Smart Scouting for Whitetails

June 15th, 2009 / Posted by edersbow.com
Smart Scouting for Whitetails

One look told me that the buck was one of the largest I’d ever seen in the wild. Another few steps and he’d be well within my effective range. Stealing a quick glance at my bow, I made sure everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be. The only thing that remained was for the trophy deer to step into my shooting lane. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

The buck suddenly stopped walking and stood with his head erect. Seconds earlier he had appeared relaxed and unconcerned. But now something definitely had caught his attention. He dropped his head to the ground once more, took a couple of deep sniffs and then quickly jerked his head up. The buck stamped a front hoof a couple times and bristled his tail hairs. Whatever it was that he had detected certainly had him concerned.

The author learned long ago that it’s much easier to get within bow range of big bucks when those animals have no idea that they’re being hunted.

The author learned long ago that it’s much easier to get within bow range of big bucks when those animals have no idea that they’re being hunted.

The buck was standing dead upwind from my position, so there was no way he could have smelled me. And he hadn’t looked in my direction, so he hadn’t seen me. Regardless, the crafty creature had somehow figured out that something was definitely wrong. The big deer studied the situation for several minutes then simply turned and melted into some nearby thick cover. All I could do was sit and watch in hopeless dispair.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to come up with a reason for why the buck had displayed such a sudden change in temperament. He hadn’t heard, seen or smelled me, yet there was no doubt that he had somehow detected my presence. It wasn’t until I was heading back to my cabin that I finally figured out how the buck had pulled this off.

I’d scouted the area and put up my portable tree stand earlier that same day. Since there was still a good eight hours before deer would be moving through the area, I didn’t feel it was necessary to take all my “normal” precautions. I’d shunned the idea of wearing rubber boots. And I’d done things like checking every potential travel route that led past my stand site. I’d also trimmed several shooting lanes. All in all, I’d spent over an hour in the area. Looking back on the incident now I’m convinced that I had thoroughly contaminated the area with human odor.

Some Valuable Lessons Learned

Taking big bucks like this on a regular basis means developing and then applying a very special approach to your scouting efforts.

Taking big bucks like this on a regular basis means developing and then applying a very special approach to your scouting efforts.

Incidents like the one described above occurred fairly often during the formative years of my bowhunting career. As you might imagine, these incidents were bitter pills to swallow at the time. In the long run, though, they proved to be some of the most valuable learning lessons a prospective trophy hunter could have asked for.
One of the most important lessons I learned concerned the approach I was applying to my scouting efforts. I soon discovered that proper scouting entailed far more than merely going out and locating some big bucks. It also meant knowing how to effectively deal with those deer after I’d located them. In order to do that, I had to develop a smarter scouting approach. And this didn’t necessarily mean spending more time in the woods either.
Of course, I’m sure some bowhunters would argue that exposure is the biggest key to trophy buck success. Put simply, the more time you spend in the woods, the greater your chances for success. I strongly disagree! Unless the proper precautions are taken, bowhunters can actually hinder their chances by spending more time in the woods. Again, it’s a matter of developing and then adhering to a smart scouting regime.
Some Definite Scouting “No-Nos”
It’s okay to seek advice from other bowhunters about how to best hunt your favorite areas. However, when it comes to the actual scouting of those areas you’d be wise to go solo.

It’s okay to seek advice from other bowhunters about how to best hunt your favorite areas. However, when it comes to the actual scouting of those areas you’d be wise to go solo.

Of course, it goes without saying that smart scouting means not letting the deer you’ll be hunting smell you while you’re scouting. Nor should they smell you after you’ve left the woods. Basically, I apply the same odor free approach to my scouting efforts that I apply to my hunting efforts. I always keep the wind in my favor. And I shower with odor-killing soap and don “deodorized” hunting clothes before heading out on my in-season scouting trips.
Deer are also very keen at picking up on unnatural noises. Things like human voices and any metal on metal noises are especially disturbing to mature bucks! Remember, whitetails possess far keener hearing abilities than we do. Any noise you can hear for any distance can be heard for a far greater distance by the deer. And in the case of human voices especially, the results are going to be far less than desirable.
Any type of metallic noise, such as a chain rattling against a portable stand or tree steps clinking together, also will put deer on alert. Personally, all of my portable stands have either ropes or straps. And I use a stout rubber band to hold my tree steps together. I then put these “bunches” of steps in seperate compartments in my day pack. I do the same thing with my hand saws, pruning tools, binoculars or any other items that might bang together and give off a tell-tale metallic sound.
Natural Sounds Are Okay – To A Point
The author with a nice buck he took to the credit of his scouting ability.

The author with a nice buck he took to the credit of his scouting ability.

Breaking a few branches or snapping a little brush won’t have near the same effect as the above mentioned things. That’s because they’re natural sounds; ones deer hear in the woods all the time. Still, that doesn’t mean you can stomp through the woods like a runaway bulldozer. Pick your way carefully and try to keep from stepping on too many dead branches or walking through extremely thick patches of brush. A little natural noise isn’t bad, but a lot can have disasterous results.
Don’t Let Him Eyeball You
In case it hasn’t become evident by now, I’m a big believer in keeping a low profile while scouting during the season. Not only does this include attempting to decrease the chances of having the deer smell or hear you, it also means not letting them see you.
I’ve heard it said many times over the years that whitetails have trouble recognizing the human form. That’s hogwash! Humans are unique in that they are the only one of the whitetail’s predators/enemies that walk upright on two legs. Mature bucks especially have become very adept at recognizing this unique posture. Contrary to old-time beliefs, big bucks don’t have to confirm a sighting with one of their other senses either. Just this past fall, I had a run-in with a huge non-typical whitetail that proves this point well.
As luck would have it, I spotted the buck as he walked out of his bedding sanctuary just at last light. I was standing about 75 yards away in the wide open, binoculars in hand, when he stepped out. An intense staredown ensued, and lasted for nearly five minutes. At that point, my eyes started watering and the binoculars became too heavy to hold up any longer.

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In an attempt to keep from spooking the world class deer, I turned and slowly walked in the opposite direction. After taking about ten steps, I turned to take one last look at the monarch. He was gone. That was the last time that me or anyone else ever saw the trophy deer. I talked to several other people who scouted and hunted the area quite heavily, and none of them ever got so much as a glimpse of the buck. A single encounter with a human was all it took to either prompt the deer into a strict nocturnal pattern or drive him out of the area altogether.
Some Other Smart Scouting Tips
I personally think it’s a good idea to dress completely in camouflage clothing while scouting. It’s also a good idea to stay away fom known bedding areas or any other deer activity areas when you’re scouting. Also, try to move about the woods at a fairly good clip when scouting. I realize scouting trips are supposed to fact-finding missions, but you must learn to gather your facts on the move. Remember, moving about in a slow, sneaky pace marks you as a predator. Whitetails find this extremely unnerving. Trust me on that! Remember, knowing the exact location of a big buck’s core area is worthless information if you tip your hand to that deer before you even put the hunt on him!
While it might seem like a good idea to take a buddy along with you on scouting trips, I shun the idea. Remember, twice as many people will mean twice as much disturbance in the woods. While you careful about what you do in your hunting areas, you can’t always be sure what your buddy is doing. For example, he might say that his clothes are clean and odor free, but is that truly the case? Also, if you’ve got no one with you there’ll be no reason to do any talking. This totally eliminates the possibilbity that the deer in your hunting areas will hear human voices.
It’s my opinion that mature whitetail bucks are the epitome of the ultimate survival machine. And because of the basic mistakes some bowhunters make while scouting, big bucks often have the opportunity to sharpen their survival skills even more. However, this doesn’t mean that trophy class deer are fast on their way to becoming invincible creatures. Getting big bucks to walk by within bow range on a regular basis so often entails nothing more than developing and then employing some smart scouting strategies.
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