By Erik Barber
After hunting hard for days without any close encounters, I snoozed my alarm when raindrops discouraged me from starting early on Nov. 5, 2017. The rain ended by 9 a.m., just as I started scouting a new piece of public land.
As I explored, I noticed several scrapes near fresh rubs with bark shavings beneath the tree. The sign was fresh, so I hung my treestand in a white oak, hoping the culprit that tore the tree apart would return soon. After several hours on stand, I saw an 8-point buck sauntering toward the scrape. I stopped him with a soft mouth grunt, released my arrow, and spent the afternoon dragging a beautiful whitetail out of the hills in Wisconsin’s Driftless region.
The above hunt is a good example of effective speed scouting. In the whitetail world, “MRI” means “most recent information,” and often describes fresh sign left by bucks. In-season scouting can help bowhunters identify concentrations of beds, rubs, tracks and scrapes to pinpoint hotspots. Intel learned from speed scouting helps mobile hunters invest more time on stand in a buck’s core area. Let’s discuss a few do’s and don’ts for your next scouting mission.
Beautiful bluebird days might seem the perfect time to hike the woods, but rain or snow offer better conditions for speed scouting. Precipitation turns dry, crunchy leaves into a damp, silent carpet that’s ideal for sneaking into a buck’s bedroom. You can walk silently through the timber as rain or snow washes away your scent, virtually eliminating all evidence of your presence. Gusty winds are a bonus, providing cover noise to keep you undetected in bedding areas.
Deciphering sign left by bucks is a fascinating part of bowhunting. In the above example, bark shavings atop fallen leaves told me the rub was fresh. Clues like shavings or oozing sap from a buck rub help estimate its age. Aging sign is important because as autumn unfolds and the rut arrives, the number of rubs is much greater than in September. And if you find leaves in a scrape, it likely wasn’t freshened recently. If you can’t age sign reliably, you might waste a hunt on areas deer haven’t visited recently.
If you’re bogged down by a bulky, heavy treestand that clangs on branches and rides like a linebacker’s cowboy collar, you’ll get frustrated and soon quit your attempts to speed-scout. Bowhunters have more mobile solutions than ever. You can wear a tree saddle around your waist or carry it inside a backpack, eliminating a treestand’s bulk and weight. Further, newer treestands weigh 12 pounds and lighter. You can also store your gear in a frame pack, or drape a fanny pack from your platform to reduce clutter.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed while scouting new areas. Start by studying maps and identifying areas you’d like to explore. That helps eliminate dead zones and focus your scouting. Also set goals for each scouting trip. In the example above, I intended to find fresh sign and set up to hunt later that day.
You don’t need to turn every speed-scout into a hunt. If laws let you leave blinds or treestands in the woods overnight on public land, speed scouting is a great way to set up now and return later to hunt. That’s especially effective when setting up several ambush sites during out-of-state hunts.
When you master speed scouting, you’ll focus more bowhunting effort on sites deer actively use at specific times during the season. Notes and data from last year’s trail-camera photos are certainly effective, but speed scouting produces real-time intel that helps you punch tags and put venison in the freezer.