How to ... Start scouting now for whitetail bucks

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2013 - 9:04 AM

This group of bucks was found feeding in a soybean field during a late summer scouting trip.

Photo: Photos by Bill Marchel • Special to the Star Tribune,

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scouting tips

1. Try not to disturb deer during your scouting. Binoculars are a must, but a quality spotting scope can really help you “scope out” bucks from afar.

2. If you do find a nice buck during August scouting, don’t wait until hunting season to secure permission to hunt. Contact the landowner as soon as possible.

3. While summer scouting, watch where deer enter and leave a field. That information, plus the wind direction, can be invaluable for placing a deer stand or blind later.

4. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of acorns to deer. While summer scouting, keep an eye out for an oak ridge with a bumper crop of mast. When the acorns drop, the deer will be there. You should be, too.

– By this time of the summer, the antlers of whitetail bucks are at least three-fourths grown; in the coming weeks, the still-developing antlers will mature; and by the beginning of September, the soft velvet will begin to peel revealing the hard bone beneath.

What does this means to a deer hunter?

If you start scouting now, any bucks you find carry enough antler to predict — at least roughly — what the full grown racks will look like. Any odd antler characteristics such as drop tines or other unusual traits you notice now will be recognizable during hunting season this fall. Now, perhaps more than at any other time of the year, whitetail bucks can be found feeding during daylight hours and often in open farm fields. That includes even big, mature bucks.

During summer whitetail bucks often band together. Some hunters call the gatherings of the velvet-clad males “the boys of summer.” Spying from afar on these groups of bucks provides a great lesson in deer biology. During the fall rut, bucks express dominance by clashing together their antlers during all-out battles, or even just while sparring. Now, with their crowns still velvet-covered, their aggression toward one another is more subtle. Sometimes a dominant buck will approach his comrade with a sidling walk, a signal in the world of the whitetail to step aside. Other times a buck will display his superiority by laying back his ears and cocking his head like a belligerent dog.

Whitetails feed on a variety of native foods during late summer, but it seems they can’t resist an agricultural field of alfalfa or soybeans. Sometimes finding a group of feeding whitetails is as easy as cruising the back roads during the last hour or two before sunset, binoculars ready. The best fields, however, are those that are remote or at least over a hill or otherwise out of sight of roadways.

The opposite can also be true. Occasionally whitetails will feed unbothered along a busy highway or freeway. The deer become accustomed to heavy traffic and are seldom spooked, since few commuters ever notice them and fewer still pull over to watch.

Late-summer whitetails are most active on the day or days immediately after a passing storm front. When a summer cold front whisks away the sticky, humid air and a cool, dry breeze blows from the northwest, deer — just like humans — are energized and on their feet.

Before the mid-September archery deer opener, those bachelor groups of bucks will likely disperse somewhat as acorns begin to fall. So during your late summer deer scouting foray, use your binoculars to scan the oaks for acorns.

What fun it is to spot a large-antlered buck during an August scouting trip. Picture yourself following him through the intriguing velvet-shedding process and then ultimately watching as the monarch walks into your bow or gun sights this fall.


Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.


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