Once the deer is in the freezer and the hunting equipment is put away many deer hunters lose interest in going to the woods. But, for the dedicated deer hunter, the next hunting season is just beginning. By now the weather has turned cold, the winds are blowing strong and the snow is deep in some areas. Walking through deer habitat at this time of the year is no longer and adventure, it's more of a chore. For adventurous deer addicts, who want to learn more about deer and deer habits, snow covered ground is like reading an open book.
Deer tracks are easily seen in the snow, and trails that were obscure are now very evident. What looked like matted down grass in the fall now proves to be a buck route, the drag marks of the buck's front hooves showing clearly. Following trails in the snow can eventually lead you to bedding areas, showing you where the big buck you couldn't find hid out during the hunting season. When you don't see him again next year you'll have a good idea where to find him. Trails can show you food sources the deer used during those inclement days when you sat on your stand without seeing anything. They can also show you escape routes you didn't know where there.
One of the best ways to locate the bucks you couldn't find during the hunting season is to glass feeding areas and scout for field sign after the rut or the hunting season is over. If you have rain or snow in your area, get out the door when the rain or snow lets up, and back-track the buck trails until you find their core areas and bedding sites. Then you'll know whereto find them next year.
Following buck trails along rub routes helps you pattern the buck well before the season. While the buck may not use the exact same trails in late winter as it does during the rubbing and scraping period, it will probably use the same gullies, roads and bottlenecks that offered it protection all year long. Once you know the buck's general route it is much easier to locate, pattern and hunt next year. If there are a number of does in the area some of the bucks may begin scraping again 20-30 days after the primary breeding period as the younger does come into estrous for the first time and older does that were not bred the first time experience a second estrous. In areas with low buck numbers (where a lot of does don't get bred) there may be a still another breeding period with more rubbing and scraping. While scrapes are difficult to detect under the snow, the bareness of the rubs are still evident on the trees. Following a buck trail from rub to rub is quite easy in the snow, and you may find some scrapes.
If you are really a whitetail addict you can watch the deer to learn their travel routes, and the times they use them. I like to choose a stand that overlooks a food source, open area or bottleneck. I pick one or two sites where I can see as much habitat as possible. A treestand overlooking a food source is an excellent spot. Any location that lets me see a long way, like a hill that overlooks bedding areas and travel lanes, is good. I do this a lot during the pre-rut to pattern the bucks. I also do it in the winter, because it cuts down on the amount of time I have to scout and observe in the fall, before the hunt. It doesn't take me long to figure out where to set up after I see a buck two or three times when I am scouting.
The more time and effort you spend scouting, observing and patterning deer after the hunting season, the less time you have to spend doing it before the next season. For those of you who look for shed antlers, winter scouting to locate rub routes and buck bedding areas is an excellent way to stumble across a shed.
This article is an excerpt from the Complete Whitetail Addict's Manual; Part 1 ($49.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog.