Feeling like a mustang about to bust out of the gate at full speed? The anticipation of finding sheds is exciting, but nothing should hold you back from getting a jump start for next fall. It’s time to get stomping, and for a different post-season perspective, I cashed in on a phone-a-friend.
Between his business with podcasting, content creating, and being the best dad he can be, Dan Johnson, host of the Nine Fingers Chronicles Podcast, was happy to drop some knowledge for us to enjoy. This guy knows whitetails, and you’ll find that what he says will fit right into your bucket of strategies.
Get Out Now
Some ideas fly around social media on the right timing for walking around the woods post-season. Start time is even more of a sore subject when shed antlers get thrown into the mix. Lucky for us, Dan doesn’t care much about what people on social media think.
“You’ve got to get out now. Post-season scouting isn’t all about sheds. The effort placed into post-season scouting holds more weight than most hunters realize. Right now is the perfect time to walk around the woods. All the ground you’ll cover is bare, and trails are defined. It’s also easy to see other deer sign from a distance in the surrounding terrain.”
“A little snow really helps to follow deer around. Snow could mean a change in the way deer move or the food they will eat. The thing about starting post-season scouting early is that you’ll have time to learn. If you start now, you won’t feel like you’re wasting time following deer tracks. Those tracks on the ground will tell you so much about how a deer thinks if you keep chasing them.”
Stack the Intel
I often wonder how many pieces to the puzzle need to be put together to have a successful fall. Some seasons make it seem easy, while others feel like you can’t catch a break. Dan sold his thoughts on compiling intel in the following ideas.
“Your scouting is a slow stacking of odds. This spring, look for edges because that’s where deer live and move. Your goal should be to find sign made not only this past season but also for a few years prior. The more history you can find in one place, the better the chance of a repeat story. Stacking the intel needs to cover a wide range of things. What happened when you hunted there this past season? How many years of rubs and scrapes can you find? Do deer continue to use the same old crossings and trails? What about trail cam intel? Have you soaked a camera in there for a while? Keep notes and pair all your findings with a map, and you’ll begin to recognize patterns that will help you know what to do next.
Project the Data
Now that you’ve begun to compile data or have built a well-rounded history, the scene will start to make sense with the more time that elapses. Dan’s broad scouting approach is much like a day on a smallmouth lake. Find what the fish are doing and replicate that pattern on the rest of the lake.
“Scouting and finding success boils down to wash, rinse, and repeat. The principals that worked for you in one location, well, you will want to pay those forward. It makes sense to apply those tactics to areas similar to something that worked before. As mentioned earlier, now is a time to pair the sign, terrain, and mapping together. Find that sign that pops. Even in southern states, deer sign is more defined than it will be at any other time of year. Now is the best time to replicate things that worked for you in the past or to repeat a strategy you suspect will have a good outcome.”
Go Against the Grain
Scouting, research, and deer sign are invaluable. Overlooking them is a mistake. But hunters should also pay close attention to their gut feelings.
If a spot isn’t showing you obvious sign, but something about it speaks to you, give it a go. With maturity as a hunter, Dan has learned to trust his gut.
“So many times, the makings of a good hunt start with a gut feeling. In my younger years, I may have skipped scouting land that didn’t have much sign as soon as I exited my truck. Now I hunt smarter. Ever think about this? Deer live outside all year long! Scrapes that you find during post-season scouting missions are great. But what do they mean? Most of the time, scrapes are where does are. They are where bucks expect to find something specific. How about the locations bucks live? There might not be intense sign in those places. They are still worth investigating. You don’t know what you don’t know, but observing is always necessary.”
Putting it All Together
We all need a finisher, something that makes us know we’re prepared well in advance. Dan had some great parting thoughts on how to bring your post-season into the new season.
“Scout a lot, and then don’t scout at all. You’ll always need to consider subtle adjustments. Food changes and crop rotations will be different. Remember, deer move throughout the year, but the only reason to re-visit something you’ve scouted in the post-season is to smooth out the details you need to clinch the title. Scouting is finding; hunting verifies that what you saw is accurate. All hunts may not end in a dead buck, but you will succeed more when you put the work in upfront to document, stack data, and refine your conclusions.”