Never too early, or hot to start deer scouting

John McGriff saw this buck during preseason scouting and off and on during the early seasons, and finally dropped the hammer during the rut when the buck was following a doe.

Don’t just look for deer, look at all of nature’s indicators

Deer hunters never really adhere to a season; there are just certain days when we are allowed to harvest whitetails with our preferred method.

The remainder of the time, and this includes the summer, we are watching for indicators of what the next season will be. We use — or should be using — these times to plan and plant food plots, monitor trail cameras, cut shooting lanes, check stands, and formulate strategies.

And, of course, we are always scouting, even when we’re busy with the other chores. Good deer hunters rarely quit scouting.

Since most of us also chase turkeys some of the earliest scouting comes in the spring, including shed hunting for sheds. It’s a bonus of sorts to find a good shed, or even better the complete set, and know that a buck survived the season and should be roaming the same woods this winter.

Even better is having a dog to find the shed antlers for you, said Jeff Terry.

“I’ve trained many tracking dogs in my career and it’s pretty simple to make a shed hunter out of one,” Terry said. “A lab is a natural retriever, which is why it is part of their name. Every retriever owner knows what it’s like to have a dog bring them a stick, a ball or a shoe, and knows the dogs want them to stop what they are doing and play fetch. Just teach the dog to play fetch with an antler. The more they play, the more antlers they will find on outings in the woods.”

Trail cameras

Some soul somewhere holds the patent on a camera/motion sensor that will allow a hunter to take pictures in his or her absence. In all honesty, I hope they are wealthy and happy – they should be. The trail camera, in any of its forms, is the biggest advancement in deer hunting since the invention of the climbing stand. Simply put, the trail camera acts as the hunters eyes in the woods in his absence.

The early models, which required film, have all but disappeared from the landscape. Today, sophisticated machines take videos and stream them live to cell phones the instant the camera is triggered.

A key to camera success is putting it in the right spot.

“Place the cameras where deer are likely to be seen in August,” said William McKinley, the new Deer Program Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. “Mineral licks are the best place to start. As does are dropping and nursing fawns, they will need additional nutrients to maintain a high level of metabolism. Bucks are still in velvet and the young bone beneath the blood-rich membrane is still growing at a rapid pace. The minerals should be part of a year-around nutritional plan to maximize the herd being managed.”

Check the label on the mineral supplement to insure it has calcium, phosphorous, potassium, copper, manganese, zinc and selenium. Mossy Oak offers a product called BioRock that contains many of the minerals deer need. It sells in most locations for around $10. Place a mineral lick in a well-drained area such as on a stump or large rock to prevent premature melting, then put up a camera.

“We use a number of trail cameras to identify the bucks we’ll go after once archery season opens,” said Barrett Van Cleave of Woodville. “Naming bucks is our way of identification. We’ll look for a drop tine, or some other defining characteristic, and name the buck appropriately. It has become one of the fun points of hunting — identifying and watching the bucks grow from season to season.”

Feeders are another place to position a trail camera. Keep in mind the nutritional demands on deer as we mentioned above. Corn or rice bran may taste good and attract animals, but high-protein feed or soybeans will be of far greater benefit to the deer herd. Look for those supplemental feeds containing high protein (15 to 21 percent). Record Rack is a pelletized feed with recommended nutrition that can be easily dispensed from a feeder or trough. Do not pour any feed or attractant directly on the ground.

Areas where the land is more fertile through natural or mechanical manipulation are another great place to hang a camera. Natural browse, such as honey suckle or ragweed may show signs of heavy browsing. Abandoned gardens, old orchards, or uncut fall food plots are all places where soil fertility is higher than the surrounding land. Deer will target those areas because the palatability of the weeds and grasses there are better than the native areas.

Where food plots have been planted with clover or other legumes, deer will be found browsing on a regular basis. The same goes for cornfields where corn has not been harvested. Corn and forage soybeans planted in concert will offer deer a field of plenty. On larger fields, look for those places where trails enter or exit the field. Placing cameras on several trails will help a hunter identify bedding or resting areas for later scrutiny.

Old-fashioned scouting

As good a tool as a trail camera is, it is no substitute for good, old-fashioned woodsmanship. Time spent in the forests and fields of Mississippi is never wasted. Hunters who leave the air conditioning and venture into the wild, sweaty and hot as it may be, will be the first to spot patterns in deer movement and see the upcoming generation of bucks first hand.

But beware: The Magnolia State is home to some very venomous snakes. Snake boots are not cool but could save your life. The state also has some ugly viruses such as West Nile (mosquito borne) and Lyme disease (ticks), thus a good grade of insect repellant is a must.

Venture out early and late that is when the deer will be moving the most.

Browse signs

Smart scouts often learn about deer from viewing plants, and recognizing those that are being hit hardest by deer. Green briar is a deer favorite year round, but especially in late summer. The plant is so widespread in most cases that it’s not a source hunters can hang a stand and sit on. But those plants that are heavily browsed indicate a deer herd has been in the area. The stem of the green briar is fast to heal, so finding a cut that is still wet and green indicates very recent forage. Where the tip has turned a light brown indicates a few days have passed.

Where giant ragweed is allowed to grow in or near an old food plot or farm field is another good browse indicator. Deer will nip the tender growth off the end of stems. This causes a similar reaction to deadheading or pruning domestic plants. The plant produces more new growth and the deer will find it. This will do little but let the hunter know deer are there at any given point in time, but it could be a place to hang a camera for a few days.

“When our biologists look at an area to access the quality of the deer herd we look for signs of browsing,” McKinley said. “Green briar, honey suckle, giant ragweed and others are good indicators deer are getting the nutrition they need When we see them starting to browse red cedar we know immediately there is a problem that indicates too many deer for the available natural browse.”

Tracking tracks

Where there are tracks there were deer. Well, duh …

But tracks can say a lot about the herd and what is happening at a particular point in time. In late summer bucks are traveling in buck groups, so finding evidence that several sets of larger tracks have been made is a pretty good sign the boys have been in the area.

Does travel in family groups this time of year, so new fawn tracks and yearling tracks will accompany the older does. If you are out regularly, as you should be, make a note in your journal or diary when you find the first fawn tracks. Does bed their babies for the first couple of weeks of life, so drop two weeks from the date and count backward 128 days. That will give you a pretty good idea of what period of the rut the doe stood for her buck.

For example, if the math places the breeding event at the week prior to Christmas, then that is when you want to plan your vacation for this year and be in the woods to celebrate.

Changes in land use

At Curve Mountain Hunting Club in Kemper County, turkey season was interrupted by an 800-acre timber management project. It was enough to make the hunters kick the ground and head off to find a quieter spot. But by berry picking time in June, the cleared areas were already showing signs of a major green-up. Brassicas and forbs, long dormant under the closed pine canopy, were springing to life. The local deer population was quick to respond.

What is left are shooting lanes in the remaining timber with a natural food plot 250-350-yards long. By July, lush green was tree-line to tree-line. This is just one example of preseason scouting a land use change.

Large clearing projects where forest is reduced to smoldering piles for the sake of pasture or row crops are examples of a land use that will alter deer movement in an area. In these sorts of places, look for new travel patterns and natural pinch points where deer will be later in the season as they move from one area to another.

Diaries and data

For most deer hunters the same lands are hunted year-in and year-out. Family-owned land or established deer camps have well-known travel corridors where hunters place stands year after year. This practice lends itself to the keeping of a wildlife diary. The entries may be as simple or detailed as the keeper wishes. Consider this entry from one hunter’s diary:

“August 15: Six-weeks into an extended dry spell with no relief in sight. Native browse is hard and deer are feeding on American beauty berry mast and premature pears falling at the old house place. Mineral licks are being used. Water in the creek is all but gone; deer are crossing and drinking at farm pond in the woods and on the beaver dam below the big bend. Some green ash mast is starting to fall. Persimmons are spotty as hailstorm this summer damaged early crop. Muscadines are dropping everywhere.”

This should tell the hunter that as archery season approaches, with little chance for significant rain, the better hunting should be on creek crossings and along the trails leading to mast sources. There is no need to plan on hunting a food plot as the rain will not come soon enough to be a factor.

Two things are key here: Mineral licks are not affected by the weather and water is critical.

The point is to keep an ongoing diary so each year the weather conditions and environmental issues that are a factor in deer hunting can be studied. Not only will it be a great help during your days in the field, but could become a family heirloom to be treasured and passed on from generation to generation.

Hey, keep cool, stay hydrated, watch for snakes, and spend as many of these late summer days scouting as you possibly can.

And if the opportunity arises, kill every feral pig you see.

About David Hawkins 195 Articles
David Hawkins is a freelance writer living in Forest. He can be reached at

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