Late winter through early spring is a quiet time for many bowhunters. Sure, there’s shed hunting to be done, but it’s a little early to plant food plots or hang stands. However, it’s an excellent time to scout and find good hunting locations for next season.
Last fall’s rubs are still plainly visible on trees, and once the snow recedes, it’s easy to spot old scrapes, droppings and tracks — sign that will soon be swallowed up by new vegetation later in the spring. Barring any major changes on the landscape, it’s likely deer will use similar areas in the coming fall.
One advantage of late-winter scouting (in addition to the need to get a little exercise) is you don’t have to be cautious about bumping bucks and causing them to go nocturnal or move to neighboring properties, as you do during hunting season. This time of year, you can stroll right into a buck’s bedroom and observe exit and entry trails to get a good feel for how he moves around. Note staging areas of thick cover just off crop field edges, where bucks mill around impatiently, waiting for the cover of darkness to feed. Mature bucks often move very little during legal shooting hours, so setting up near such spots may be your only hope at catching a big boy on his feet. Look for trees near these areas that could serve as potential stand sites. Clearing shooting lanes around these trees now is a good idea; bucks will have time to get used to the changes. You might even consider moving fallen trees or manipulating other terrain to funnel deer to where you want them.
As you identify rubs, scrapes and trails, use a GPS or your favorite hunting app to log this information. Mapping trails and marking buck sign on an app or GPS can help you get the big picture of a buck’s territory and help you identify likely stand sites.
It’s probably too early to know which crops will be planted in which fields next fall, but late winter is a good time to keep tabs on logging activity. Logging is usually done in winter when trees are dormant and when the ground is potentially frozen. It has an immediate impact on deer movements. Deer may move in to feed on or bed near the slash left by logging operations. The new growth that pops up between winter and archery season in these logged areas will almost certainly attract deer. However, depending on the type of logging done, stand sites may be hard to come by. You may be looking at a few trees in less-than-ideal areas, or you may have to set up a ground blind.
If you hunt on forested public land, late winter is a good time to drive around and find out which areas have been logged. You can check with your local forester for locations, but it’s easy to spot logging trucks on back roads or at least see their tracks, especially in snowy areas. They’ll lead you to potential future bowhunting hot spots.
You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your favorite chair to start putting together your bowhunting strategy. Perusing mapping sites such as Google Earth or hunting apps can go a long way to dialing you in, especially if you’re hunting public property. This is a good time of year to research property ownership information, and then identify good hunting opportunities. On a broad scale, you might use a mapping program or app to see something such as a clear-cut on public property. Zooming in, you might be able to use topographic lines to identify detailed terrain features, such as funnels or creek crossings, that are worth investigating for stand sites next fall.
Of course, once you’ve located potential hunting areas, it’s always nice to put boots on the ground and confirm that what you see on your device really does look promising as a hunting spot. Get out there, note last fall’s sign, and plan a strategy for the upcoming season. It’s not too early to put out trail cameras. And keep your eyes peeled for shed antlers, which can help you confirm the presence of good-sized bucks. Doing some scouting now gives you more time to plan a hunting strategy. Plus, it’s nice to scout during a quiet time of year before you get busy with summer activities.