Low Impact, Late Summer Scouting for 'Heartland' Bruisers
As the summer of 2015 begins to wind down, the thoughts of many are turning to baseball pennant races, the opening of NFL and NCAA football training camps, the start of back-to-school shopping chores or traveling for one last gasp family vacation to the mountains or the beach.
But for hardcore deer hunters like Michael Hunsucker and Shawn Luchtel, co-hosts of Outdoor Channel's Heartland Bowhunter television show, late summer is all about getting ready for the approaching fall archery campaigns for big, mature white-tailed deer.
Which is why you'll find both hunters – not to mention the rest of the HB hunting and filming crew – turning up their deer scouting chores a notch or two as the calendar flips to the month of August.
"I'm a huge proponent of (late summertime) scouting," said Hunsucker. "But I believe in doing so from the outside looking in as opposed to going in, hunting hard (early in the season) and blowing out a spot."
What does Hunsucker mean when referencing his outside looking in scouting philosophy?
Simply that he will do all that he can to avoid tipping off a deer – even in the depths of summertime – that said buck is on Hunsucker's hunting radar screen.
The first way that Hunsucker and the HB crew accomplish that mission is by still utilizing the old school method of sitting near a green row-crop field on a late summer evening as deer come out and begin to feed.
With a pair of high-quality Bushnell optics in hand, Hunsucker will painstakingly glass a field and take notes as he observes fuzzy-antler bucks coming out, eating a bit and lolly gagging around in lazy bachelor buck fashion.
Even though such endeavors are something of a page from bowhunting's not to distant past, there will still be summertime evenings where Hunsucker has bought a back-row ticket for the early evening song and dance routine of whitetails moving in and out of a corn or soybean field.
"To me, it's the single most important thing," said Hunsucker. "Scouting is the biggest tool for killing big deer in the early season."
A second way that Hunsucker achieves desired low impact yet strategic scouting intelligence is by going new school with numerous game cameras placed around the farms that he hunts.
"Trail cameras have changed the way that we scout to a great degree," said Hunsucker. "By using mobile cameras, we're able to monitor spots without even going in to check a camera."
While some hunters only use their cameras just prior to and during the hunting season itself, Hunsucker finds value in running them continuously.
"We run cameras pretty much year round, although we obviously don't run all of them all of the time," he said. "Typically, mid to late July is when I get pretty serious about running more and more trail cameras."
Those mid to late summer photos from Hunsucker's Reconyx game cameras do the same thing – in a less obtrusive manner – that traditional field glassing sessions do.
"I get excited when I check the cards to see what bucks have made it through from last year to this one, how they are progressing, etc.," said Hunsucker.
"You can't tell their full potential for the upcoming season until you get to August, so about August 1, I get real serious about our cameras and what they are showing."
How many cameras is a good number for a hunter to press into use before the season begins?
"That depends on the farm that you are hunting," laughed Hunsucker. "But in my mind, you can't have too many cameras out."
That being said, Hunsucker does caution bowhunters to avoid a common mistake that many hunters make with their game cameras.
"The only time that a lot of cameras hurts what you are doing is when you are checking them too often and disturbing the deer on the property," he said.
"All of the pictures are good and all of the information gleaned from the pictures is good. But you have to balance that with how much disturbance it takes to get those results."
How can a hunter correctly utilize the game cameras on his or her hunting property?
"Early in the season, put your cameras in places that are easy to access with either a vehicle or a buggy of some sort," said Hunsucker. "That way, you can pull into the spot where the camera is, trade out (SD) cards and get out of there without disturbing things too much."
The goal is always to get as much Intel as a hunter can, all in a manner that never allows a buck to know such information is being gathered by the hunter.
If getting such camera data is too difficult for a particular spot, or for those hunters who simply have to get out and look around a bit as the season approaches, the old school method of field glassing still works well.
Which is why late summer days will often find Hunsucker grabbing a pair of binoculars, finding a shadowy spot downwind from a row-crop agricultural field, and starting to observe and watch the evening show.
"We still get out and start glassing for bucks in mid to late summer, especially on bean fields," said Hunsucker. "It's still a good method to get out there and observe. And it's definitely an evening thing, just like most hunting is during the early season."
But such evenings are well spent, whether observing quietly from afar with a pair of binoculars or in gleaning photos and data from a treasure trove of photo SD cards pulled from a game camera.
Because the desired result of all of this isn't a chance encounter with a big, mature buck sometime later this fall. It's a carefully orchestrated appointment made weeks and even months in advance, deep in the Midwestern heartland of America's best overall ground for finding another grand whitetail bowhunting adventure.