One Day To Scout

September 25th, 2009 / Posted by David
One Day To Scout

A local bowhunter spends an average of two days a week throughout the year scouting for deer. The results? Two P&Y bucks the first week of the season. This savvy fellow knows where deer feed, bed, and had collected their sheds the previous spring. Like money in the bank, scouting is an investment of time for better days ahead.

On the other hand, times occur when even experienced deer hunters can’t put time in the woods and must make do- for instance, when hunting new areas. Recently, I was faced with just such a situation during a hunt at Bent Creek Lodge in Jaclyn, Alabama, part of the famed Black Belt region. Hunting conditions were at their absolute worst, with sweltering heat and rain. At night, when things cleared up and cooled down, a brilliant full moon allowed deer to feed. the nocturnal feeding coupled with lethargic daytime deer movement made filling even a doe tag a challenge.

Scouting to the Rescue

Outwitting a trophy whitetail takes knowledge of its habits. Extensive scouting is best, but in emergency conditions, even brief scouting can give you the edge.

Outwitting a trophy whitetail takes knowledge of its habits. Extensive scouting is best, but in emergency conditions, even brief scouting can give you the edge.

With the deck stacked against this hunt, could scouting help? The season was already underway, I had only two days to hunt and 27,000 acres to traverse. The answer was simple. Scouting was the only answer.

“A bowhunter with only two days to hunt should spend the first one scouting,” says Mississippi archer Jerry White, a man with more than 40 whitetails to his credit. Jerry and Eddie Salter, the World Champion turkey caller, were videotaping the Bent Creek hunt and shared their lifelong outdoor experiences.

“We hunt deer through their stomach, literally,” said Salter, summarizing the duo’s shared approach. “I walk through the woods and try to find deer droppings. Especially in the South, deer will pick one tree and every deer around will seem to feed under it.”

Hardwood Strategies
In the hardwood forests, acorns are the principal food of deer. Salter added, “An old timer once told me ‘Son, if you are walking through the woods and see a deer run, you need to go there immediately to see what that deer was doing’.

When Salter bumped four deer while scouting, he moved directly to the spot. “We found 20 piles of dropping around one tree, the best thing we found all day,” he said.

The “scout where you see them” technique is a good idea, but a person must closely examine what he finds. White and Salter looked for dropping, and although not exactly dinner conversation, they do wind up with a lot of information from their research.

What to Look For

“The color of the dung is important as well as the size of the pellets. Fresh dropping will have a shiny, slick-green appearance and will tell you whether deer have been feeding in the morning, afternoon, or intermittently. A really good acorn tree will have numerous piles of droppings at varying stages of decay, showing that multiple deer have been feeding over a period of time. Large deer make larger pellets and big ones are a sign of a mature doe or buck,” said Salter.

“Sometimes the dropping will lead you to that one place where the deer are bedding and feeding. If you are not finding droppings, you are wasting your time. I think a deer is a lot like a human going through a buffet line. They may take a little of this and a little of that, but an acorn is like a good meal. Once they find an acorn feast, they stay there and feed heartily. As a result their droppings will be in piles rather than strung out as they walk. Acorns won’t bloat a deer’s stomach like corn. They are really high in protein and a deer’s system has adapted to make the most if it,” White said.

Holding Area Hot Spots

The author poses with a good buck, taken at a food source.

The author poses with a good buck, taken at a food source.

A secondary way of locating good oak trees is to scout a holding area near a green field or agricultural crop. Bucks and does will approach crop fields carefully and often will not enter until after dark. The next morning the plot may be filled with tracks, droppings, scrapes, etc., but the archer can do little about it. Salter has a technique that may give an edge with these nocturnal deer. “I like to stay in my stand at least an hour after dark,” he said. “Of course, I’m not hunting, but I want to sees where the game comes from, perhaps catching a glimpse of a buck or hearing him grunt. Once I locate the entrance trails, I’ll back track several hundred yards toward their bedding area in search of oak groves where deer will loaf in the last hours of the day before entering the fields. The same types of droppings will pinpoint where to place the stand.” Hunters should be cautioned about staying in a stand after legal shooting hours as this could be construed by some to be hunting. To avoid this, plan an evening of just scouting, leaving your archery gear at home.

Bowhunter Bob Dixon, Vice president of Mossy Oak and Larry Norton, two time World Champion turkey caller and guide at Bent Creek follows a similar strategy. Dixon is an enthusiastic bowhunter while Norton spends hundred of hours scouting the large tract to help hunters score.

“Bent Creek is so big that there are parts of it I’ve never seen,” said Norton, “but during the bow season, we look for food sources- primarily acorns. We look for white oaks and chestnuts oaks. Generally, the chestnut oak acorns drop later, but once they start to fall, deer will visit trees constantly. Chestnut oaks are often called cow acorns because they are so big. Deer really love them.”

Like White and Salter, Dixon and Norton had one day to scout and walked fast and furiously to find that one good tree. “It will have lots of droppings, both fresh and a day or two old, acorn caps, and crushed hulls (the part the deer don’t eat), and lots of acorns on the ground, “said Norton.

In an oak forest, it may seem fruitless to search out one tree, but Norton explains, “Even though there are lots of oaks, deer will show a preference for one tree. Even if three are several white oaks dropping at the same time, one may have sweeter acorns than the others. There may be only one such tree in a square mile, but once found, it will look like hogs have been in there.”

Narrowing the Search

Rather than hunting an edge of a field, these experts recommend backing into a staging area, probably where acorns are available.

Rather than hunting an edge of a field, these experts recommend backing into a staging area, probably where acorns are available.


As Dixon and Norton scouted, they were also searching for hot trails, corridors, and funnels. These pathways often lead to oak stands or other food sources. Norton noticed that the acorns on the ridges seem to fall before those in the bottoms. In early season, the “overcap” acorn is generally one of the first to fall and often is found around standing water. It falls early making it attractive to deer. White oak acorns sour quickly. When they have run their course, deer will return to the overcaps once again.

When Dixon and Norton come upon a well-used trail, they split up and each follows the sign in opposite directions to get a better picture of the deer movement patterns. They also recommend backing off 200 yards from a food source to a “holding place” especially if some good acorn producing oak trees are there.

“Another advantage of holding areas is that deer are more relaxed and you may be able to get closer and better shots,” Norton says. “Once they step into an open field, all of their sense are on high.”

Ready for the Rut
Early and mid fall hunters will have great success hunting oak trees, but what about when the rut begins. Shouldn’t we then be looking for scrapes, rubs and buck sign? This certainly seems a logical assumption, yet Norton disagrees.

“The bottom line is you find the girls,” he said with a grin. “When the rut starts, I go back to the places where I saw lots of deer earlier in the year. The does generally stay in the same place. They still have food on their minds even though the bucks don’t and they’ll probably be feeding on late acorns. In fact, throughout the deer season we look for acorns. You will often find a tree that drops late (in the bottoms for example) or had too many acorns to be eaten. When white oaks are down and cleaned up, you will find deer on water oaks and pin oaks.”

With just one day to scout, hunters often focus on places where they can cover a lot of ground. Logging roads, for example, often have soft soil that will show the direction of deer travel and other valuable information. Large and small tracks together often are does and fawns, while a large singular track is likely a good buck. Norton scouts this way in February when all of last year’s sign is evident, especially entrance trails to food plots and fields. “Most people hunt the most worn trails, but I think this is a mistake if the hunter wants a buck. There are doe trails and buck trails. A real heavy trails is tempting, but with a little more research, you may find a secondary trail with lots of buck sign. Once you find the buck trails, you’ll find the buck.”

A topo or aerial photo map will allow you to plan approaches to good areas by learning the prevailing winds. You must pay close attention to the wind. “If I locate a big buck, I never hunt it until the wind is absolutely right,” said Norton. “These animals have grown old by using their nose and they don’t make many mistakes.

Scouting Pays Off

The best recon missions will involve long-range, low-impact scouting.

The best recon missions will involve long-range, low-impact scouting.

On the final morning of the weekend hunt, I climbed an oak tree amidst a grove that Norton had selected through his scouting. At first light, a spike buck and doe fed to within 30 yards, cracking and popping acorns that fell from the tall white oaks. The next hour saw four more female visitors, as I held out for a rack buck. Finally, at the sun rose and the day grew warm, I drew back on a feeding doe and buried the shaft behind its ribs.

Scouting is best accomplished throughout the year, however, if you time is limited, make the most of even a single day. Look for trail traffic, funnels, rubs, and scrapes. Remember, food sources will work throughout the year. Find the hot oak tree and you’ll find the “girls”. Once accomplished the big bucks won’t be far behind.

The best tools for Scounting are Binoculars and Game Gameras See great selections and pricing at Binoculars at eders.com Game Cameras at eders.com. or see them at Binoculars at BowhuntingOutlet, Game Cameras at BowhuntingOutlet

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