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Get Your Biggest Buck Ever by Scouting While Hunting Public Land

big bucks/dan schmidt/whitetail wisdom

You can find big bucks — and future hunting spots for early and late season trips — by scouting astutely while hunting. Photo courtesy of Mark Tuttle.

By Daniel E. Schmidt

A buck my brother shot years ago provides a good example of how scouting while you’re hunting can pay huge dividends during the same season. We had long hunted a vast, nondescript chunk of public ground. The deer population was, and still is, very low, and the habitat was terrible, to say the least. As a result, we were constantly looking for new spots within our area. One fall, during the early archery season, I spent the better part of a day speed-scouting a hardwood ridge that tapered off into a river-bottom swamp. The area looked good on paper – the topographical map indicated several natural funnels and pinch points that would certainly dictate deer movement.

The morning after walking the area, I packed in a portable ladder stand and erected it within 100 yards of two major trail crossings. I sat for several hours and watched as deer after deer worked their way up the river bottom and cruised a side hill on the hardwood ridge. I also noted how three different bucks skirted the trails. Instead of following the runways, they used faint parallel trails that wound through a small but dense spruce patch. I knew the spruce corridor would be a great spot for the gun season, but I also knew (from surveying the area with my binoculars while hunting) that tree stand hunting wouldn’t be an option. After hunting the area several more times that week, I concluded the spruce grove was definitely a “morning spot.”

When gun season arrived, I told my brother he should hunt the spot because he hadn’t shot a buck in a few years and that it would make me happiest if he got the first chance. Armed with nothing more than his rifle and a 5-gallon bucket, he worked his way into the spruce thicket before first light and set up in a small clearing. To his surprise but certainly not mine, a dandy 8-pointer appeared shortly after daybreak. He killed it cleanly with a 40-yard shot. That area received very little hunting pressure, and I honestly believe that buck had never encountered a hunter in that grove before. We could have probably pinpointed that spot by spending many hours dissecting the area during post-season scouting trips. However, we wouldn’t have known how deer used the grove had I not bowhunted the area and observed firsthand exactly when and where deer appeared.

We are all so busy these days that the scout-while-hunting method is really the only tactic we use to find new spots and learn more about other mostly unfamiliar properties. I use the tactic a lot while turkey hunting public land in spring. I’m surprised at how much I can learn about a local deer herd during just one day of chasing gobblers. Best of all, I don’t have to worry if I spook deer, because deer season is, after all, usually five months away.

When using this approach, it’s wise to maintain a detailed hunting journal. Draw crude maps, and note all the obvious things like trails, rubs and scrapes. Also note the less-subtle signs, such as converging terrain features, inside corners, stream crossings, etc. The more detail you record, the better prepared you’ll be when trying to match wits with wary whitetails.

Learn more on these hunting tactics with these fine books from Deer & Deer Hunting:

Whitetail Wisdom.

Deer & Deer Hunting’s Guide to Better Bowhunting.

Advanced Stand Hunting Strategies.