By Bob Humphrey
There’s no question, pre-season scouting is a key element to being a consistently successful deer hunter - luck being a more important element for the inconsistently successful hunter. The more time you spend in the woods before season, the less you’ll have to spend when the season opens. But when you scout can sometimes be just as important as how much you scout. And that applies to scouting both too early and too late.
The “too late” part is fairly obvious. Wait too long and you won’t have sufficient time to scout thoroughly. You’ll be in a hurry. You’ll miss things and you may cause excess disturbance trying to make up for lost time. Most recent information is the best, but you also need a good foundation of less recent info to base your hunting plans on.
However, scouting too early could also be a waste of your precious time. Summer’s end is a time of relative ease. Food is plentiful. Does are still nursing, bucks are still growing antlers and both are seeking predominantly foods high in protein to fuel these demands. Deer aren’t moving much right now and when they do it’s usually within relatively small core areas - does with their young and bucks in male-only bachelor herds. All that is about to change rather abruptly.
Fall is a period of transition. Deer go through a lot of changes, sometimes in a very short time. As the days grow shorter, a surge in testosterone causes cessation of blood supply to the antlers. Velvet dies and falls off. Does begin weaning their fawns.
About the same time, the longer, cooler nights stimulate deer to shift their diet from growth-promoting high protein to the carbohydrates they’ll need to fatten up for the winter. Those clover and alfalfa fields you’ve been watching deer in for the last month are visited less frequently as deer shift to other food sources like corn, soybeans, soft mast, acorns or winter wheat. They also begin traveling increasingly farther from core areas, and moving later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon.
It’s important to know when this transition occurs because it marks the starting point for the most useful scouting information. Much of what you’ve observed up to this point isn’t going to do you a whole lot of good because the deer will change their daily patterns drastically over the next few weeks, before the season opens.
But how will you know when to ramp up your scouting? Over much of the whitetail’s range, this transition begins around late August and early September, but that can vary. The best indicator is when bucks shed their velvet. If you live in relatively open country, you’ll also be able to observe the change directly.
Of course if your season opens early, then most recent information is still the best, and what you’ve learned up to this point can still be helpful. But don’t stop scouting. Things will be changing on a daily basis and you need to keep scouting to keep up to date with them.