover. Coniferous trees offer shelter from the elements and hunting pressure.
Standing crop fields: These serve a dual purpose — cover and food. It can be difficult to hunt, especially around massive crops of standing corn. Oftentimes, deer will live in it and rarely come out. It takes strategy and skill to effectively hunt in and around standing crop fields.
CRP and CREP pockets: I hunt four properties close to home. One of them is mostly in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This property is essentially a blend of native grasses. Interesting tidbit — the deer density is almost double compared to the other three traditional hardwoods and agricultural mix properties I hunt. Numerous things could cause this, but I believe the superior CRP cover is the biggest factor.
Leeward ridges: Bucks — especially mature ones — like to bed on leeward (downwind-side) ridges. The wind coming over the top of the ridge and the thermals coming up from the valley create a wind tunnel that allows bucks to detect danger from both directions.
Swamp islands: Deer frequently bed on high points surrounded by water. Find a way to hunt such a place without alerting deer, and you’re well on your way to filling a tag.
Ridge points: These locations give deer the advantage for much the same reason leeward ridges do. In fact, they’re even better because they provide deer with more wind directions to take advantage of when the wind shifts.
Numerous studies suggest deer typically go to water before food when they rise from their evening beds. Because of that, water should play a role in your stand location choices.
Lakes: It can be very difficult to use water to your advantage when hunting around lakes. There’s water everywhere. The main body. Rivers. Creeks. Tributaries. Run-off. Find secluded areas that don’t receive as much attention, and you’ve found a daytime water source. Islands on lakes are also great to hunt if you have access and permission.
Rivers: I love hunting rivers, but it’s much like lake hunting. Miles of shoreline make it difficult to predict where deer will go to water. While choosing a specific river spot to camp out on is rarely productive, use the river to your advantage during the rut. Bucks frequently cruise along river banks in hopes of picking up the scent of an estrus doe.
Creeks and streams: These are usually good for daylight activity, especially in more secluded areas. Sources tucked into remote locations close to bedding areas receive the most daytime use.
Ponds: Running water inhibits a whitetail’s hearing and limits their ability to detect danger. Deer generally prefer motionless bodies of water during daylight hours. I’ve personally seen much more daylight movement on quiet sources than running ones. If you don’t have access to water, try creating small watering holes to attract deer.
Finally, another excellent way to spot deer is to find where they feed. Food is king in the world of whitetails. Find the food source, find the deer.
Agricultural fields: The boom in the grain crop industry has greatly benefitted the white-tailed deer. Corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum and a variety of other commodities have resulted in healthier deer and increased deer populations throughout the country.
Food plots: The food plot craze is big: clover, cowpeas, winter peas, cereal rye, soybeans, corn, lablab, sunflowers, brassicas, beets, oats, chicory and more. Provide something deer don’t already have access to where you hunt. Include numerous species to give them options. Plant combinations of large feed fields and small micro plots in strategic designs and locations. This will feed the herd and put deer in front of you during shooting hours.
Hard mast trees: Mast trees are primary food sources in the fall. Oaks, chestnut, pecan, beech and other nut-producing species are great locations to scout for deer.
Soft mast trees: Other trees produce a soft mast, or fruit, rather than a hard nut. Look for apple, crabapple, plum, persimmon, pear trees and more. These fruits tend to be prime targets during September and early October.
Browse: Hard, woody browse on trees and plants, as well as leaves from select species, are a major part of a whitetail’s diet. Certain varieties to watch for include: black gum, honey locusts, Osage orange, hackberry, sumac, redbud, maple, etc.
Forbs, grasses and small plants: Deer may also target forbs, grasses and smaller plants over all other food sources. Deer will key on hundreds of options, including honeysuckle, pokeweed and much more.
Deer season will be here in a flash. Once it arrives, it’ll end just as fast. Preparedness is paramount to success. Use the remaining summer months to scout for opening day. With a little luck, a full freezer and filled tag will be the reward.