Second to hunting during season, my favorite time to be in the woods is during post season scouting. It’s a time where I am scouting new places I have marked up on a topographical map, and pushing the limit on buck beds and core areas I have already hunted. I love this time because it’s the only period other than hunting season, where I allow myself to step foot on these core areas, as far as observing the specific and exact beds of target animals. I use this time to observe why the buck is bedded in this specific location, and what are his travel patterns when he enters and leaves his specific bed. It’s a phase where I truly turn my gears to think exactly like the buck, going as far as getting down in his bed and determining his every move centered around the bed as the focal point.
The best part of scouting during the months of February-March is the majority of bucks are back in their core areas where they will be living during hunting season come fall. The hunting pressure has been absent for a while, and most deer will be back in a routine of some sort. A pattern very similar to the one they will be using come September-October. It’s a phase to be aggressive, get into these core areas, observe the pattern, and document it for the upcoming hunting season. I like to focus on different scenarios for any given wind condition. The wind direction will ALWAYS dictate where the target animal will bed. Because of this, I like to have multiple scenarios and options available for any given condition. This allows me to make certain I have the option to observe or perform a kill strike under any given wind condition, N, S, E, or W. I document each specific target animal, blueprint of its habits, and store it in my arsenal for the upcoming season.
Detailed Tactics via Topographical Scouting
As I have discussed before, a mature buck in hill country will always bed along the upper 1/3 of a ridge, on the leeward side, and typically around a point. During the winter months, a prevailing wind out of the north is most common. Because of this, the core areas and bedding along a south facing slope are most commonly used during this time. These are the areas you are going to find heavily used beds and hot, fresh sign. The topographical map below represents a very simple example of something I would look for while studying a map. The blue arrow represents a common prevailing wind out of the north. The red line represents potential bedding all along the upper 1/3 south facing slope of the ridge. The orange dot represents where I would expect to find the most mature buck bedding on this particular ridge. The green arrows display the general travel path deer are going to use when coming off the ridge bedding and accessing the agriculture food source. This is a very simple but picture perfect example of the specific scenarios I target my scouting around this time of year.
How This Applies to Shed Hunting
I am sure by now you are saying, “All this talk about scouting, I just want to walk out there and find some antlers!” Well fortunately, finding shed antlers is a direct consequence of applying these scouting strategies. When I go into a ridge like I have sketched on, the first place I am going will be the buck beds on the upper 1/3 of the ridge. I will start at the point and work my way down the upper 1/3 from there. As I have stated in my past articles and blogs, the point is the most common area to find the dominant bucks core bed. This is because the point allows the animal to shift with changing winds by using very minimal movement. The buck will bed around the point and make certain to stay leeward on the ridge. As I walk down the upper 1/3 I am looking for other buck beds in the area. Once I identify the buck beds, I am going to take my time observing the beds and patterns that will be used when leaving the bed, point A, and travelling to food, point B.
These patterns will be noted by observing fresh and hot sign in the area. When a core bed is identified, the fresh signing coming into and leaving the bed will be undoubtedly noticeable. If this is a heavily used ridge, by this point in time I have already scooped up a few shed antlers. I am now going to begin walking out this fresh sign leaving the beds and heading towards the food source, point B. I take my time during this process, observing every trail, track, rub, or scrape I can find. The sign close to these core bedding areas is critical. A track I can lay 4 fingers in, rub as tall as my chest, or licking branch a foot over my head tells me that a mature animal is living in an area. Finding his sheds is just a bonus to me, identifying these mature target animals and their living pattern is most important.
For many years, I aimlessly wandered around the woods throughout the months of January and February in search of the elusive whitetail shed antler. First off, the majority of bucks do not even shed their antlers until March, and most importantly I was not applying the tactics described in this article. Start your scouting the end of February and into March and continue through early April. Apply the methods I have described and you will not only find shed antlers, but most importantly locate target bucks and document their living behaviors to help fill your buck tag this fall. If you have any questions over any of this, feel free to reach out to me anytime.