Proper scouting during a hunting season is step-one of the most rewarding method of hunting whitetails today: Opportunistic Stand Hunting.

Yes, it’s possible to scout during a hunting season without alarming whitetails enough to make them abandon their ranges or become nocturnal. Grey wolves, America’s most successful whitetail hunters, do it all the time (as follows). To accomplish this, the following rules must be strictly adhered to:

  1. While scouting, walk non-stop at a moderate pace without regard for wind direction and the minimal noises you might make.
  1. Keep your head pointed straight ahead, while searching non-stop for very fresh deer signs (not deer) and nearby natural, downwind or crosswind ground level stand sites 20–50 yards away along your path.
  1. Only scout on connecting deer trails that course widely through your hunting area.
  1. Restrict scouting to three periods: 11AM to noon or 1 PM (while deer are bedded), while hiking to a stand site and while hiking from a stand site.
  1. Upon discovering very fresh tracks (or other signs) characteristic of a desirable quarry that was not alarmed (not trotting or bounding) while hiking to a stand site in early morning or late afternoon, consider quietly backing off 20–50 yards to an appropriate stand site (providing adequate natural cover downwind or crosswind) and sitting down on a backpacked stool to stand hunt up to five hours. If near or adjacent to a feeding area, the odds of seeing that deer at that site will be especially favorable within the next few hours, later the same day or the next morning (not particularly favorable after that). If found midday, continue past the signs and an appropriate stand site without stopping and return quietly and non-stop later that day or the following morning from downwind or crosswind only.
  1. Scout for fresh signs following every morning hunt daily until you take a deer. While hunting in this manner, you will be close to deer (or a mature buck if its fresh tracks are 3-5/8 to 4 inches in length) every half-day you hunt.

Is Scouting During a Hunting Seasons the Same as Still-Hunting?

Let’s imagine you are still-hunting like the average deer hunter still-hunts these days: sneaking through the woods, often changing direction, often halting to listen for sounds made by a deer and scanning ahead from side to side, your main objective being to spot a deer within shooting range. You rarely remain at one location more than a few minutes. Because most deer you hear or see are noisily bounding away, making them very difficult targets, you carry a firearm that enables you to quickly fire several times. All of this makes it very easy for whitetails that have survived your aggressive style of hunting during two or more previous hunting seasons to quickly identify and avoid you. Within a day or two, most if not all mature whitetails that lived in your hunting area will have abandoned their home or breeding ranges, unlikely to return for several days or until the hunting season is over. Still-hunting as practiced today is the least efficient of methods to hunt whitetails and one of the two most destructive to additional hunting in the area until the beginning of the following hunting season.

Next blog: Properly done, scouting during a hunting season is step-one of the most rewarding of ways to hunt whitetails today.

How to Avoid Being Seen by Experienced Whitetails at a Stand Site

How to avoid being heard by a nearby whitetail while stand hunting is a no-brainer. Avoiding being visually identified is quite another matter. A stand hunter’s unique body or silhouette is large and unlike that of any other creature known by experienced whitetails, therefore readily recognized by them. To make your body indistinguishable while stand hunting, your body or silhouette must first be disguised by a fairly solid, natural background, dense enough to prevent being easily discerned against a sunlit, moonlit or starlit sky or a blanket of snow.


Next, the stand hunter must sit (becoming more stump-like than human-like) remain as motionless as possible 4–5 hours (hard to do). Better yet, the huner should be hidden well enough by natural cover in front and sides to hide necessary movements. Skin of the hunter’s head and face, which contrasts greatly with natural cover, must be hidden by a camo headnet or mask and skin of the hunter’s hands must be hidden by dark gloves. From nose to foot (while seated on a stool) the front and sides of a stand hunter’s body and accompanying hunting aids (firearm, stool, etc.) must be masked by natural cover or naturally-appearing cover — a U-shaped blind made with natural vegetation found lying on the ground in the vicinity (made at least 2-3 weeks before a hunting season begins) or a portable blind covered with a camo fabric that blends well with natural surroundings and is not sky-lighted to keep its unusual shape from drawing the attention of mature nearby deer.

Unconcealed movements, fast or very slow, are a stand hunter’s greatest failing, especially while hunting older bucks. Except when winds are moderate-to-strong, whitetails rarely fail to spot movements made by hunters or just about any other live creatures near or far away. When a movement is spotted, experienced deer study its location intently, up to fifteen minutes or more, or until whatever moved is judged harmless, potentially dangerous or dangerous, the deer then reacting accordingly.


The trouble is, human hunters depend almost wholly on their eyes to detect approaching or passing deer. Having eyes in the front of their heads, it necessary for stand hunters to often turn their heads and bodies 90-degrees or more to scan for upwind or crosswind deer. After a desirable quarry is spotted, it then becomes necessary for the stand hunter to raise a firearm or bow before taking aim and firing. Many archers stand up from a sitting position before taking aim. When unconcealed, these sweeping motions invariably draw the immediate attention of mature whitetails within 50 yards or more, often without the hunter realizing it and often with disappointing and long-term consequences. Unless a hunter’s upper body is at least 90% hidden when shooting movements are required, the hunter should always wait to raise a gun or bow until the quarry’s head is pointed straight away or both of its motion-sensitive eyes are well hidden by intervening cover.


(Note — Stand height rules have changed over the years. Always use a safety strap.)


Prerequisites of Opportunistic Stand Hunting

Learning to recognize tracks of whitetails and their many meanings is a vital first step to learning how to use my newest, amazingly productive form of stand hunting to hunt mature bucks and other deer. I call this hunting method “opportunistic stand hunting,” a means of taking quick (necessary) advantage very fresh tracks and/or other signs made by unalarmed deer. To successfully use this new hunting method, the hunter must be ready and able to move quietly to two new, unused stand sites near newly discovered fresh deer signs daily, made practical by the use of a folding backpacked stool and stand hunting at unprepared stand sites at ground level. Then, while stand hunting or while approaching a stand site on foot, the hunter must be very difficult to be positively identified by nearby deer via sight or hearing and impossible to smell (unlike while scouting mid-hunt).

Why My Hunting Partners and I Scout During Hunting Seasons

Most stand hunters see few mature bucks because they do not realize how quickly such deer discover and identify stand hunters and thereafter avoid them. Most stand hunters therefore end up wasting a lot of hunting time where the odds of seeing such a deer have become practically zero. Beginning at 11 AM on day three of a hunting season, my sons, grandsons and I no longer depend on stand sites selected before a hunting season begins to keep us close to mature bucks. From that time on, we keep close to mature bucks by stand hunting only near very fresh tracks and/or droppings (sometimes freshly renewed ground scrapes) of unalarmed bucks at two different sites daily, one in the morning and a different one in the afternoon and evening. Such sites are found via daily scouting, primarily along stand trails or other trails (all originally made by deer) selected for that purpose between 11 AM and noon. When there is no snow on the ground and the the ground is dry and hard, making tracks difficult to discern (like last November), we key on very fresh droppings made by unalarmed does, hoping to end up near one in heat accompanied by a buck, which eventually happens.

Scouting While Stand Hunting

Stand hunting is most effective when preceded by scouting for sites currently frequented by desirable quarries. Without scouting, you’re just guessing where to hunt, relying on luck only and not much of that. While scouting and selecting and preparing stand sites 2–3 weeks before a hunting season begins, no precautions are necessary to avoid alarming whitetails. By opening day, all deer will be back in their home ranges doing predictable things during predictable hours at predictable places.

While scouting for fresh deer signs during a hunting season — next places to hunt — certain precautions are necessary to avoid alarming whitetails, thus keeping them from abandoning their ranges or becoming nocturnal. While scouting at this time, the hunter must appear harmless, predictable and easy to avoid. This is done by walking non-stop along selected deer trails at a moderate pace (without regard for wind direction or sounds made) and keeping your head pointed straight ahead (eyes assessing deer signs on the fly along the trail ahead), the hunter acting as if only interested in reaching some far off destination (an effective deer hunting ruse regularly used by grey wolves). The moment you begin displaying hunting behavior while scouting at this time — suddenly halting to stare at something or visually scan the surrounding area, kneeling to inspect or measure tracks or droppings, slowing your pace, sneaking and often haltng or suddenly or often changing direction — any unseen deer that sees and/or hears you doing this will soon abandon the area and not return for several days or the balance of the hunting season, meaning, you’ve cancelled the hunting value of fresh deer signs found within 100–200 yards.

Taking Quick Advantage of Fresh Deer Signs, a New & Much More Productive Way to Hunt Whitetails — Part II

It’s noon. After a morning of unsuccessful stand hunting and later hiking along selected deer trails on foot in search of fresh signs made by older bucks, I’m back in my wall tent, large enough to house a pickup. The barrel woodstove in one corner, backed by a neat stack of split deadwood, is popping and crackling, making it warm enough inside to leave my hunting coat hanging outside alongside my rifle slung on the end of an eve pole — one of the nine long spruce poles that make up the gale-resistant framework that supports my cozy wilderness home.


It’s lunch time, generally a quick repast of cold sandwiches and fruit that don’t taint hunting clothes with food odors.

It’s also time to plan the afternoon hunt, aided by memories of new locations of fresh deer signs, a compass and an aerial map of our hunting area overlaid with colored lines that represent the maze of familiar deer trails we use. Before unfolding the map on the table, I take a quit look at smoke billowing from the chimney top outside to check the current wind direction, as vital to our planning and hunting as fresh deer signs. Wherever we decide to stand hunt, we must be able to get there from downwind or crosswind (with the breeze angling toward the front of one cheek). If it can’t be done, no matter how exciting the deer signs at the site might seem, we won’t hunt there, hoping for an opportunity to do it another half-day when the wind direction is favorable and newly made deer signs are again near. Sometimes a stand site that was used a week or a year or more earlier will be near, in which case we’ll use it. Often, however, a usable stand site that provides adequate concealment within easy shooting range downwind or crosswind of fresh signs has never been used before. When not sure the needed perquisites for a proper stand site are available near promising new deer signs, the site is reserved for afternoon and evening hunting only when a suitable stand site can be located without noisily bungling about in darkness with a flashlight in hand. A nearly-silent approach through well masked by natural cover is always vital for success. In the dense wilderness forest we hunt, however, rare is an area near promising buck signs that does not provide adequate concealment in several directions and at least one path to get there through a narrow natural opening, an existing deer trail or the back side of an intervening ridge. We make it a rule to look for approach trails that angle toward selected stand site through cover dense enough to provide concealment from deer that might be feeding out on front of a stand site, making it approachable in moonlight or starlit without the aid of a flashlight an hour before sunrise in the morning. Being accustomed to noticing adequate natural blinds immediately following discoveries of fresh buck tracks and/or droppings, sometimes no more than a single six-foot evergreen at a choice location, we generally know exactly how to quietly return to a newly selected in darkness the following morning. Whenever I’m close to an unfamiliar site, but cannot locate it without the use of a flashlight, I sit down on my stool, turn off my flashlight and wait without motion or sound until it becomes just barely light enough to see my destination, after which I quietly tiptoe to the spot.

I’ve rarely been met in the dark by a snorting deer. When it happens, little can be done to alleviate matters except immediately sitting down and avoiding movements for thirty minutes. If the deer deer did not positively identify you as a hunting human, you may yet spot it after it becomes light enough to legally fire at a deer. Curiosity is sometimes fatal to a deer

As first light begins turning black evergreen trees into green evergreen trees near a stand site I’ve never used before, I commonly begin to notice a number of thin twigs and woody stems that are going to make it difficult to find a clear opening through which to fire at a buck standing where I expect it will be when I fire at it. After nothing deer-like is spotted or heard for fifteen minutes or longer, I will generally dig my sharp pruner from the packsack attached to my stool and slowly and silently stand and reach forward to silently snip off enough of those troublesome twigs and stems to create two or three clear shooting windows, usually no larger than 6-9 inches in diameter. I have often been glad I did this and occasionally been sad because I didn’t.

Okay, no more whispering. We are watching that narrow clearcut where that buck with four-inch tracks browsed early this morning. I’m now ready to hunt deer.

Taking Quick Advantage of Fresh Deer Signs, a New & Much More Productive Way to Hunt Whitetails — Part I

It’s 9 AM on day three of our hunting season. I’m sitting on my stool, well hidden ten yards back in the woods downwind of the edge of a whitetail feeding area I studied well while scouting two weeks before opening day. I haven’t seen a deer. At this time of the day, they are obviously feeding somewhere else, a place where I’d most like to be right now.

Between 11 AM and noon while whitetails are normally bedded (the best time to scout during a hunting season), I planned to swing past the browse area 200 yards north of where I sat and then take the deer trail past the east side of the narrow clearcut where I took a buck two years earlier. I don’t have to see deer feeding to know where they are currently feeding. It’s actually best if I don’t see deer at this time. The way I travel on foot when searching for one or two spots to stand hunt next is very unlikely to alarm unseen deer along the way — walking non-stop at a moderate pace on deer trails without sharply changing direction and keeping my head pointed straight ahead, all without regard for wind direction. All I need to see to determine where deer are currently feeding is some very fresh, sharp-edged tracks and/or soft and shiny droppings somewhere within 20-50 yards of an edge of a known feeding area (previously discovered).

Fresh tracks of walking deer entering the browse area north of where I sat that morning were made by two does or a doe and yearling buck (both deer having 3-inch-long hoof prints). Very fresh, nearly-four-inch-long tracks made by a big buck walking from the narrow clearcut into the surrounding evergreen forest past a freshly pawed ground scrape were more interesting, though paradoxical. Should I hunt the nearby browse area where the other deer were feeding, hoping one is a doe in heat, should I hunt the narrow clearcut where the buck is likely to feed next unless attracted away from the area by a doe n heat or should I sit where I can keep an eye on that freshened ground scrape? Rarely discovered ground scrapes that have been very recently freshened while breeding is in progress in November can be amazingly productive buck stand sites. During the past decade, I have taken three big bucks and should have taken a fourth within fifteen minutes to several hours after sitting down on my stool downwind of such a scrape.

Something of importance that should be explained here is the fact that I never stop to measure hoof prints or droppings while searching for fresh deer signs (next stand sites) during a hunting season because displaying an obvious keen interest in a whitetail’s tracks or droppings is very alarming human behavior when witnessed by a mature whitetail, likely to cause it to soon quietly abandon the vicinity and thus destroy the otherwise great hunting value of the fresh deer signs. Also, because of my long experience measuring deer tracks and droppings, I rarely error while estimating their lengths on the fly, walking steadily past them.


“There is only one big buck per ten does living in my hunting area. Something’s got to be done about it.”

The above lament is common wherever whitetails are hunted. The trouble is, though during a hunting season most hunters see very few of the most elusive of whitetails, bucks 3-1/2 years of age and older; and depending on what a hunter defines as a “big buck” and the size of the area the hunter hunts, the above statement may actually be true but nothing can be done about it. Why? Because unless fenced in, big bucks, not humans, decide how many big bucks live in any one area. If a dozen or more were stocked in any square mile of suitable, unfenced habitat, within a very short period of time, only one is likely to be found living in that area.

The distribution of the various classes of whitetails is fairly consistent wherever they live. Take does. In forested regions does two years of age or older accompanied by their fawns and yearlings live spring, summer, fall and early winter in areas averaging about 125 acres in size (occasionally traveling off-range for a few reasons). Each range is separated by a surrounding buffer (no doe) zone. Where numbers of deer are high, doe ranges can be as small as about 90 acres and where numbers are low, they can be as large as 250 acres. Except in temporarily shared feeding areas between their ranges such as clearcuts and farm fields, does with young can be quite vicious when defending their home ranges from invasions by other does with young, including former young. In farm regions doe home ranges can be considerably smaller and even shared with other does with young until farm crops are deer tall, after which their ranges expand to more normally sized, separate ranges.

Now bucks. In early spring (after snow melts) bucks two years of age establish their first individual home ranges, typically about 300 acres in size. Two-year-old bucks seeking their first ranges typically end up traveling many miles before finding a suitable range not inhabited by an older buck (nature’s way of preventing in-breeding). Most grouchy mature bucks are not inclined to share significant portions of their ranges with newcomers.

During succeeding years, buck ranges become larger. On becoming dominant breeding bucks, typically at age five when bucks are in their prime (sometimes earlier), their ranges are about 600 acres in size (about a square-mile) and somtimes more than a thousand acres in size (up to two square-miles). In farm regions, though typically narrow, ranges of dominant bucks can be several miles in length. Normally, unlike doe ranges buck ranges overlap to varying degrees with ranges of other mature bucks. They also overlap or include entire ranges of does with young. Usually, there are 4–5 entire doe home ranges within the square-mile range of a dominant breeding buck.

Be sure to read my next related blog.

Each square-mile of suitable habitat typically contains home ranges of 4–5 does with young, ranges of 2–4 lesser mature bucks and the range of one dominant breeding buck.

Normally, there is only one like this in a square mile.

Normally, in forested regions where deer are not overabundant, each square mile includes 4–5 doe ranges, 2–4 ranges of “lesser antlered bucks” — bucks 2–6 years of age (few live longer) that do not have opportunities to breed because they are lower in their 1–2 square-mile buck pecking order than the one big, dangerous “dominant breeding buck” of the area. There are thus usually about fifteen-plus deer per square mile in a northern forest region and twenty-three-plus (twin fawns being more common) in southern farm regions.

Therefore, if your definition of a “big buck” is a “record book buck,” though roughly 40% of bucks including yearlings in your hunting area are actually antlered bucks, it is almost certain you only have one “big buck” per ten or more does (some of which are actually be buck fawns that appear to be does) per square-mile of your hunting area. This is normal. Whitetails insist on it. If your definition of a “big buck” includes all antlered bucks older than yearlings and if it was possible for you to actually see all bucks of these ages in your hunting area during a hunting season (which it isn’t), you’d actually see 4–5 “big bucks” per ten or more does (some of which are actually buck fawns that appear to be does). This is normal, though you aren’t likely to be able accurately establish such numbers.

Keep in mind, genetics and calcium-rich water flowing from limestone account for more younger bucks growing outstanding antlers in some regions.

What all this means is, to take more “big bucks” wherever you hunt you must become skilled enough as a hunter to see more “big bucks.” Otherwise, settle for taking the usual 1–2 trophy-class bucks in a lifetime.