|Scout Now for Next Year's Trophy|
Late winter and early spring are my favorite times to go through my spots with a fine-toothed comb. Even the property’s sanctuaries are fair game for a little peek to make sure everything is "tuned properly." I can now go through the areas I was afraid of spooking deer in during the season. If you bump a buck now, he has months to go back about his daily routine. Scouting this time of year is important if you wish to consistently harvest mature bucks, or if you are serious about managing your whitetail herd.
February through April is filled with general scouting and shed hunting. Some areas whitetails inhabit year around, and other territories they move out of, and into "yards" or wintering areas. This is especially prevalent in the North, but even here in the South, for food or preferred cover, whitetail can move a fair distance to find what they need. For this one reason, I don’t put a lot of confidence into a pair of sheds leading me to a buck the following season. The buck that owned the antler you found might be living ten miles away during hunting season. Then again, if you’re in an area whitetail live the year through, it is possible to learn a lot. I do, however, chronicle the data of the sheds - estimated age and antler score are recorded. This is one indicator telling me whether or not my management programs are working.
Some people go absolutely bonkers for shed hunting. Most of the time, I just go for the purpose of scouting and, if I happen to run across a shed, that’s a bonus. It has become so popular some people have started training dogs specifically for finding shed antlers. I’m not that into it, but I can say shed hunting is a great way to get your family involved more in the outdoors. It’s like "CSI" (Cast Shed Investigators) when I take my daughters. We treat it like a game and it gets them outdoors. They have better eyes than I have and they’ve already learned to look for the subtle signs that an antler might be present, like just the tips being exposed through the leaves.
Trail cameras are still very useful after the season has closed. During the colder winter temperatures I use a small, rechargeable 12-volt battery in my trail cameras, rather than the AA, D or C sized batteries I normally use - if the camera is set up for this option. This saves me hundreds of dollars on batteries. Cameras are especially important to me this time of year, so I can learn for sure which bucks made it through the season, where I need to concentrate my efforts and what management decisions need to be implemented.
March through May is my favorite time to do "fine-tooth comb"-type scouting. I want to learn every little detail now, so closer to the season I don’t have to put pressure on the spot. With the foliage off many of the trees, rubs you’ve never seen before start to pop out at you. I do put a lot of confidence in these. Travel routes, direction of travel and size of buck can be told. You have to hope the buck will be back the following season. But at least most of this sign is made during the hunting season. Your trail cameras can give you proof of whether or not he’s made it through the season.
Even though the season has ended, I still rely heavily on glassing. I don’t like to put pressure on my food plots at night by using a spotlight, so I use my Night Search night vision. With a little moonlight, often just a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will work just fine. Some would argue, "Their antlers have dropped, how do you tell what you’re looking at – is it a buck or a doe?" These are usually the same people who still harvest year-old basket-racks each year. When you see the body of a mature buck that’s three-years-old or older, there’s normally no mistaking it. There can be exceptions to the rule, but, for the most part, you know a "shooter buck" whether he’s carrying antlers or not. After many hours observing whitetail, you can begin to tell the difference between bucks and does just by the way they walk, run, stand or act around other deer.
Whitetail definitely don’t move as much during the winter months, but their stomach and their need for food will still make them travel and, if you plan it right, you can learn a lot. If you anticipate the weather changes or wait until bad weather breaks, it sometimes seems like the "whitetail flood gates" have opened. Just before or just after a major storm, when we get a warm up after several days of severe cold temperatures or after a long period of harsh winds are good times to make a stake out near a food source.
Major trails can stick out like a sore thumb this time of year. And even though it is possible to find good spots in major funnels, access trails to bedding areas and other possible situations whitetail may use the following season, most of my ambush sites are created during the late summer and early fall, or shortly before I hunt an area.
During late winter and spring, as I said, I don’t worry as much about spooking the animals. But on the other hand, why let them know you’ve been there if you don’t have to? I always take the same precautions, as far as scent elimination goes, for scouting as I do for hunting, even this time of year. Rubber boots, trapper’s gloves and Scent Killer are my most important scouting tools. Not only do we have to pay attention to the odors we carry on us, but also the ones we may leave behind.
In February and March, it’s time to get those mineral sites freshened up with a new BioRock. Bucks will need the important bone-growing ingredients like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulfur contained in the rock. And, as opposed to humans, whitetail bucks will actually store these nutrients and then release them when their antlers start to grow. These mineral sites can be a great place to get numerous trail camera photos of specific deer.
Just before and during the actual hunting season, I back off of an area and try to be especially stealthy. If you have a good understanding of a region from your winter/spring scouting, why spook a potential trophy? I’m sure you’ll find scouting during this time of the year will help you line things up for next year’s whitetail season.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.