By John L. Sloan
Maybe one of the most important factors of hunting a mature buck – post-season scouting – is no longer important to some deer hunters, being replaced by feeders, supplemental feeding and trail cameras. But it is to me, and it should be to you.
Post-season scouting is, quite simply, scouting after the season for what is, hopefully, going to happen next season. To me, when I was trophy hunting, it was the most important thing I did in terms of deer hunting. It is also one of the most misunderstood aspects of deer hunting. I am going to try to simplify and clarify it.
For close to 30-years, I spent a good part of my year guiding hunters, and hunting myself, for trophy bucks. I have 22-whitetail racks that score over 125 inches gross. That is not an accident, nor a brag. When I was serious about deer hunting, I spent over 100 days a year scouting, mostly post-season. Here is why.
If you are hunting public ground or large tracts of woodland where feeding, baiting and cameras are not feasible, you have to hunt the old-fashioned way. You have to develop and use skill. That means planning, scouting, understanding what you see.
Important scouting points
The best months for post-season scouting are January, February and March. That is when Mother Nature is naked. You can see terrain variations, dips and dives, ups and downs. This is necessary because deer hate level ground. Any terrain variation, even the slightest, attracts them, forms their travel routes. Best of all is when a jump or two puts them out of sight over a hill or down a ridge. Now, with the leaves off the trees, you can see their road signs.
In late October, bucks begin to move. They move into places they have never been. They move on trails you and I cannot see. We, here in the South, do not have the luxury of snow. So, somehow, we must find these trails that are hidden by layers of leaves.
What do we look for? These trails are side roads to you and me. Most are used only by a few deer for a few weeks and almost totally by bucks and, quite often, by bucks that have never been there before. How do these bucks know where to go? The same way we do – signs, such as the signpost rub. How do we know one when we see it?
Once we find these trails, what do we do? The placement of a stand that is not even going to be looked at again until late October or early November is a tough pill to swallow. But that is exactly what is important, so be patient.
When I post-season scout, I look for three specific things:
- Signpost rubs
- Terrain variations
I look in places I have neglected during the season. I look at a time the woods are mine. On public ground I am looking almost totally for signpost rubs relating to road or fence crossings, and I don’t care how close to the road I may place the stand. I relate the signpost rub to the terrain, i.e., how is that buck is going to travel? Why is he going to travel there and when? I could write 2,000 words on just that; it is that important. During this time, I am not at all concerned with a food source. The does are, so I’ll let them worry about that. I am only concerned with how the bucks, looking for the does, are traveling. I am hunting a deer that does not even know he is going to be there.
How do I recognize a signpost rub? First, it must be obvious, fresh and shiny, made in the recent autumn. Then, can I find an old one nearby? Then, can I find a second one? Then, most important – can I figure out why it is there? I have to be able to see or make an educated guess why that rub is where it is. Does it signify a crossing or a place to stop, listen and smell? Rub size is relative to the size of the deer in my area, so that factors in, too.
You must use a notebook. Do not rely on memory to find that spot in August. You must have notes indicating when, where and why. Mark the stand tree clearly. Make sure you can find it in three months, in the dark. Then … stay away.
Yeah, maybe post-season scouting may be dying out, but it is still the most effective way to kill a buck that never went past your camera and you have no idea he existed. Or maybe you have only nocturnal photos of that buck. It is also, for me, the most enjoyable part of hunting.
John Sloan’s articles, along with hunting articles by other authors, are posted on www.targetcommbooks.com, where you also will find deer, bear and turkey hunting books.