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Spring Scouting For Deer

A Deer Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


It was late March and most of the snow was gone, leaving the ground bare but wet, which made the deer trails easy to see and follow. As I followed a lightly used trail half way up a ridge I noticed my first rub. It was on a one inch oak sapling, the lighter color of the wood beneath the bark still clearly visible from when the buck had rubbed the tree last fall. I followed the trail another 400 yards before I saw the next rub, this one was on a small sumac, again about an inch in diameter. As the trail wound through a grove of sumac I saw several more rubs of the same size. I'd have to remember this spot, the buck obviously liked to spend time here during the rut. The sumacs gave way to a stand of large oaks, and there, beneath a low hanging red oak limb just off the trail was a scrape. The low handing limb showed signs of being chewed on. The last few remaining inches of the limb were broken off, and it hung down by a thread of bark, dangling in the air. The area under the tree was covered with dead grass and leaves, but, beneath the leaves under the overhanging limb there was bare ground where the buck had scraped last fall. Now I was sure I had to remember this spot. This would be a great place to setup during the scraping phase, the two weeks prior to when the does came into estrus.

I continued to follow the trail as it wound through the woods and eventually led to an old corn field. There were lots of deer pellets and tracks on the ground, both new and old. I looked around the field, checking for signs of buck tracks, and then went back to the trail, following it in the direction from which I had come. When I got back to where I first picked up the trail I kept following it, heading deeper into the woods. Every once in a while I would see a rub beside the trail, but I usually had to stop and look back to see them, because they were all on the other side of the tree as I walked backwards along the rub route.

I kept following the route up a hill and into deeper cover. As I walked along a bench choked with buckthorn, I lost the trail. It looked as if the trail I had been following had split into three or four lesser used trails. I pushed my way through the brush, sometimes on my hands and knees, stopping to look around me every few yards. When I had gone about thirty yards into the brush I began to see rubs on the one inch buckthorn. There were at least five rubs within a thirty yard circle. I continued to carefully look around, and there, next to the uphill side of huge old oak I found what I was looking for, a large deer bed. Nearby were several clumped deer droppings, about an inch and a half in diameter. I'd found the bucks bedding area. I checked farther along the ridge to see if the buck had an escape trail, which I did, and then I left. As I walked out I noted several trees where I could hang a stand along the rub route between the buck bedding area and the feeding areas, and where I could hunt the buck in the fall.

Spring Scouting
While many hunters begin to pattern a buck in the fall, after it sheds it's velvet and begins to make fresh rubs, it is actually easier to pattern a buck in the spring. Although the lesser used buck trails may not be as visible in the spring, the rubs and scrapes are clearly evident. Even if the buck that initially made the rubs and scrapes has been died other bucks will often use the same rub route. The trails used by bucks are chosen because they offer security. They are usually the safest means of travel from the buck's bedding area, through adjacent doe use areas, to night time food sources. Remember that in the fall the buck isn't just going from his bedding area to food sources, he usually travels through all the adjacent doe use areas that he can get to in a night.

If you are looking for buck trails remember that they often parallel the more heavily used doe trails, intersecting them only at bottlenecks or near scraping and bedding areas. If the trail shows little use it may be a buck trail. Look for buck sign: large tracks, drag marks, rubs or large clumped droppings. Buck trails, especially rub routes, may be traveled by only one buck, once a day, in one direction, and show very little evidence of being used. If you find vague trails lower or higher on ridges than doe trails, or trails that run through heavy cover, follow creek bottoms, sloughs or forested lake shores, they may be buck trails.

If you find doe use areas in the spring you will probably find rubs and old scrapes. Once you find the doe use areas, or a feeding source, and the rub route, it is a matter of back tracking the rub route of the buck to find it's bedding area. If you want to be sure of the buck's bedding area now is a good time to go into it, even though you may spook the buck. By the time hunting season rolls around the buck will have forgotten about your intrusion and will begin using his preferred bedding area on a regular basis again. If you don't see a deer in the area check for beds, large droppings or piles of clumped droppings over and inch and a half in diameter. Although does may make clumps I usually see them in buck bedding areas and in, or near, scrapes. If there are a lot of droppings in one area with rubs on adjacent trees it's a good bet you have found the buck's bedroom.

If you haven't found the buck's rubline the buck bedding area is a good place to look for it. With the use of a topographical map or aerial photo to show you where the food sources, roads and bottlenecks are you can make a good guess which way the buck travels and where he will end up. You can usually find the buck's trail going out of the bedroom and follow it by the rubs. If it's possible, and you have access to all the property the buck uses, follow the entire route, from the bedroom to the food sources and back to the bedroom again. Bucks may leave little evidence of their passing on the way back to their bedding area in the morning. I think they are often in a hurry to get back and don't take much time to mark their trail until the peak of the rut. You can usually find their trail by the tracks and rubs left from previous years. Once you know the buck's rub route you know where to find him. But, unless you have seen him regularly, you will not know when to see him. When you have found the trails, doe use areas, buck bedding areas and rublines, record their location on a map. If you see deer record the time, place, weather conditions, food sources, activity and other factors in a journal, so you know where to find the deer in the fall. With the information gathered in the spring it will take less time and effort to locate, observe, record and pattern the deer before the hunt.