Preseason scouting is pushing through brambles or vicious dewberry thorns, hiking through boot-sucking mud, water of unknown depths, shin-tangling vegetation, dead and live tree branches and many places you wouldn’t go while hunting to search for deer trails, tracks, droppings, beds, antler rubs and evidences of feeding amid swarms of blood-sucking insects and ticks. If it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t do it, but it is almost always worth it, so I do it, even at my age. While scouting preseason, you need to wear tough clothing and boots and perhaps raingear, a headnet and insect repellent. In a small backpack you carry an enlarged aerial map of your hunting area (downloaded from the internet), a GPS (optional), compass, fluorescent tacks, lots to drink, food, matches, toilet tissue, flashlight (if it gets late), steel tape, bypass pruner and a hatchet. This is one of your most physically exhausting hunting-related activities of the year, but keep in mind scouting is your actual hunt. Hunting is mostly sitting around waiting for what you learned from scouting to happen.
The easiest to find and identify of deer signs are well-used deer trails, made obvious by lots of sharp-edged deer tracks. The first thing to know about deer trails is, most are made and used by mature does and their young, fawns and yearlings (yearlings remain in home ranges of their mothers throughout their yearling year). Deer trails are actually tunnels through cover, kept open by repeated use. Bucks 2-1/2 years of age or older, solitary much of the year, make few identifiable trails of their own. They mostly use doe family trails (tunnels) that are tall and wide enough to allow their taller and wider bodies and antlers (and, incidentally, humans) to pass through with relative silence. Many well-used deer trails are not ordinarily used by older bucks, only those or sections of those on which are found larger tracks (3-3/8 to 4 inches long) and droppings (5/8 to 1-1/8 inches long and clumped) made by older bucks and, in fall, those trails along which bucks make antler rubs and ground scrapes (within doe home ranges). During hunting seasons older bucks travel off-trail more than 50% of the time and all whitetails have at least a dozen routes (connecting trails) to use when traveling from one place to another, from a bedding area to a feeding area, for example. During hunting seasons, these routes can change every half-day, choices depending on wind direction, changing quality of cover (falling leaves), availability of current favorite foods and discoveries of locations of hunters. If you are determined to take a big buck, then, it is a mistake to key exclusively on well-used deer trails upon which there are no fresh mature buck sized tracks and droppings or along which there are no freshly made antler rubs and ground scrapes during the 2–3 weeks before breeding begins in early November.