Follow these three simple steps to make the most of your summer whitetail scouting sessions.
The problem with scouting whitetails during mid-summer is that the woods are as uninviting as they’ll be all year. From hordes of mosquitoes to chest-high patches of stinging nettles, the places where whitetails call home aren’t conducive to human comfort. Factor in the inevitable heat, humidity and occasional flash thunderstorm, and it’s easy to stay home.
The alternative is to do what most of us do these days, which is hang a few trail cameras and then head back to the air conditioning. Cameras are great, don’t get me wrong, but they won’t do all of the summer scouting work that needs to be done.
To really get a grasp on where your stands and blinds should go—and to get a first-hand look at the deer you’ll be likely to encounter from them—you need to get out into the woods and learn. Here’s how.
Before trail cameras became the number-one scouting tool, summertime scouting meant loading up the spotting scope and binoculars and tucking into an agricultural field for an evening of observation. This type of scouting has become less popular in recent years, but it’s hard to understand why.
After all, there is no better time to be able to observe mature bucks than right now. They’ll be sporting velvet racks, have plenty of company, and will navigate through the landscape with less caution than at any other time of the year. Simply watching a bachelor group for one evening can provide so many clues to mature buck movement, it’s invaluable.
You might see just which trail they use to enter a food source or watch as they meander along a fence line to a tucked-away waterhole. You might lay eyes on the biggest buck of your life and suddenly realize that he lives in the very woods you’ll be hunting, or you just might watch as several bucks feed for an hour in one tiny corner of an alfalfa field—the very corner you’ve never hunted because it never seemed as good as other spots.
Quick Tip: When glassing bachelor groups, take note of the wind direction and how they enter the fields. The same wind condition during the hunting season might result in similar deer movement, allowing you to set up where they’ll be.
Summertime glassing is a must for serious whitetail hunters, and it goes best if you have a decent spotting scope (on a tripod), and some binoculars. Camo up, play the wind and watch the deer do their thing.
You can’t glass every good deer spot. This is true of every property out there, but it’s a way of life on small properties—especially properties with no oversized food plots or agricultural fields. Sometimes you just have to wade into the thick stuff and take a look around.
Doing this in the summer is most beneficial if you spent some time earlier in the year winter or spring scouting. The knowledge gleaned from those trips can be used with what you find out now to put together a concise plan on where stands and blinds should go. If you got distracted last winter and didn’t scout, don’t worry. You can make up for it now.
Simply go into the places you’re curious about and take a hike. Cover as much ground as you can and take note of the pounded trails, or the abundance of deer tracks around a water source.
Quick Tip: If you’re going to hike into the deer cover on a scouting expedition, watch the weather and try to plan your trip during or immediately in front of a rain shower to erase your scent.
Carry flagging tape and reflective tacks when engaging in boots-on-the-ground summer scouting. If you find a spot that will work for a stand, you want to be able to return and set up a stand where it needs to be. This means that everything has to be marked well. I’m so paranoid about this that I usually mark the exact location on my smartphone as well, so that I have a backup.
While hiking through the timber, think of the deer season in its entirety and not just certain sections. We often go out looking for a place to set up on opening night, or a can’t-miss stand site or a rut funnel or pinch point to sit in early November, but there is a lot of season in-between those two times. There is also the late-season, which tends to be vastly different than any other hunting time.
Look at the summer woods with an eye toward each month of the season, so that when you find an interesting spot you can plan to hunt it when it should be the most productive. This is easy enough with field edges and waterholes, but it changes when you’re tucked into the thick stuff where October bucks might stage, or an overgrown homestead that might serve as a late-season, December sanctuary.
No matter what, mark your findings well and take notes so that when you return with stands in tow, you’ll be able to set up exactly where you want. That matters, a lot.
Hopefully, by now, you have a few cameras out and are ready to embark on the type of summer scouting that involves getting out there and spending some time in the woods. If you put together a glassing program with some deep-cover hikes, you should be able to identify some killer spots to hunt this season.
About the Author: Tony J. Peterson has written hundreds of articles for over two dozen national and local publications. Although he covers topics related to all forms of hunting and fishing, his passion lies in do-it-yourself bowhunting for whitetail deer and western big game. Peterson is an accomplished outdoor photographer and currently serves as the Equipment Editor for Bowhunter magazine and Bowhunter TV.