Other than selecting and being comfortable with your rifle, scouting for whitetail deer might be the most important factor in a successful hunting season. There are several things you can look for as key indicators that deer have been in the area. Whether you have your own private land or you hunt on public land these tips and tricks will help locate deer for hunting success.
Droppings – One of the biggest indicators that deer have been in the area are droppings. Males will leave larger droppings than females. Doe droppings will be small with the appearance of raisins and there will be more droppings than their male counterparts. When you’ve located deer droppings you know that you’re in a good place.
Deer trails – Deer, much like humans, tend to stick to the familiar path and only travel on well-known routes. Often small trails that cut through the woods can be seen and are indicators of how the deer like to move. When trails converge or you spot a trail next to a bedding spot this can be a great indicator to place your stand or blind in that area.
Rubs and scrapes – Bucks will rub their antlers on trees and on the ground. They do this to spread their scent to lure females and preserve their dominance of the area. Look for fresh rubs, which will give you an indicator the buck has been there recently. The bigger the buck the bigger the tree they will rub on or scrape they will make. If you find a big tree with a big rub you may want to set up shop.
Tracks/Prints – Spotting deer tracks is another telltale sign that deer have been in the area. Bucks by and large will have larger prints and will also have a noticeable dewclaw toward the back of the track. While does also have dewclaws, they are often much harder to spot whereas the bucks dewclaw is usually much more noticeable.
Find natural food sources – If you’re fortunate enough to have your own food plot then you can plant food such as soybeans to lure deer in. However, if you have trudged through the public woods then be sure to take into account some of the deer’s natural food sources. Deer are especially fond of acorns, so if you locate an oak tree next to a trail or rub then you can assume you’re on a good path. Other favorite foods of deer can include fruits such as apples or berries, along with shoots and grasses.
Trail cameras – Lots of people use trail cameras for the verification that there have been deer in the area. While you don’t need a trail camera to scout for deer it will confirm your suspicions. It might even show you that big elusive buck you’ve been after.
Scouting for deer is ultimately a great way to spend an afternoon. It gets you out into nature and lays the groundwork for a successful hunting campaign in the future. Spending a day disconnected from tech in the deer woods seems like something everyone could use a little more of these days.
Caution: Wildlife and hunting regulations vary considerably from state to state and even from zone to zone so be sure to brush up on your local laws, rules, and policies for taking game on public and private land in the area you plan to hunt. Your local conservation agency can help with this.