Unless you are using bait, scouting in preparation for bowhunting beginning in mid-September is rarely easy. Obvious buck signs like freshly made antler rubs and ground scrapes are no help because, except for a few velvet rubs on bushes or small trees, they will not made by bucks in northern states until it is frosty at night, beginning about mid-October. Lots of green leaves and tall vegetation and then falling leaves also makes it difficult to find and identify deer via tracks and droppings, reasons trail cams have become popular. As my son’s and I have repeatedly been taught, unfortunately, big bucks magically begin spending time elsewhere once a hunting season begins, so we no longer trust trail cams to dominate our scouting.
Our early scouting begins with searching for absolute evidence of the existence of older bucks (not yearlings): fresh tracks 3-5/8 to 4 inches long and/or fresh droppings (usually clumped) 3/4 to 1-1/4 inch long. Finding a lot of such signs is unnecessary. If made by a deer that was not trotting or bounding, upon discovering such a sign we know we are in the range of a mature buck—about 250-500 acres in size for lesser bucks 2-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age and about a square-mile (sometimes two) for a dominant breeding buck. We key on trails (especially past scrape trails) or feeding areas that were frequented by older bucks during previous hunting seasons, good to do because home ranges, trails and sites frequented by mature bucks tend to be traditional year after year, usually even used by bucks of similar sizes that adopt ranges of bucks that were taken by hunters during previous hunting seasons. Having learned it is a mistake to count on taking one certain buck per hunting season, for various reasons, my sons and I never consider our scouting done until we have each found 2-3 different mature bucks to hunt and up to six widely separated stand sites that need little or no preparation to hunt each buck—sites that can be approached from different directions, making it possible to approach stand sites from downwind or crosswind whatever the wind direction. The main reasons for preparing to hunt more than one buck and using a number of stand sites for each are: 1) some bucks prove to be impossible to hunt (being especially cunning or becoming nocturnal, for example) and 2) today’s mature bucks generally find and begin avoiding even the most skilled of stand hunters within 1–30 hours after they begin using a stand site, usually without the hunters realizing it. This means, when hunting older bucks (not necessarily true when hunting other deer), it is generally a waste of time to use a stand site more than 1/2 to 1-1/2 days per hunting season. We therefore switch to different unused stand sites 100 yards or more away from previouly used stand sites every day or half-day we hunt.
Yes I know, hardly any bowhunter anywhere hunts this way but then most bowhunters rarely have an opportunity to take a mature buck and certainly not regularly (unless perhaps guided). Using one stand site per hunting season and using bait can’t make you regularly successful at hunting mature bucks. Trail cams used in place of scouting , buck lure scents accompanied by human scents and ATVs that taint your clothes with exhaust fumes and announce your approach and location to experienced whitetails cannot make regular buck hunting success happen. Sitting where your silhouette, skin and necessary movements are easily spotted by deer safe distances away or where your trail scents are intense and/or widespread certainly can’t make it happen either—things to think about while preparing for a coming archery season. Maybe it’s time to quit being so reluctant to change the way you hunt.
Nevertheless, having experienced the frustrations and joys of bowhunting for whitetails and black bears myself since 1960, I can’t help but wish all you avid bowhunters the very best of luck this fall.