Is your New Year’s resolution to excel as a bow hunter? There’s no better time of year to kill your buck than the post-season. Of course, we don’t mean the physical shooting of a deer. But if you want to find the buck or the area that makes you happy, it’s time to get your boots on.
There are hundreds of ways to put yourself in the right situation. The four listed below will offer a good kick-off to get you started.
Edge Cover Transition
An edge is some of the best cover to find during post-season scouting missions. Edges come in all shapes and sizes, but the two basic forms are soft and hard transitions.
A soft edge is an area that holds two different habitats with almost seamless separation. They are tricky to find on satellite images because they lack definition. It may look like hardwoods that change to the mucky ground with slightly thickened cover before dumping into a full blown swamp. That middle of the road cover between the two worlds is where you’ll find the most concentrated deer sign. The transition I’ve described will often hold deer sign that relates to all phases of a hunting season. Take notes on the sign and its suspect timeline when walking these transitions. That will help you know when to target the specific waypoint for a hunt.
A hard edge made up of a defined seam. The easy way to describe an edge like this is a heavy pine forest that meets hardwoods. Their definition makes these edges very easy to find on satellite images. Learning how deer use a hard edge may be easier, but there will be fewer times of the season a deer will choose them. Hard edges tend to hold rutting sign and often cater to late-season action, so keep an eye out for fresh sheds!
Pre-Rut Hot Spots
Think about how bucks change from summer through the entire fall. They act like a couple of senior college fellas going to the gym to workout together. They spot each other and get themselves hyped to work harder, like a group of summer bucks. As time passes, some of the college gents get job interviews, and their focus shifts. They continue going to the gym, but it becomes less about the frat boy experience. Focus shifts to the task at hand, much like the buck anticipating the coming of the rut.
The best pre-rut hotspots often come from community scrapes tucked into cover. Most of the time, you’ll need more information to confirm dates and the best time to hunt them. This is where soaking a trail cam through a whole season comes into play. The scrapes to focus your hunts are the ones that have a burst of activity during the “October lull.” Generally around the 12th-16th of the month.
The activity should occur no matter the weather. It will often set up outside of doe bedding and should include sign you can trace in the direction of buck bedding. Via the trail cam, it will seem like bucks and does are playing phone tag and leaving messages for a callback.
Keep track of these dates and consider going straight to those areas the following year. Remember, history often repeats itself, but your chances are at their highest with similar conditions.
Cruising ground looks like more than plain unbroken timber tracts with random deer sign. The rut is your best bet if you plan to just walk into the woods, pick a tree, and hunt. What if you spent just a few hours searching for that needle in a haystack spot? For better rut hunting, go to that big unbroken track or a maze-like farmland piece. Get specific in your search for the perfect rut funnel, and keep that game plan during scouting trips. Deer sign can often lead you astray.
While deer will use an entire landscape and leave sign wherever they go, there are spots that they will use most. To find it, ask yourself the right questions when you see the evidence. Does the sign run through cover or on a terrain feature that makes deer travel through that spot? Is the sign related to the downwind side of doe bedding? Can traveling bucks smell scrape lines from a long way off? Why does that area seem ideal for a rut cruise
Take a look at scrape lines. They see a lot of action during the earlier parts of the fall. When bucks begin the active search for love, scrapes still see the action, but it isn’t the same. Instead of hitting licking branches, and working scrapes, bucks are reaping their investments. They are cruising downwind of those scrapes.
In big woods or mountain country, that might be a scrape line on a bench below a ridge edge or a saddle that connects one side of the ridge to the other. Bucks will travel the leeward side of the terrain and scent-check all those scrapes from afar.
Think about what that might mean in farmland. One of the most common places for a deer is field edges. Bucks prefer to avoid running to the middle of an open field. They will do it if a hot doe stands out there, but only to corral her back into the cover. A scrape line on a field edge can allow them to run interior timber to scent-check scrapes while remaining safe. Scout your rut zones by recognizing what makes sense for the buck that you assume is using it.
There isn’t much of a better funnel for bowhunting during any timeframe than a crossing. The formula doesn’t matter. You name it: trail crossings, creek crossings, fence crossings, ditches, rivers, powerline cuts. Crossings are easy to find, and scouting them with a bit of snow on the ground makes it even easier to see their definition.
Crossings have the most variety as far as hunting goes. Deer unfamiliar with an area are bound to use them, and the regulars will feel relaxed when using them on a pattern.
Because crossings may not border bedding ground, they can be low impact. They are likely places for daytime movement and are ideal for using a cell cam to keep tabs on the action.
For bow hunting, entering a season feeling prepared is one of the best confidence boosters time can buy. If you want to kill your best bucks consistently, start the process as soon as the last season ends.