5 Whitetail Scouting Tips While Turkey Hunting
These spring scouting techniques will give you an edge come fall
April 19, 2017
The thundering gobble is one of the most exciting sounds in nature. It follows only the bugle of an elk, and the sounds of leaves crunching in the pre-dawn darkness.
Turkey hunting has grown on me over the years and I look forward to it every spring. The chance to work a stubborn tom and enjoy hunting without having to worry about wind direction, are parts of the reward for me. Another great thing about turkey hunting is that it puts me back out in the deer woods. Learning and planning for the upcoming fall is just as important to me, if not more, than putting a bird on the ground.
1) Old sign will be new again in the fall
Finding old deer sign during the spring might seem pointless. It's not. Deer will continually use the same areas year in and year out. The sign you find will dictate if you want to hunt a specific area or when you want to hunt it. Rubs and scrapes are obvious rut signs. Mid October till the end of November would be ideal hunting times. Trails that are just meandering through an area need closer inspection. Are the trails connecting feeding and bedding areas? Were they made due to hunting pressure? Follow them till you can make an honest assessment as to what was going on when the hooves indented the earth.
One thing to always keep in mind. Deer rarely do something just to do it. Wind currents, thermals, and cover often make deer travel in certain ways. Just because the sign is there, dosen't always mean that's where you should hang your treestand. If the wind's gonna “get you” or the covers so thick you can't get in undetected, look elsewhere. Spring is a good time to make these assessments.
2) Shed antlers
Turkey hunting is at the back end of prime shed hunting season. However, most of us are so crunched for time that we can't make it out to do both. Why not combine the two?
A lot of states across the east and Midwest have daily closures of 12 noon or 1 o’clock. If you’re at your hunting spot, you'd mind as well do something beneficial. I like to walk field edges and bedding areas. In open fields, I use my Zeiss binos to glass big areas. Binos can save a lot of leg work. If you can see it, glass it; if not, walk it. Pretty simple stuff.
For bedding areas, I like to walk the trails that zigzag through the thick cover. Use your binos to penetrate thick cover when you see something out of place that looks like bone.
Finding “horns” may or may not solve the riddle of killing a specific deer but it sure feels good to know he made it through. Knowing a “hit list” buck survived the winter, can give you the confidence in the fall to keep putting in the time to get him killed.
3) Treestands and ground blinds
The night before going gobbler hunting, I will often throw a Summit treestand and pole saw in the back of the truck. When the thunder chickens quit talking, I start walking. Studying deer sign and the terrain gives me new ideas for the fall. Getting stands hung during the spring allows deer to get use to the cut limbs/trees. It also gives you plenty of time to contemplate the stand placement. If you start second guessing that decision, you have plenty of time to move it.
Ground blinds are a lot more noticeable to critters for obvious reasons. Get them set up during the spring and you’ll have no problems being picked off by deer come fall. Brush them in and let Mother Nature do the rest.
Always check stands and blinds before the season. Trimming may be required. More importantly, treestands should be checked for safety.
4) Learning new ground
What better way to learn new ground for deer season than by runnin’ and gunnin’ during turkey season? Sure, when the gobbles are coming non stop, you don't want to be thinking about deer. I've been hunting turkeys long enough to know that there's gonna be down time.
When hunting new ground, I like to figure out the perimeter of the property. You may be able to drive or you may have to walk it. On big chunks of land using topo maps, google earth and your GPS may be your best bet. You can eliminate a lot of country by just looking at topography and an overview that google earth provides. Walking is always the best bet but sometimes not practical. There's no better time to start figuring new ground out than spring. Trails are still visible, as are rubs, scrapes, cut limbs and scared bark from climbing treestands. You can keep track of your findings by plotting it on a map or marking waypoints in your GPS. Do keep track because there's a good chance you will forget and things will look totally different when the trees are carrying leaves.
If you're on public land or any ground that you don't have sole permission on, realize that other hunters will be looking for the same thing that you are. Think outside the box. Make plans on being screwed up. Always have back up stand sites.
5) Trail cams and mineral licks
Running trail cams year round is the best way to go for learning and managing your deer herd. Still, many people pull them and put them away once deer season ends. That don't do you any good sitting in the garage. Put some fresh batteries in them and hang’em. Field edges, food plots and especially mineral licks, are good places to get spring time pics.
Mineral licks should be established by April. If you haven't, no worries. Get them going during turkey season. If you already have some mineral sites from past years, freshen them up. Certain areas work better than others. When one spot doesn't yield results, I simply make one in a different location. I like to create them near water and where several trails converge. Hang a trail camera so you can monitor deer activity.
I am a hunter through and through. Deer, elk, turkeys, bear and just about anything else that walks. My passion though, is the whitetail deer. Hunting season is not enough for me. I want to know what they’re doing and why, from January to December. Not only does that make me a better hunter in general but, also, a better steward of the land.
If you're the type of guy/gal that just enjoys hunting the first couple days of gun season, great. But, if you’re the kind who wants to better themselves and let the skill factor be a bigger factor in your success than luck, get in the woods now! There's not a better time to start.