The archery deer season starts at the end of this week. After the wretchedly hot summer we just endured, it's a welcome event for outdoorsmen.
Most serious archers have been spotlighting and watching fields in the weeks prior to the season. The expert archers I have talked to tell me that now is the time to switch from evening scouting to morning if possible. We are talking very early morning scouting, right at daylight to be exact.
Watching deer in a field while feeding in the evening tells you little more than that he is there. Morning watching reveals what exit he uses to leave from. Locating the trails that lead to bedding areas from the spot from which he exits will help you pinpoint his favored bedding spots.
Once you have spotted a nice buck in a certain field a few times, the use of binoculars or a spotting scope will help you pinpoint him even more since you don't want to get too close to this or any other buck while scouting. Spooking him before season could cause him to seek safer pastures. What you want to find out is which direction he most often goes when he leaves a field in the morning, and it takes some very early morning scouting to do that because a bruiser buck seldom hangs around out in the open very long after dawn.
This is exactly the kind of preseason scouting I do for spring gobblers. Watching a field, for instance, from daylight to about 9 or 10 a.m. will reveal the places he and his hens prefer to enter a field and then which way they like to go when they decide to leave it. Knowing this gives you the advantage of being able to circle around in that direction and be set up for intercepting them when they leave the field.
Once you have pinpointed an area a particular buck prefers, you can concentrate your scouting forays in that region. Big rubs and scrapes are serious signs of his location and traveling lanes.
Early in the season, the best bet is usually to locate the travel lanes a big buck uses to get from his bedding area to the field or whatever feeding area he is using. Since most mature bucks seldom show themselves in the open before dark, locating the trail between the bedding and feeding area is prime. Locating a good tree-stand location closer to the bedding area than the feeding area is wise since it offers a much greater chance of your seeing him before dark.
Bob Foulkrod is a northern Pennsylvania hunter well known for his exploits with a bow. You see him often on outdoor TV shows. He was also the featured guest celebrity at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Times Hunting & Fishing Show a few years ago. He's harvested most of the trophies the world has to offer. Years ago, he was my guide on a very exciting caribou hunt in Northern Quebec.
Bob Kirschner markets his own line of deer lure, wrote a book about bowhunting called "The Art and Appreciation of Trophy Bowhunting" and has taken more than one record-book buck with his bow.
I talked to each of these two men at separate times, yet each mirrored the other's ideas. Both told me that they consider preseason scouting the most important component of a successful hunt. When you and I think of scouting, we think of driving around in September with a spotlight, shining on deer in a field and perhaps even walking around in the woods a bit looking for tracks and droppings. To Foulkrod and Kirschner, scouting means a lot more.
First, it means a sacrifice of time: no softball, fall fishing or barhopping with buddies. They spend every moment tracking down bedding and feeding areas but especially learning the habits of a deer they want to focus on that season. Easier said than done.
"Everybody fantasizes about getting that super buck, but most hunters won't do it, except by luck, because they don't have the time to do much scouting. Nor does he have a lot of time to hunt," Foulkrod said. To him, a trophy buck may not be a record-book animal, but rather the largest animal a particular area has to offer.
"Before we can harvest a big buck, we have to know he is there," Kirschner said. "I remember one particular buck especially. I scouted him and watched him for months. I knew exactly where he bedded, where he fed. I understood his movements. Within the first week of season, before the rut began, I took him."
"I've taken as many as five bucks in a row from one bedding location," Kirschner said. "Deer will use the same bed areas year after year until the trees get too large. Then the area will decrease in deer numbers. It is vital to keep the locations of these areas you find to yourself. By the time the season opens, I have narrowed my search down to one particular buck that I hunt for," Kirschner said. "I shoot no deer but that one."
Foulkrod said that since many hunters have only Saturdays to hunt and may not be able to zero in on a particular animal, just to make the most of the available time he has. Don't be afraid to get out of your tree stand in the afternoon and walk around looking for sign, the best being a well-used deer trail. Move your tree stand to that location before the evening watch. Capitalize fully on whatever time you have to hunt and scout.
Both of these experts emphasized that early-morning scouting gives you looks at different bucks. It will show you whether there are acorns or other mast in any territory. Obviously, tracks and droppings are obvious signs, but when deer are not so numerous, it is vital to get a fix on where some deer are concentrated. Once you have found some, you can narrow down the search from there.