How to Scout Deer Habitat
- 15 Nov, 2019
Two of the questions most often asked by novice deer hunters are how do you recognize good deer habitat and how do you scout it which is actually very wise because knowing the answers to those two questions is the first step to a successful deer hunt. Therefore, the first thing you should know about deer is that they only choose to inhabit areas that provide them with the necessities of life which, for a deer are, a readily available food source, a readily available source of fresh water and, a safe place to bed; preferably with all three existing in close proximity and with safe travel corridors between them.
So, learning to find and recognize good deer habitat is predicated on first locating one or more favored food sources and/or sources of fresh water (depending on whether you are an Eastern or Western hunter) which are available during deer season and then finding the places where the deer choose to bed down when they are not feeding or breeding. Then, once you have determined where they are feeding, where they are drinking and, where they are bedding, all you have to do is determine where to set up your stand or blind.
But, before you can do, you must first know what it is you are doing and thus, another wise first step is to locate either public land or private land which you have permission to hunt and then gain an idea of where to start looking on that land. So, in order to accomplish this task, the best solution is to use Google Earth because it enables you to view real-time satellite images of almost any place on the planet in great detail via the zoom feature which, in turn, enables you to not only see the topography, it also enables you to see the foliage. Thus, you can use this invaluable tool to note possible food sources such as agricultural fields and possible bedding areas such dense thickets as well as any wooded corridors that connect the two.
Then, once you have scouted your chosen location via Google Earth, the next step is to focus on finding one or more favored food sources as well as finding favored bedding areas by physically scouting the area you intend to hunt. However, it is important to be aware that deer fodder varies widely by both location and time of year and thus, it is imperative that all deer hunters first become familiar with the type of plants that the deer in their area like to eat. But, this can be somewhat problematic since deer have been recorded eating over six hundred different species of plants!
So, to start with, you must understand that deer are herbivores and thus, they eat plants and, only plants. Also, the plants that deer choose to eat are classified as either “browse” or “mast”. In addition, browse consists of both Annual and Perennial plant species such as wheat, rye, millet, milo, corn, clover, beans, peas, etcetera, while mast consists of fruit and nuts that fall from the trees during the fall months. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the type of browse and mast that is available to deer often changes from month to month and even with the time of the month as well as with location and type of habitat.
Furthermore, you also need to be aware that the location of preferred deer foods is often widely scattered and thus, they tend to move from location to location throughout the year as the seasons progress. Therefore, any given source of deer food may or may not be visited that day by members of the local deer population. However, if you know the location of all of the food sources in the area in relation to the position of their bedding areas, then you can extrapolate the likely routes of travel to and from their bedding and feeding areas by taking into account the terrain as well as the location and type of cover available in the area.
Next, once you have located several favored fall food sources in your hunting area, you will need to carefully examine each location to see if there are any active signs of feeding such as hoof prints, sheared plant stems and/or tree limb tips, and/or deer droppings. If so, then the next step is to carefully scout the perimeter around the food source to see if you can identify any distinct trails that will lead you to their beds. However, even with careful examination, you will often find that there are no distinct trails immediately surrounding food sources which is often done purposely by the deer as a security measure to confuse predators. Furthermore, deer have widely varied diets and thus, as mentioned above, while they may visit one or more chosen food source daily, they may only visit others occasionally.
Fortunately, unlike bears, mountain lions, and coyotes, modern human hunters have access to modern tools such as Google Earth and, thanks to modern electronic printers, a hunter can carry a printed satellite image of the area he intends to hunt with him into the field in order to aid him in locating copses of dense foliage which might serve as safe bedding areas. In fact, in many hunters’ opinion, finding the bedding areas is even more important than finding the food sources because suitable bedding locations are the more scarce of the two resources in any habitat range. Plus, bedding areas tends to concentrate deer in a particular location. Therefore, because bedding areas are prime real estate, the deer will return to them over and over again at the end of each day. In addition, it should be noted that ultra wary, mature, bucks spend more of their daylight hours in bedding areas than they do in any other location. Last, a prime bedding area is usually far more clearly defined than a food source and thus, locating bedding areas can help you narrow down a given buck's location when he is not feeding or breeding. So, you can see why so many experienced hunters feel that finding the deer’s bedding areas is even more important than finding their favored food sources.
But, what constitutes a prime deer bedding area you might ask? Well, the answer to that question is dependent on your location and your terrain. For instance, Eastern deer hunters look for areas of dense underbrush in hardwood forests while Northern hunters will often find deer bedded down in pine thickets and Western hunters will often find them bedded down anywhere they can find shelter from the sun, the wind, or the snow such as tall grass, sagebrush thickets, or sparse stands of pine trees. Thus, in order to recognize a good bedding area, you first have to learn to think like a deer which means that you first have to become convinced that everything that moves is a potential predator. Therefore, if you were a deer who was looking for a safe bed, you would look for a place that would enable you to either see or hear any predator approaching while also providing you several different escape routes. Last, when hunting in the Northeast or Southeast, it should be noted that frequently used bedding areas will often be easy to recognize because, unlike favored food sources, there will often be well worn trails that provide the deer with ingress and egress to their beds.
In addition, for hunters who pursue deer in arid climates, water is often as precious a resource as readily available food sources and safe bedding areas and thus, locating a source of fresh water in the vicinity of both good bedding areas and preferred food sources can be like finding a gold mine because deer will often visit sources of fresh water in the morning before heading out to feed and in the evening before returning to their bedding areas. Thus, setting up a stand or a blind near a natural seep or spring or, adjacent to a stock pond or water trough is often a very productive strategy.
Of course, deer also have to have a safe means of traveling from their bedding areas to their feeding areas and water holes and these safe travel routes are called “travel corridors”. Thus, when scouting your intended hunting area both via Google Earth and physically, it is also important to locate and note any safe travel corridors that provide the deer with concealment while traveling from their bedding areas to their feeding areas and/or watering holes and then back again because travel corridors funnel and concentrate deer movement and thus, they make excellent ambush points.
Last but not least, there are two other prominent deer signs that should be noted which consist of “rubs” and “scrapes” where a “rub” is defined as a small sapling against which a buck has rubbed his antlers in order to remove the velvet which, in turn, leaves behind a section of the sapling’s trunk which is devoid of bark and, a “scrape” which is defined as a section of the ground which has been scraped clear and then urinated on by a mature buck in order to advertise his presence to any does in the area. Thus, it is also important to look for these sings when scouting your hunting area because they not only indicate the presence of a mature buck, a buck will often follow a trail when leaving scrapes and thus, scrape lines make an excellent place to set up a tree stand or ground blind.
So, in order to properly scout any potential hunting area, you should first start with Google Earth as mentioned above and then progress to a physical examination of the area you intend to hunt while keeping in mind that the main features you are looking for are food sources, water sources, bedding areas, travel corridors, trails, rubs, scrapes, and then, once you have located both the food sources and the bedding areas, you can choose an appropriate place to set up your tree stand or ground blind in order to ambush any deer traveling between the two locations.
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