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Summer Scouting
June 13, 2018

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There's a lot of emphasis nowadays on becoming a year-round deer hunter. More time spent afield, observing whitetails during all four seasons, leads to a greater understanding of the animal and its habits. Also, there are a number of summer projects, such as planting food plots and making habitat improvements, that can contribute toward success later on. In terms of actual scouting, though, can you really learn anything beneficial about deer patterns that will help you this fall?

Some would argue that whitetails go through so many changes between now and the first day of archery season that where you find deer now doesn't necessarily mean you'll find them there in September. That's true, particularly if where the deer are now is based on short-term food sources such as certain species of soft mast that only ripen in summer. But valuable knowledge can still be gained by spending a few hot days in the woods.

Summer is the best time to start scouting new property. Feel free to explore every inch without worrying about bumping deer. Even if you drive them off the property once or twice, they'll likely return in just a day or two.

Now's the time to locate oak flats and natural funnels that will be good stand locations this fall. When you find them, make a note of it in your notebook or, if you're more technologically inclined, on apps such as onX Hunt, which allows you to flag stand locations and points of interest. I scout so many areas every year that I sometimes forget those small details that can be very helpful later on because I get caught up in the "here and now," or it could be because I'm getting old. Whatever the reason, the frustrating part is that I often remember them once it's too late. Now I write everything down.

If you're convinced a location is going to be a hot spot, go ahead and hang a stand. I hang stands as soon I know where I want to hunt so I can trim shooting lanes without fear of spooking deer. Once everything is set, I stay away until it's time to hunt.

One of the biggest mistakes hunters make, though, is not planning routes to and from those stands. If you're bumping deer every trip into the woods, sooner or later they're going to figure out why and start avoiding certain areas.

Perhaps the toughest stands to hunt are those bordering food plots or other fields where the deer come out to feed in the evening. If you push deer out of the field every time you call it quits for the day, deer will accommodate that by arriving in the field later and later every evening.

A few simple preparations can be enough to keep the spot fresh, though. Take a rake with you on a summer scouting trip and clear out a walkway leading into the woods behind your stand. I make the walkway at least a couple of feet wide so that there will still be enough bare ground left even if a few leaves do blow back over the trail. With a little maintenance, some of these trails will provide several seasons of quiet approaches after the initial investment of time.

Sometimes the path only has to be 50 yards to get the job done. If possible, connect your stand to an old logging road or tram road that will provide quiet walking the rest of the way. Most of the time, though, all you need to do is get back off the field edge a bit for deer to not vacate the premises.

Also, be aware of your routes while checking trail cameras both before and during the season, even if you're not hunting the same day you check them. Last fall, I had a trail camera in the corner of a food plot that I checked once a week prior to the season and before climbing into my treestand every time I hunted there. I walked along the western edge of the plot to get to the camera. A few weeks before archery, one mature eight-point seemed to disappear. I wrote it off as the deer transitioning into his fall patterns. I sure didn't see the deer while hunting.

When I hung a second trail camera in a new position along the field edge, though, I started getting photos of the deer again. In fact, the buck was coming out into the food plot almost every evening that I wasn't there.

Finally, it dawned on me that I was alerting the deer to my presence by going to check the cameras. So I stopped walking across the field before each hunt and saw the buck that first evening, but unfortunately out of range. After the deer vacated the plot, and since there were no other deer in sight, I snuck over and backtracked the trail the buck had used to enter the field. Less than 10 yards inside the edge, I found a series of old beds within a 20-yard circle, one of which was definitely new and smelled of rutting buck. There's no doubt in my mind that, every time I checked the camera, the buck had literally watched me walk across the field.

Deer patterns don't always change as much as hunters think. If a food source is nearby, and a mature buck feels safe, then there's no reason for that deer to leave. Most of the time, a buck's patterns change because of hunting pressure, which is good because that's often the easiest for us to control.

Summer scouting provides a great opportunity to explore new areas, hang new stands, adjust old stands, and figure out your approach to and from locations. Investing more time in the summer will pay huge dividends come fall.

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