By Tony J. Peterson
We all know what the definition of insanity is, because it has become cliche at this point. What we probably don’t realize is that a lot of our deer hunting efforts fit nicely into that definition. We hunt the same way, from the same stands, from season to season and expect different results when we go. Those results, especially the kind that end with a $500 taxidermy bill, rarely happen.
While this is a function of hunting a specific way, it often starts with our scouting efforts – or lack thereof. Traditional scouting, which involves hiking through your hunting grounds at various times of the year as well as glassing throughout the summer, has been largely replaced by trail cameras.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a rare scenario when trail cameras can fully replace traditional scouting for most of us. If you hunt public land, or pressured ground, then this is dang near a 100-percent rule. They can greatly enhance a plan and be a useful tool, but they won’t replace your legwork or your time observing.
This part is sort of like beginning to run or lift weights or engage in any kind of workout – most of it seems physical but it’s largely mental. What I mean by that is if you think about scouting, you probably think about burning boot leather while walking through the woods. Simple enough.
The problem with that is we tend to scout what we know, and our need for confirmation bias creeps in. If we know deer like to cross a ditch at a certain spot or maybe enter a field from a specific wooded point, we’ll confidently hike to those areas and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
The goal of scouting should be to not only confirm what we believe to be true, but to explore what we don’t know and leave ourselves open to the possibility that there are deer comings and goings that have been a mystery to us.
Sound like hogwash? It’s not. I scout a lot throughout the year, and on one farm that I’ve hunted for 25 years now, I set out this spring to wander around and try to pick up a shed or two. While doing just that, I trekked through a bedding area I’ve been in hundreds of times over the years and stumbled on a small waterhole that has formed in a sinkhole. The bathtub sized mini-pond was covered in sign from the previous season, which tells me it likely held water in the fall. I don’t know how I missed it, or honestly,how long it has existed, but I do know that there will be a stand hanging 20 yards from it this season.
You’ll also want to take note of the groceries growing in the fields you can hunt, and in the nearby fields you can’t hunt. Both will influence deer movement all season and inform your decisions on where to glass and eventually, where to hang stands.
Stands At The Ready
Even though I don’t always carry stands in with me while I’m summer scouting, I keep a couple of sets in my truck. If I find something interesting that is worth hunting, I like to try to figure out if it will truly work for a stand setup. Some spots will, of course, but others won’t. Prevailing wind, access and available trees all have to be considered.
If at the end of that I’m thinking the spot good to go, I’ll hike back to my truck and grab a set. You might not have to go this route, but I do. If I don’t get in and take the fresh intel and use it to set up an ambush site as soon as I find it, I might just think to myself that I’ll slip in and set up for a hang-and-hunt afternoon during the season. That changes the options and opens myself up to unnecessarily spooking deer. Instead, whenever possible, I like to get my stands hung, trails cleared and marked, and then get out.
This attitude also adds a feeling of accomplishment to a simple scouting trip that makes the effort seem worth it. If you discovered a new spot worth hunting, and then set it up to hunt, you’ve given yourself a big advantage come fall.
Too Much, Too Much
If you go out west hunting elk, you’ll inevitably see a group of guys at the trailhead who plan to hike in seven miles to start their hunt. They are deadset on outworking the competition and are going to cover those miles no matter what. The problem is they might walk past perfectly good elk in their focus to get far enough in to justify their hunting strategy.
Sometimes you don’t need to overpower nature, you just need to outsmart it. With deer, that means stepping into the woods with a purpose and getting as much accomplished as you can with each intrusion. Walk the trails, hang the cameras, get your stands up, and make it a worthwhile endeavor. Don’t fall into the mindset that you’ve got lots of summer runway left before taking off into the season.
It only takes a few trips like that to lay the groundwork for your best deer season ever.