Pre-Season Deer Scouting: Take a Speed Tour


This quick white-tailed deer scouting strategy
is the low-impact solution you’ve been looking for

By John Eberhart

I call it speed touring because that’s what it is. I’m not scouting for new hunting locations. I’m just rapidly touring through previously prepared fruit and mast tree locations during midday to see if they offer food and current buck activity. I’ve been pre-season speed touring for at least 25 of my 46 seasons but have always lumped it in with the standard term: pre-season scouting.

Speed touring should always be done during midday, when most deer will be bedded, and — if possible —during inclement weather, such as a hard rain or windy conditions. Inclement weather will help mask your noise and dissipate human odor.

Unlike states with September archery openers, Michigan’s season opens Oct. 1, so I wait until mid-September to speed tour my pre-set locations. Mature bucks across the upper Midwest typically shed their velvet by the first week of September, which lets me confirm fresh buck activity leading to or at my sites.

By mid- to late September, if isolated fruit and mast trees are dropping food, they will usually have fresh buck sign nearby. This usually includes rubs, scrapes, rub lines leading to a tree or large droppings under trees. If I don’t find buck sign near trees that are dropping food, I note it and continue touring my sites before making early-season hunting plans.

When a location has adequate sign, I have work to do. I immediately clear the tree and shooting lanes of new summer growth that might impede a shot. Because I prepared the spot before summer, the re-preparation time is minimal. I never come back another day to re-prep a location, because that would defeat the purpose of one low-impact intrusion.

The Scout Like a Pro Value Pack includes everything you need to set yourself up for shots at trophy bucks this season.

The Scout Like a Pro Value Pack includes everything you need to set yourself up for shots at trophy bucks this season.

Other than on public land — where I usually have to access my sites with waders, hip boots, a canoe or crawling on my hands and knees through brush to get away from other hunters — speed touring takes very little time per parcel because I’ve already identified the locations.

After I’ve toured my early-season locations and prepared the spots with food and sign, I form a plan of attack for the order I’ll hunt them. This takes into account which sites have mature buck sign, which are best suited for mornings or evenings, and which are best for a mature buck to transition to and feel comfortable during daylight.

The most critical question is which locations are in areas where pre-season scouting ventures from other hunters have the least impact on a buck I might pursue. As mentioned, in most areas I hunt, mature bucks (3½ and older) turn nocturnal before the season because of intrusive pre-season scouting by other hunters in their core areas.

Examples: Other than public land, by knocking on doors for permission, I currently have four parcels to hunt. I share 400 acres with three other hunters. About 260 acres of it is groomed crop fields, and the remaining 140 is mature timber devoid of any understory in which a mature buck might bed. When there’s a mature buck in the area, he won’t bed on the property unless it’s in standing corn. For Michigan, 400 acres is a monstrous property, yet this parcel is not well suited for daytime mature buck activity. Why? Even though a mature buck might use the property, he beds on neighboring property and turns nocturnal because of the neighbors’ intrusive pre-season scouting.

Although I have a couple of locations prepared at isolated apple trees and white oaks, I don’t hunt that parcel early in the season. However, it can be productive for daytime mature buck activity during the rut, when mature bucks are pursuing does.

Any good scouting plan starts with great trail cameras. The Covert Extreme Red 40 HD Mossy Oak Trail Camera can take your trail camera pictures to the next level.

Any good scouting plan starts with great trail cameras. The Covert Extreme Red 40 HD Mossy Oak Trail Camera can take your trail camera pictures to the next level this season.

Another piece is 20 acres, and I share it with three other bowhunters. Although the parcel is small, it has a dense 7-acre bedding area we have agreed to stay out of. This is the densest bedding area in the section, and it always seems to hold a mature buck. There’s one secluded apple tree on the property, with transition cover to the bedding area. Because I found it first, I have dibs on it, and the other hunters stay away. We’re all on board with post-season tree preparation, and before the season, we tidy our locations on the same day, trying to stay as scent-free as possible. Then we hunt with extreme moderation.

Because our pre-season speed clean-up doesn’t interfere with where the mature buck beds, we’re not altering his behavior. Two of us have been very successful at taking mature bucks on this parcel, but only I have had success during the first few days of season at the isolated apple tree. A parcel’s size is never a prerequisite for its quality.

At a public location I’ve hunted for years, I have to crawl about 100 yards through tunnels under a canopy of autumn olive bushes to access a couple of isolated apple trees. If the trees have apples, I’ll put it in my early-season rotation. The spot also heats up later in the season as public-land hunters push deer back into the dense area.

John Eberhart is an accomplished big-buck bowhunter from Michigan. He specializes in heavy consequential hunting pressure areas. You can learn more about his tactics through his instructional books and DVDs at


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