August 17, 2016
Summer scouting seems simple enough. For most of us it involves sitting back, often in a truck, and staring through a spotting scope at a bachelor group of bucks feeding in a field or a food plot. Depending on where you live, that might be reality.
When I've hunted whitetails out west, I've found that glassing them - even on public land - is usually a pretty easy affair.
Closer to my home in Minnesota, or across the river in northern Wisconsin where I hunt, it's not so simple. Here, the fields are smaller and the hunting pressure is more intense. That means the scouting pressure is more intense as well.
Instead of just sitting back in my truck with a window-mounted spotting scope, I need to get out and sneak into a position to glass. This usually involves watching a secluded corner of a bean field or maybe a low spot in an alfalfa field where the bucks feel like they are less visible.
Naturally, with this more intrusive style of scouting my chances of busting bucks increases greatly. And bust them I have. Many, many times. That's why there are some things I try to avoid when I'm looking to get eyeballs on a group of velvet-racked bucks.
When bachelor groups find a place to feed where they can't get spotted easily, they'll feed there. This is one of the reasons why food plots are so popular these days - we can create them where the deer already feel secure. This is not the case with agricultural fields, but that doesn't mean the deer won't find tucked-away spots on commercially planted ground either, because they will.
When the bucks do settle into a specific low spot or around-the-bend corner of a field, spotting them can get tough. Sneaking in with optics is a possibility, but it's best to consider this closer to a hunting mission than a scouting mission. Camo up, play the wind, and summon your inner-ninja to stay as stealthy as possible.
The goal of summer glassing isn't just to ogle impressive headgear. It should also involve figuring out how the owner of said headgear got to the field, and where he likes to be in the food source during legal shooting light. If you're a mile away and trying to figure this out, you might miss important clues.
Sure, you won't spook the deer by being too close, but if you don't learn anything other than a certain buck likes to feed in a certain field in the summer, you haven't learned much. And you could figure that out with a trail camera, so find the happy medium between being too close and too far, so that you can truly observe the comings and goings of the deer.
It's all about the bucks. The mature bucks, that is. When we set up the tripod and start staring, we are focused on finding big deer. That's okay, but don't forget about the rest of the herd. This is just like when you spot a bedded mule deer buck and decide the conditions are right for a stalk. The deer that blows that stalk might be your target buck, or it just might be the tiny two-by-two buck bedded 15 yards away from your dream deer. Non-target critters blow plenty of stalks, and they can also explode a scouting session.
If you choose a setup spot that gives you a good view of where a bachelor group might be, but also puts you into a position to get winded or spotted by passing does and fawns, it's no good. When they spook, they'll drag the field with them and all you'll see are white flags receding in the distance. This may not affect the bucks as much as if you spooked them directly, but it doesn't help. Pay attention to all of the deer and try to keep them in the all in the dark.
Avoiding A Pattern
The whole idea behind summer scouting is to pattern a mature buck. That's a good thing, but it's important not to slip into a pattern yourself. You might have a specific field you'll want to glass every night because you know you'll see deer, but what about the rest of your deer ground?
Two years ago I watched several bucks, including one beast of a 10-pointer that was creeping up on Booner status. The bucks were reliable, but they were also in a place that is notoriously hard to bowhunt (not-too-mention, often overrun with bowhunters). I knew the odds were slim to kill him there, even though I really, really liked watching him.
For a change of pace, one evening I slipped into a wooded point to watch an alfalfa field on the other end of the farm. As the evening progressed, the deer sightings remained underwhelming so I snuck around the point and checked an isolated pond just for the heck of it. Four bucks milled around the pond and all of them were big enough to make me happy.
Six days into the season I stalked and arrowed a buck on the edge of that same pond that weighed 214 pounds, field dressed - on September 19th. If I hadn't broken from my routine to check a few overlooked areas, I would have never hunted that spot and I never would have killed one of the biggest bucks of my life.
Last summer I was pondering on just how I'd watch a specific bean field in northern Wisconsin when I realized that I was standing right next to a buddy's elevated box blind. The blind, set up for rifle hunting, was a perfect spot to slip into and glass not only the field, but the tamarack swamp in which many of the deer were bedding. Aside from dealing with a wasps nest and having to do the not-so-manly, happy-hornet dance a few times, the evening was well spent.
If there's a spot you want to watch, figure out how to set up on it. We often dismiss hard-to-watch areas instead opting for trail cameras or not scouting at all, but there are plenty of times when we can get creative and get eyes on bucks that we'd otherwise not see.
As the archery season draws ever closer and the lure of velvet-racked bucks becomes too much to handle, consider how you'll scout, where you'll scout, and just what you'll do to keep the deer from knowing you're watching them. Avoid a few of the most common mistakes and you just might find yourself much closer to an opening weekend hero-shot session.