By: Quinn Keon
I hunted a new piece of private land…yes, I said private land…a couple nights ago. It was an amazing adventure. I was prepared to shoot one of the 11 adult does that were there but when the 12th one finally was nearing in the low light, I saw a small set of antlers on its head. This 4-point walked within 8 feet of me and I was on the ground! That was quite an experience. He jumped back to about 10 yards and assessed me for a few minutes before he decided to run back into the cover with his buddy. I was unable to find the time to scout this property before season and decided to just hunt it in the afternoon during October. Hunting a property truly is the best scouting anyway and had I been there sooner I would have just dripped my sweat all over the place in the 90 degree heat. Instead I was there in 20mph winds to cover my noise and got settled in just as the wind was dying down that evening. Perfect!
I will typically see more deer on a property the first time that I hunt it. My first sit of the season at any location is usually the best. I’ve got some areas that I leave alone until the pre-rut. No scouting, no cameras, no human pressure at all. My first day in these locations is usually impressive. Scouting these properties would tell you nothing as there is typically little buck sign. However, hunting these properties has shown a repeating pattern year after year which is why I only hunt them the one week that they are best.
My favorite time to scout is immediately after season…after all the seasons…so I am not pushing deer off my property to another hunter. Scouting after the season shows me where the deer were during the season. Pre-season scouting is not always accurate as the deer change their travel habits once the leaves drop, fields get harvested, acorns and apples are gone, etc. I like to scout for deer sign but it is not always essential and if done at the wrong time or in the wrong conditions may ruin your hunt. Like I mentioned before, 90 degree heat dripping sweat all over the vegetation is a sure way to drive deer off your land for a long time. Remember, the more times you visit a property, the less your chances of shooting a deer. Cool mornings after the deer have bedded and a good breeze is blowing are best. No sweat, suppressed noise, and the ability to control the direction of your scent are all important. If you find that you cannot scout earlier in the season under proper conditions then just don’t! Instead go out during the season and enjoy your first hunt.
I learn more about deer movement from hunting than I ever could from scouting or trail cameras. When I hunt a new area I typically use my Lone Wolf climber. I arrive early, pick a tree, and set up. It usually takes me 2-3 years to learn a new hunting location. The climbing stand allows me to move around and not have to re-visit later to move or remove equipment. When I see deer I chart where I saw them using Google Earth and I draw lines showing their movement. When several lines begin to populate an area I know where I need to be hunting. It’s easy to look at food and cover to determine a starting location but more times than not the deer surprise me and move where I did not expect them to. I’ve got a few “big woods” environments that I hunt and there the food/cover scenario is out the window completely. Areas like this require me years to figure out as the deer change their travel routes every year. The cycles of the woods are still a mystery to me but I have been able to get within shot range year after year based on several years of observation and sometimes luck.
I love exploring new places and honestly that is one of my favorite parts about deer hunting. Even if I had one amazing property to hunt that consistently produced deer I would still explore new land. I get such a rush from being in new environments, connecting the dots, and challenging myself to get within bow range of deer. I use Google Earth to locate and mark new areas to explore. As an example, there is a state game area south of me that I have never set foot in. In that area I have 36 spots marked that I feel could produce deer within bow range. I have hundreds of markers all over the state. I’ll likely never explore them all but sometime I may load my vehicle up with family and friends, drive to one of these areas, drop off one hunter at each location and tell them, “Don’t scout it, just hunt it.”