We bloggers and outdoor TV hosts have turned whitetail hunting into an endless autumn. When one season closes in January, we tell you to get back out there and scout for old rubs, scrapes, trails and sheds. Keep snooping in spring-until it’s time to glass for velvet bucks and set trail cams in late summer. Now put it all together and hang your tree stands to ambush Mr. Big in month or two.
Get real! Most people don’t have the time or luxury to scout for deer year-round. You work long and hard, run the kids to ball practice or music lessons, cut the grass… You get it.
Can you still get your buck this fall with limited preparation? Sure, here’s a plan for weekend warriors.
Scout from Home
You might not have time to drive an hour or more to your hunting spot on a regular basis, but you can scout it now, from your air-conditioned den. Check aerial maps and topos, or go to Google Earth on the Internet. Spend a few evenings pouring over the land images. Study the lay of fields. Look for a cutover or powerline cut where whitetails will feed and mingle. Check for thick cover, grown-up fields, cedar stands, beaver swamps; places where bucks bed and hide. Search for strips of woods, swales, streams and other funnels that connect feeding and bedding areas.
By simply studying and analyzing aerials or imagery, you can eliminate up to 50 percent of marginal deer habitat before you ever leave the house. Then when you can swing a day off, you’re ready to drive out and ground scout the other 50 percent of spots where deer will move this fall.
Take a Recon Day
For the weekend warrior, a day or two of “speed scouting” in late summer or early fall will help you out. Slip on rubber boots and go for a walk, preferably around lunchtime when deer are bedded. Refer to your maps and hit those spots that looked the best.
Hike the edges of fields, checking for trails that wend back into thickets. Drop into a creek bottom or hollow, looking for fresh rubs (the bigger the better). Find deep, splayed, 3-inch tracks on a trail, and guess what? You’ve stumbled into some corner of a mature buck’s core area.
You’ll find the heaviest sign near feed, such as alfalfa, corn or acorns falling on a ridge or in a bottom. Here’s a simple tip never to forget: When your scouting and hunting time are limited, you can never go wrong by hunting near a hot food source.
Finally, use your scouting day to monitor where other hunters will park their trucks and hunt this fall. This is vitally important on public land. Then plan to set your blind or treestand in a honeyhole off the beaten path of a major pull off or parking area. That way others won’t mess you up.
Hunt Hard, Smart All Weekend
One day in Virginia I bumped into a young guy wrestling with a freshly killed buck.
“Lemme give you a hand,” I said, reaching down and grabbing half the rack. “Nice deer. He’ll score 140.”
We dragged and the kid yapped, “Yeah, I can’t believe how lucky I was. I’d never hunted this place. I got here two days ago, scouted a few hours and found a bunch of rubs and scrapes on that oak ridge back there. Yesterday morning I hung my climber, sat all day and saw a lot of does. I figured a buck must be around. Today I went back and an hour before dark this big boy cruised by!”
The kid did it right. He scouted a bit, found a remote spot littered with fresh sign, and then went for it. He didn’t get antsy and jump from one stand to the next, or waste time back at his truck. For two days he hunted every minute that he could. Do the same and you, too, can drive home with a buck in your truck one Sunday night soon.
For more on deer hunting go to www.mikehanback.com
Quick Tips for a Banner Weekend
- Try to get out to a farm and glass a corn or soybean field the Friday evening before your weekend hunt. If you see a good buck at dusk, move in at lunchtime on Saturday, play the wind and hang a stand near where he popped out of the woods. You might kill him that evening or Sunday afternoon.
- If you can only swing one or two weekends this fall, try your best to get away during the first two weeks of November. Think back to a good-looking funnel you saw on a map or Google Earth. A stream or hollow leading from a crop field back into thick woods is good. Move in and hunt all weekend for a “cruiser buck” looking for does. It’s simple but great strategy.
- Master a climbing stand, which saves you time and increases your mobility on the weekends. You can find acorns or scrapes, run a climber up a tree and hunt a good buck in minutes.
- You might like bowhunting, so go a weekend or two if you can. But when your time is limited and you need some meat for the freezer, go gun hunting during the rut. There will be more people in the woods, but your chances of shooting a deer double or triple over archery hunting.