Now is the time to explore your deer hunting property and scout for next year. Deer sign from this past fall, like rubs and scrapes, are great clues as to where you'll find deer next year. The following four tips should help you scout more effectively.
• Obtain maps and aerial photos of your hunting area.
Maps and aerial photos can cut your work in half. Look for natural funnels deer are forced through. Any section of woods with an hourglass shape is a good place to begin. Deer, especially mature bucks, will generally hang as tight to cover as possible while traveling. Funnels are often found along water edges and roadways. Look for areas where two corners meet, as well. Google Earth provides aerial views of any property you hunt.
• Locate water crossings
I often hunt along the edge of a good-sized creek. From my stand, I watch deer cross at the same spot day after day. They prefer to cross where they can keep their feet in contact with the bottom. Try to find these shallow crossings and plan to hunt there next fall.
The edge of the creek I hunt separates a dense woods and an agricultural field. Deer cross the creek from the woods and hang near the bank, where my stand is, to scope out the field they're entering to feed. With their attention focused on the field in front of them, I am at a major advantage.
• Clear brush now
There is no reason to wait to clear brush and limbs from a potential stand or blind location. If brush or limbs need to be cleared, do it while there are no leaves. By clearing shooting lanes now, you may only have to slightly prune the area in the summer or fall. The less you have to disturb your hunting area close to the beginning of the season the better.
• Locate other hunters' stand locations
This may be the most important tip of them all. If you are hunting a piece of land that hosts more hunters than yourself, then you need to know where these people are spending their time. Many hunters will either leave their stands up all year or come back for them in the spring, but even if the stands are down you can often find another's treestand location by locating trees with sawed off branches or cleared shooting lanes.
Try to figure out how these hunters are entering and exiting these stands. Knowing where others are at is important for safety, but also keeps everyone out of each other's way and happy.
A smart hunter uses other hunters to their advantage. Figure out where you can locate yourself to allow the competition to push deer past you. Look for places to hunt downwind from their locations and know the escape routes deer will take away from those areas.
Hopefully these tips will help you in your efforts to prepare for next year's deer season. Don't rely on luck. Get out there and examine your property. You may have that "ah-ha" moment that leads to your success next year.
See you down the trail ...
Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.