Skip to main content

Summer Scouting from Scratch

New year, new look at your whitetail ground

Summer Scouting from Scratch

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.

Start Fresh

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.


deer tracks in mud
Summer scouting is a mix of boots-on-the-ground, trail camerausage, and glassing. All three should be used to inform your decisions oncurrent deer movement.

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.

deer trail through the woods
We often scout in a way that satisfies our confirmation bias about certain spots, but should be looking at truly figuring out what we don’t already know about deer movement.

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.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best New Climbing-Stick Attachment Options

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best New Climbing-Stick Attachment Options

The array of ultra-strong, easy-to-use, light and quiet aftermarket stick attachment options has never been more creative and compelling. The noisier, heavier, harder-to-conveniently-wrap-on-your-sticks metal buckle and strap is anathema for today's mobile hunter.

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist witnesses a hen trying to destroy one of his decoys while hunting turkeys in Kansas.

Tree Saddle Hunting: Tree Climbing with an Aider

Tree Saddle Hunting: Tree Climbing with an Aider

Go farther, hunt deeper, and trek lighter while enjoying all-day comfort with the newest tree saddle hunting gear and tactics.

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist sets up shop for a turkey hunt in Kansas.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

There are many benefits to putting a lighted nock on your hunting arrows. Let's break them down. Are Lighted Nocks Worth the Expense? Arrows & Broadheads

Are Lighted Nocks Worth the Expense?

Curt Wells

There are many benefits to putting a lighted nock on your hunting arrows. Let's break them...

A simple, classic steak and French fries duo gets a wild makeover with this Elk Venison Steak-Frites Recipe.Elk Venison Steak-Frites Recipe Recipes

Elk Venison Steak-Frites Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

A simple, classic steak and French fries duo gets a wild makeover with this Elk Venison...

Is FOC really all it's cracked up to be? Is it important to accuracy and penetration?Arrow FOC: Why It's Important for Bowhunting Arrows & Broadheads

Arrow FOC: Why It's Important for Bowhunting

Jace Bauserman

Is FOC really all it's cracked up to be? Is it important to accuracy and penetration?

Curt Wells and Randy Ulmer [video] explain the importance of momentum and penetration when choosing heavy vs. light arrows for bowhunting.How to Choose the Best Hunting Arrow - Heavy vs. Light How-To

How to Choose the Best Hunting Arrow - Heavy vs. Light

Curt Wells

Curt Wells and Randy Ulmer [video] explain the importance of momentum and penetration when...

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Experience your best shooting by following this three-pronged approach.3 Steps For Shooting Accuracy and Confidence How-To

3 Steps For Shooting Accuracy and Confidence

Joe Bell

Experience your best shooting by following this three-pronged approach.

Minimizing pin movement while aiming is critical to success, whether you're punching paper or the vitals on a big buck.The Best Stabilizer Setups for Bowhunting Bow Accessories

The Best Stabilizer Setups for Bowhunting

Joe Bell

Minimizing pin movement while aiming is critical to success, whether you're punching paper or...

Blood-trailing game after dark is made easier with the right tools.Tips for Successful Nighttime Blood-Trailing How-To

Tips for Successful Nighttime Blood-Trailing

Curt Wells

Blood-trailing game after dark is made easier with the right tools.

Bowhunting whitetails on the open plains can provide several unique challenges.How to Hunt Whitetails in Open Country How-To

How to Hunt Whitetails in Open Country

Joe Blake

Bowhunting whitetails on the open plains can provide several unique challenges.

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now