A deer hunter's greatest fear is bumping into a trophy class buck. By "bump" we mean an accidental encounter that blows the buck out of the immediate area and could very possibly result in permanently spooking the trophy off the property.

Every deer hunter worthy of the title is guilty of this faux pas, and most of the time this type of chance run in cannot be avoided. How many times have you rounded the corner on an old logging road or popped out of a thicket onto a food plot only to come eyeball to eyeball with a buck standing there just as shocked as you were? In the normal course of deer hunting this sort of thing happens all the time. The hope is that such a random confrontation won't bust that buck completely out of the county.

Conversely, serious deer hunters should be in complete control of their scouting strategies. This means they should always proceed with heightened awareness in order to avoid happenstance contact with any deer, especially bucks that they might very well be hunting at some later date.


Preventative maintenance

It matters little when you scout, where you scout or how you specifically go about it, if you start off wrong. Smart hunters who have learned some tricks for fooling a deer's nose know that some preliminary precautions have to be accounted for before stepping into the woods. Even then, beating a buck's senses is never a sure thing. Regardless of how good you are, you will eventually get busted.

"When I talk in terms of scent-control, I get a lot of strange looks back," said Madison hunter Chris Clifton. "But never mind because I am totally convinced that a single, solitary strong whiff of a human to a deer is the most potent pox to ruin a hunt there is.

"This means total scent control, too, including clothes, boots, gear, guns and self. To neglect the control of human scent is to violate a cardinal rule of deer hunting.

"When I arrive in camp for scouting or hunting, first off my clothes are in a sealed bag with a scent-control spray. I change at the last moment before walking out of camp. I spray on more scent killer for extra protection. I try to remove all the obvious scent from all my gear, even the oils off my archery gear and firearms. I wear gloves when handling stands or cutting trails. I definitely go to the extreme, but then I see a lot of bucks during the season, too."

When it comes to scent control there really is no extreme measure.

This advice provided by a veteran trophy hunter should definitely be keenly heeded during all times when hunting, but just as importantly beforehand. In fact, if scent control is not a critical part of your scouting strategy, you might as well skip the trouble to start with. It may be weeks before you can draw a bow or load a rifle, but if you stink up the place now, there may not be a good buck there to hunt come opening day.

Accordingly, follow these simple rules without error when scouting.

First, pay attention to the prevailing winds the day you scout. Even with no breeze about, intrusive scouting is best done mid-day when deer will likely be bedded again from morning feeding or before they arise to feed again toward the end of the day. You may still bump into deer in the middle of the day, but odds are less in favor of it.

When going into deer habitat, wear as much skin-covering clothing as you can stand in the early fall heat or use a scent-killer spray. If you are apt to handle things in the woods, wear latex gloves. Rubber boots are best, too. Be careful of brushing up against things that might allow a lasting scent to rub off, even for a short time.

Scout slowly and deliberately as if still-hunting. Rushing through deer woods will likely result in making mistakes that could race a nice buck from the premises. This is especially critical the closer you get to the opening day. In fact, initial scouting ought to be done well ahead of the opener, and then hunters should completely back out of an area until the day they climb into a hunting stand for the real business at hand.


Pre-season snooping about

Here it is the ninth month of the year and only a month away from the bow season opener and less than two until the initial gun season. Now is the time to start looking around in a very prudent manner.

Now is the time to recollect what information you can remember from last year or previous seasons. Deer are creatures of habit - thank goodness - and tend to hang out in the same areas, feed in the same spots and create rubs in old haunts as well as scrapes within sight of old ones. Take advantage of this.

If the deer have not been thrashed out of an area or the habitat has not been radically altered, then the likelihood is high that the resident deer population is still lurking about in the same spots. Pick up where you left off last year.

Rescout known food sources. Check persimmon trees, wild fruits, honeysuckle patches and berry thickets. Visually inspect green browse for deer use, but in all these things, do not handle or disturb it. If you want to fertilize native browse, do it early on, then leave the area alone. Come back to scout it again during the season or hang a stand within view.

"After I get all the facts about an area via maps or aerial photos, then I set about to scout it ahead of the season," said John Mark Cockrell, who leases hunting land in Rankin County. "I look for good ambush sites to catch a big buck going or coming from feeding areas to bedding spots.

Once you set up stands, try to stay out of the area as much as possible. Scout and hunt with the wind, and don't overpressure a spot.

"If you hunt scout smart and hunt smarter, you can do it without spooking all the deer on the property. Stay out of the bedding areas. One hundred percent protection against leaving scent behind is impossible."

Whitetail biologist Stephen Ditchkoff at Auburn University agreed.

"If you already know where the good spots are, don't scout anymore," he said. "Of course, this is easier said than done. I guess what I'm saying is to keep in mind that every time you walk through the woods, you leave a trail that the deer will eventually cross. The more often they cross your trail, the less comfortable they will be with that area."


As the season wears on

Hunters often ask if there are risks involved in continuing to scout as the season unfolds. Well, for deer hunters this is a real Catch-22. Things obviously change as the season progresses. Food sources die out or become overbrowsed, and deer may naturally gravitate to planted green plots or they may move to new sections of woods afresh with acorns. Rubs are abandoned as the rut kicks in, and later even scrapes grow cold and unattended.

What now?

Proactive deer hunters will once more turn to some judicious scouting. Knowing what the deer are doing, where they are gathering, eating and traveling has to be discovered again. This means getting out of the hunting stand and probing around the deer's home grounds to collect new information.

Don't get sloppy even when the season is winding down. Pay mind to the wind and your scent. This remains critical. Scout again for fresh food sources and staging areas. As the rut dies down, some does will continue to come in estrus, so bucks will continue to hang around the ladies. Find out where that is.

After you scout a new hotspot, a good hunting strategy is to use a contained hunting ground blind that will reduce scent. Forget the hassle of moving ladder stands or hanging new lock-ons. This action would probably only serve to dope up the area with human smells and make late-season bucks even more wary.

Follow these tips, and remain strict in their adherence to scout without spooking. If you're careful, you just might trick a buck's nose long enough for the shot of a lifetime.