Return to Hunting Articles   

Post Season / Winter Whitetail Scouting

A Deer Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


After the deer season is over and the hunting equipment is put away many deer hunters lose interest in heading out to the wood. But, for the dedicated deer hunter the next hunting season is just beginning. By now the weather may have turned cold, the winds may be blowing strong and the snow may be getting deep. Walking through deer habitat at this time of the year is no longer an adventure, it's more of a chore. For adventurous deer addicts, who want to learn more about deer and deer habits, snow covered ground is like reading an open book.

Deer tracks that were obscured in the dirt and leaves of fall may now be easily seen in muddy or snow covered trails. What looked like matted down grass in the fall may now prove to be a buck route, the drag marks of the buck's front hooves showing clearly in the snow. Following trails in the snow can eventually lead you to bedding areas, showing you where the big buck you couldn't find hid out during the hunting season. When you don't see the buck again next year you'll have a good idea where to find him. Trails can show you food sources the deer used during those inclement days when you sat on your stand without seeing anything. They can also show you escape routes you didn't know where there.

One of the best ways to locate the bucks you couldn’t find during the hunting season is to glass feeding areas and scout for field sign after the rut or the hunting season is over. If you have rain or snow in your area, get out the door when the rain or snow lets up, and backtrack the buck trails until you find their core areas and bedding sites. If you do this while the bucks are on their fall home ranges you'll know whereto find them next year during the hunting season. If the bucks in your area move to winter ranges, and if you can't or don't do it until after the bucks have moved you can still use the information to watch the deer through the winter, and into the spring.

Following buck trails along rub routes while bucks are still on their fall home ranges helps you pattern them well before the season. And, while the bucks may not use the exact same trails as they do during the rubbing and scraping period, they will probably use the same gullies, roads and bottlenecks that offered them protection all year long. Once you know the bucks' general routes it is much easier to locate, pattern and hunt them next year.

While scrapes are difficult to detect under the snow, the bareness of the rubs are still evident on the trees. Following a buck trail from rub to rub is quite easy in the snow and you may find some scrapes. If whitetails have a long breeding season in your area, some of the bucks may begin scraping again 20-30 days after the primary breeding period as the younger does come into estrous for the first time and older does (that were not bred the first time) experience a second estrous. In areas with low buck numbers (where a lot of does don't get bred) there may be another breeding period with more rubbing and scraping.
If you are really addicted you can watch the deer to learn their travel routes and the times they use them. I start out watching deer by picking one or two sites where I can see as much habitat as possible. I like to choose a stand that overlooks a food source, open area or bottleneck to watch deer. A treestand overlooking a food source is an excellent spot. Any location that lets you see a long way, like a hill that overlooks bedding areas and travel lanes, is good. I do this a lot during the pre-rut to pattern the bucks, but I also do it in the winter because it cuts down on the amount of time I have to scout and observe in the fall, before the hunt. It doesn't take me long to figure out where to set up after I see a buck two or three times while I am scouting.

The more time and effort you spend scouting, observing and patterning deer after the hunting season, the less time you have to spend doing it before the next season. For those of you who shed hunt, winter scouting to locate rub routes and buck bedding areas is an excellent way to stumble across a shed antler.