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Pre-Season Scouting/Speed Touring
Mature whitetails are creatures of habit and once deer season is over it doesn’t take them long before calming down and reverting back to set routines which include more daytime movements. Their routines will take on slight alterations throughout the year primarily due to changes in weather conditions, preferred food sources and during spring fawning there will be alterations as does break with wintering social groups, force their previous spring’s fawns away, and birth their new ones.
Bedding to feeding area routines by mature bucks also remains constant throughout the summer until hunters begin scouting and preparing locations for the upcoming season. Example: How often have you heard of or witnessed a good buck come out to feed in the same location every evening during the summer only to vanish into thin air at exactly the same time hunters begin their pre-season scouting and location preparation?
The amount and type of hunting pressure an area receives plays a huge role in the amount of human pre-season scouting intrusions mature bucks will tolerate before altering their vulnerable summer routines.
The commonly used term “hunting pressure” is meaningless unless defined, so I created the term “heavy consequential hunting pressure” (abbreviated – hchp) to clarify the type of hunting pressure many hunters have no option, but to deal with.
Hchp areas will have 10 to 25 bowhunters and close to twice that number of gun hunters per square mile (640 acres) and most of them target any legal antlered buck and many button bucks are targeted by hunters with doe permits.
In hchp areas the few bucks that survive beyond their first set of antlers seemingly have Master’s degrees in avoiding hunters and taking on more secure nocturnal movement habits. The vanishing act by mature bucks in hchp areas is nearly immediate at the slightest hint of any influx of human activity within their core area.
In hchp areas the severe movement and habit alterations caused by the sudden spike in human activity are not remotely similar to those in managed areas in which most TV, video personalities, and many high end hunters hunt.
No matter the amount of hunters sitting in trees or blinds, in managed areas all bucks are allowed to grow to a specific age or antler class before being targeted by hunters. When there are no negative consequences with hunter encounters as bucks are growing to maturity, they learn to have a higher tolerance of human intrusions, interactions, and odor.
It is also common on TV and in videos to witness hunters getting visually picked by mature bucks without spooking making it blatantly obvious that the vulnerable daytime movement habits of subordinate bucks remained somewhat intact as did their tolerance of hunter encounters as they aged to the kill criteria.
The commonly seen monster buck being killed while casually walking across or being called into wide open food plots, short grassed or crop fields are other perfect examples of the high level of human tolerance mature bucks have in the managed and lightly hunted areas TV and video hunts typically take place.
I have exclusively hunted knock on doors for free permission and public properties for 50 seasons in the state with the most licensed bowhunters and have taken 17 one week trips to lower hunter density states such as Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois.
Speaking from direct experience it is far more difficult to take a 2 ½ year old in an hchp area than it is to take a 4 ½ year old or older buck in a lightly hunted or managed area. Typically during my one week out of state hunts I will see as many P&Y class bucks as I will see in 10 full seasons back home.
Statistics also bear the same results. On average, in Michigan only 1 out of every 3,647 licensed bowhunters enters a Pope & Young buck in the record book. To put that into perspective, if 91 bowhunters hunted for 40 seasons each, statistically only one of them would enter a 125 inch or bigger buck into the P&Y record book during his or her lifetime.
In Kansas the statistical odds are 1 out of every 149 (that’s 24X greater odds), and the average antler score of the bucks entered is 15 inches larger. Taking big bucks is so common in several lightly hunted states that buck’s scoring at or just above the 125 mark rarely get entered. If every P&Y buck taken were entered, I would bet the ratio would be closer to 1 out of every 10. Currently my out of state ratio is 15 out of 17 hunts.
*Source of license sales: Archery Business / Trade News
*Source of Pope & Young entries: Pope & Young Club statistical summary book
Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, and several other states also share similar P&Y entries/per licensed bow hunter’s statistics as Michigan.
Most TV and video hunts not only take place in lightly hunted states, they take place on large micro-managed properties within those states and to think the methods they use will work in hchp areas is naïve and out-of-touch with reality.
Common hchp area pre-season scouting
Typical pre-season scouting routines by some hunters in hchp areas consists of duets traipsing through the woods, hanging noisy metal stands, clearing shooting lanes, and making and marking entry and exit routes. If there are any mature bucks in the area, it only takes one or two of these events before they alter their summer daytime movement habits.
Even if a mature buck doesn’t get spooked or hear the commotion from a distance, the human odor and obvious change in surrounding scenery due to location preparation is a tell-tale sign for any that pass through later.
Hunters using these types of scouting routines are not intentionally trying to alarm and curtail daytime deer activity; they simply don’t know any better. Unfortunately, due strictly to the amount of hunters in hchp areas these types of hunters and scouting activities always exist.
Deer can’t differentiate between someone scouting or hunting and after being left alone for nearly 8 months, they view any sudden influx of human activity anywhere with their core living area as an immediate threat to their survival, and react by assuming more nocturnal movement habits.
Even though most other hunters are not after the same class of whitetail as you, their scouting in the same core area will affect mature buck movements where you hunt and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Even something as benign as hanging and periodically checking a motion camera can have a catastrophic impact on a hunting sites potential in hchp areas. Deer don’t know hunters just want to take their picture; their human intrusions are a threat to their existence.
Post-season scouting advantages
In hchp areas, well in excess of 80% of my scouting, new location preparation, and old location re-preparation are done during post-season (January through April). I can scout, clear lanes, use a chain saw, drive in the woods, leave human odor, yell and scream, and do all those same things several days in a row without fear of altering fall activity. Spooking deer is of no concern because they will have at least half a year to fall back into their normal movement habits.
During post-season (prior to spring green-up) the previous season’s rut sign such as scrape areas, utilized licking branches, and rubs and rub lines are still identifiable. Runways within bedding areas and in funnels of transition cover between bedding areas that were used during the rut phases are also more easily identified prior to new summer growth. During post-season hunting locations are found and prepared accordingly for hunting during next season’s rut phases.
Locations are also prepared at isolated food sources such as white oaks and fruit trees, along crop field edges that I know will be in standing corn, in pinch points of transition cover between bedding and feeding areas, and at isolated water holes in areas otherwise devoid of water. These will be early season locations and some may end up as primary scrape areas that will double as rut phase locations.
I came up with the term “pre-season speed-touring” because that’s what it is. During post-season set-up, I have no clue if an isolated mast or fruit tree will produce food that season and speed-touring is the only way to find out which existing locations are suited for early season hunting.
Speed touring is best done during midday when deer are bedded or deeper within secure cover. Whenever possible, rainy or windy conditions are recommended because those conditions will mask your noise and more rapidly dissipate human odor.
Whenever in my hunting area during pre-season, a properly cared for carbon lined suit, gloves, and rubber or neoprene knee high boots are wore to keep human odor as minimal as possible.
Even though I’m always on the lookout for new locations while speed touring, the primary goal is to rapidly check for current buck activity at already prepared locations. If fresh buck sign is found where there is no location prepared, it will be remembered and if my existing locations have less activity, I will chance coming back and setting it up.
I call it a chance because setting up new locations just prior to season in hchp areas usually halts any early season daytime mature buck activity at it. Unfortunately it’s that simple.
Mature bucks are rubbed out by early September so wait until mid to late September so buck sign in the form of rubs and scrapes can be verified at existing locations. Other relevant sign would be large clumped droppings, large rounded hooved tracks, and well-used runways.
When a location has adequate sign, any new impeding summer growth will be immediately trimmed to keep it a single low impact intrusion. If a mast or fruit tree has no sign, yet the tree is dropping or has food that will drop, it is mentally noted for a later in-season look.
Once finished touring all existing locations an early season plan of attack is created based on several criteria’s. The plan takes into consideration which sites are best suited for mornings or evenings, which looked to have the most promising mature buck sign, and which offered the best perimeter and transition security cover for daytime visits.
While my speed tours are designed to have minimal human impact, in hchp areas, the impact of the umpteen other hunters in the area must be considered as well because I have no control over what they do. Which locations will be least impacted by neighboring or other hunters on the same properties must also be considered in the selection process.
The cold hard truth is that due to the sheer amount of other hunter’s with their seemingly brown it’s down mentality, mature bucks have usually turned nocturnal well prior to the season opener.
Preparing new locations
If granted permission on a new piece of property or my speed tours showed nothing of interest, in either case there is no option but to scout for and prepare new locations. Search only for active sign such as runways, rubs, scrapes, large tracks, and general high traffic activity keeping in mind that early season activity revolves around food and in hchp areas the location must offer perimeter security cover as well as transition security cover.
Hunting locations should not be chosen strictly by the amount of mature buck sign at it. Remember, unlike on TV and in videos, mature bucks in hchp areas rarely enter vulnerable areas such as exposed short crop and grass fields or food plots during daylight so even though the most promising sign in the world may be along the perimeter of one of these types of areas, the location is worthless if the activity by the buck you’re pursuing takes place during the security of darkness.
Preparing a location for early season is quite different than for during the rut phases. During the rut mature bucks are in pursuit mode and wider and possibly more shooting lanes are required to stop them in.
During early season mature bucks move slowly and with caution so lanes can be narrower and less intrusive. Also, fewer shooting lanes are required because deer traffic is routine and defined.
During early season ground foliage is dense so keep lane clearing as minimal as possible because mature deer will notice dramatic alterations to their home areas and avoid them during daylight.
Theft in hchp areas is one reason I rarely use motion cameras. If I do, it will be a black-out camera mounted very high and inconspicuous with screw in adjustable mount so as not to have a dark strap around a lighter colored tree. I have witnessed mature deer pick cameras mounted at deer-head height and or mounted with the dark colored straps, and immediately spook. Cards are only checked when I go there to hunt.
Even after 50 seasons I eagerly anticipate the season opener, but deep down, my early season expectations are low.
Editors note: John Eberhart is an accomplished bowhunter specializing in heavy consequential hunting pressure areas. Learn more about his tactics through his instructional books and dvd’s available at: www.deeranddeerhunting.com and www.deer-john.net