10 Sep Scout Now!!!
The other day, I took a hike in my local deer haunting haunt. Due to the thick foliage, visibility was limited. Few humans have been in the forest during the off season, so the deer are relaxed and less spooky.
I sat on a knoll and pulled out my 10×40 binoculars. Scanning the forest revealed several squirrels, a racoon, and some other subtle movements. Closer examination revealed a pair of fawns still in spots. Their color pattern allowed them to blend in perfectly. Three mature does were also nibbling browse on the forest floor.
You will find deer in different places now, but can predict where they will be when the season opens. I start off by looking for food sources. If you hunt near agricultural areas, then it is easier to see what is for dinner. Corn, soy beans, sugar beets, and other crops are obvious menu items.
In the forest, the menu changes. Asters, mushrooms, white oak acorns, beechnuts, dogwood berries, and browse plants are now the choice. Clusters of these foods will also show signs of deer activity. I often take my bow and some target arrows tipped with small game heads and bright fletchings. When you see a huge mushroom, try a shot. This is great practice, fun, and the arrows can be found easily.
A huge white oak tree that has a mast or nut crop is the deer’s 7-11 store. These acorns are like Hershey Kisses for deer. Bucks especially love this food source. Mast crops are not heavy every year, but seem to yield the most acorns when conditions are hot, dry, and stressed. Remember these “Golden Corral” hot spots. They can pay off for years.
I sat against an old stump to break my outline. My camouflage clothing kept me stealthy. Suddenly I saw movement.
You will rarely see a whole deer. Usually, you will see an ear flick, eye blink, or a leg step. What started as a quiet rustle and slight movement turned into 5 bucks! This bachelor group represented 2-3 year classes. All the bucks were still in velvet. This will change in a few weeks. The velvet is like a scab that will drop off when the day length changes. When the rut begins, the bucks will show up around the does.
As the days shorten, the antler growth stops and the velvet will fall off. The velvet is now more like a scab of dried vascular material that once nurtured antler growth but has since dried up. Bucks eat this material as it hangs off their antlers. There is no pain or irritation for the deer. Antler is bone and has no nerves. They do not feel their antlers itching so they do not rub the trees to scratch.
A few small rubs were noted on trees near the bedding areas. Bucks routinely rub when they have antlers. When a buck sheds last year’s headgear, the new antlers begin to grow almost immediately. Finding sheds in a forest where squirrels and mice live is unusual. The calcium, found in bone and antler, is a food source for these gnawing critters.
Stream crossings are also a clue as to where and when the deer will show up. The hot weather causes the deer to need more water. Sign around water should be abundant. Seeps and springheads in the more interior and thick places are where you find bigger and wiser deer. They move as little as possible.
At one stream crossing, I noticed tracks from 5 deer moving together. The tracks tended to be large and more rounded than doe tracks. Bucks tend to wear the front of their hooves down when scraping or sparing with other bucks. The droppings were clumped and not individual. Blood drops were evident in a puddle near the stream. Bleeding is common when the velvet begins to tear free from the antlers. I was looking at buck sign.
At the top of the ridge was a huge white oak that was producing acorns. Bedding cover was nearby and a pattern was taking shape. I spied several trees where I could hang a stand or build a ground blind. Morning tends to be when deer return to bedding areas, while afternoon tends to be when they head to water and feed. In my experience, the deer tend to drink first, then head toward a buffet.
Placing strings along trails and crossings will help you get an idea as to how often the deer are around. Trail cameras, where legal, also can give you good intel. The more time you discreetly visit your hunting area, the more information you will gather.
Place a huge piece of paper on your wall and draw a map of your hunting area. Mark stand sites, scrapes, historic points of interest, sightings, food sources, water, natural features, and any relevant information that you gather. As the information grows, you will begin to identify patterns and characteristics of specific deer.
Now when you go hunting, there is a plan and a purpose.
For more Montana grant, visit his website at www.montanagrantfishing.com