Scouting trips during the hunting off season are a no-brainer. Here's why.
The 2013 deer hunting season is a mere memory, and regardless of how you did - whether you filled your tag or went home empty-handed - it's almost time to let all of that go and start laying the groundwork for next hunting season.
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With the weather warming up and the woods and fields finally starting to thaw out, this time of year makes for great opportunities to set aside a weekend and scout your favorite hunting properties. Some hunters don't recognize the importance of these post-season scouting trips, but they can be incredibly valuable for numerous reasons.
Here are 10 arguments for why you should leave behind the armchair and the hunting-related reading material for a day or two and get outside to walk your hunting plots.
View the slideshow to see the reasons scouting trips are so valuable.
1. You can find out which deer survived the winter and which didn't
After any winter - especially a bitter cold one like this - it's important to scout your properties and take stock of the deer that actually made it and those who didn't.
Looking for signs of deer activity - including tracks, trails, antler sheds, trail camera sightings, and in-person sightings - can help you get an idea of how many deer your favorite properties are still hosting. You may find that the herd is exactly as you left it last fall, intact and ready for another year. You may also find that a few of your target bucks have succumbed to starvation and given up the fight, and in that case, it's okay to mourn your loss for a minute if and when you come across the remains of a deer carcass.
You may even find that the herd that used to live on your property has packed up and moved on to find an area more rife with food sources or cover. Regardless of which category your situation falls into, there's no better way to find out than heading out for a scout.
2. You can start ranking your properties and planning out your season
The size of the deer herds on your property is almost directly proportional to how you rank that property in terms of potential hunting season success. Instead of being one of those hunters who gives prime attention to the same property year after year, you need to reconsider your property rankings with every passing season.
Scouting sessions that tell you about the health of the deer herds on your property can give you 90 percent of the information you need to know for property ranking. If the herd is healthy, the property will likely deserve a fair amount of your attention come the fall. If the herd has died out or moved on, you might consider removing the property from your list entirely.
3. It gives you insight into hotspots of deer activity
The later in the year it gets, the more risky it becomes to scout certain deer activity hot spots. You don't want to wander too close to feeding spots or bedding areas for fear of spooking deer and botching your entire hunting season as a result.
If you take your scouting trip in March or April however, no rifle in hand and posing no obvious threat, you will have a better chance to make sly observations about your deer property without spooking the herd. Even if you do disturb a deer or two on your quests to find activity hotspots, you're still scouting enough ahead of time that no deer is still going to have their guard up come October or November.
4. It gives you a chance to map out deer movement patterns
So why should you scout out hot spots of deer activity? To map out deer movement patterns, of course.
When you know where the bucks and does are sleeping, eating, and drinking, you can get a pretty concrete idea of how they are traveling from one point to the next. Once you know these movement patterns, you will know where and how to spring your traps. By scouting now, you might even be able to see deer trails laid out clearly in the snow.
5. It helps you plan your stand locations
Once you have mapped out the deer travel corridors on your property, you can start looking for trees where you can situate your stand. Some hunters even support the idea of hanging their stands in the spring - preferably March or April once the snow is gone for good and the trees are starting to bloom.
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Since hanging your stands can cause quite the racket, it might not be the worst idea to do it early and arouse the suspicion of deer in the spring rather than in the summer. The more time you give yourself between this noisy disturbance and opening day, the better off you'll be.
6. It can give you a better idea of treestand vantage points
Want to know another reason why hanging your stands early is a good idea? It gives you a chance to better envision your sight lines as they will be in the late fall and early winter. Picking a good tree in the summer is very difficult because of all of the foliage blocking your view. By trying out trees before the leaves have bloomed fully, you can know where sight lines are good, where they are bad, and where they need simple adjustments.
7. You can trim sight lines and make other preparations without disturbing your property
Speaking of sight lines, the spring is the perfect time to trim branches and foliage around your treestand without arousing too much suspicion from deer.
Just make sure you have that clear shot you want from your stand to the trail where bucks and does are going to be walking past.
8. You have the time to think about wind directions
Every hunter knows how detrimental the wind can be to their chances at success. By not considering the wind, you can stumble into a situation where you are betraying your scent to your target buck from miles away.
However, when fall comes around, hunters don't always have time to think long and hard about how different wind directions might impact how they approach their treestand. On your spring scouting trip, think about your stand locations, think about the wind, and then combine those two considerations to map out different approach paths depending on wind speeds and directions.
9. It provides a low-risk opportunity to set up a trail camera
Just like hanging a treestand, scouting bedding areas, or trimming sight lines, setting up a trail camera is safer the further you are from hunting season. When you set up a camera, you leave you scent behind, and you can bet that deer will notice.
When you set it up early, you give yourself time for the scent to wear off. Furthermore, you are going to want your trail camera hung up anyway so that you can continue scouting the deer activity on your property even when you aren't there.
10. You might even stumble upon some sheds
Consider it a reward for your work or an extra incentive to go outside. By scouting your deer property, you might also be able to recover a shed or two. Not only are these antlers a nice souvenir to have, they are also signs that the bucks on your property have survived to grow another pair.