As most whitetail hunters know, there is no off season. There’s always something to be doing in regards to deer hunting during every part of the year. While it may not feel like you have anything to do in terms of preparing for the fall deer season, there is in fact, plenty to do.
Here’s why late-winter is far and away the best time to prepare and plan for a successful fall in the deer woods.
Deer Trail Identification
Finding and following trails that you may have never known about is one of the most exciting things about late-winter and early-spring scouting. Trails are easy to spot and follow, as they’ve been beaten into the mud and are usually covered in deer droppings. This is the one time of year many hunters venture deep into bedding areas and other places that are otherwise undiscovered. Mapping these trails out on Google Earth or other aerial/topo maps is a great way to understand the big picture and find new stand locations.
A heavy deer trail coming from a thick bedding area runs through the open hardwoods.
Again, late-winter is like rediscovering a property that you thought you knew everything about. Maybe it stemmed from a close encounter during the fall, an observation, or newly found trail, oak tree, or rub line. Whatever it is, every year there seems to be another place to hang a treestand, brush a blind in, or get a trail camera set. Typically, I will find these new stand locations while I’m out searching for shed antlers. When I do, I either mark them with tape or on a GPS App so I can find them at a later date. Rather than hanging treestands in the heat of the summer, hang them in spring when there’s still no foliage to compete with. Not only is it cooler, but it’s much easier to trim lanes and see what it will look like come fall.
Certainly this is an obvious and fun activity that many hunters indulge in every spring. Looking for shed antlers is basically the ultimate scouting method and, in many instances, is the cause of the first two topics – trail identification and new stand locations. There’s a lot to be learned from shed hunting, but the basic things learned from finding sheds include:
- knowing whether or not a buck has survived
- proof he visits/lives nearby
- how much he grew (if prior history)
- where he feeds, beds, or travels
- how big he really is
#ShedRally has begun! Here are 11 Advanced Shed Hunting Tips
Hinge cutting is the popular timber stand improvement process in which you saw half-way through a tree and then bend it over to the ground in order to provide living cover and browse for deer. While you can really hinge cut trees during any time of the year, winter is the best time. For one, the trees are dormant during the winter, thus, you’ll experience a better survival rate. Secondly, it’s comfortable working conditions – it’s not hot out, and there’s no bugs and leaves to annoy you all day. It’s also a lot easier to see what you’re doing and where the trees are falling in winter compared to the green jungle of summer. Also, you won’t be making any major disturbances close to hunting season. Lastly, hinge cutting during the winter allows time for deer to find and utilize these new sanctuary thickets and browse areas.
Read more about hinge cutting at qdma.com
Food Plot Planning
It always seems like food plot season sneaks up fast. One minute you’re searching for sheds and the next you’re throwing seed out. Take the time in February and March to figure out these key details of food plotting:
- Collect soil samples in time to add amendments prior to planting. (Click here to learn WHY and HOW you should be collecting your soil samples)
- What type of forage will you be planting in your food plots? And where? (Click here to find out what you should be planting in your food plots)
- How much seed will you need to purchase?
- Are you creating any new food plots this year? (Click here to learn how to design a killer food plot)
- What kind of site prep is needed?
- Who is planting the food plots? And when?
It’s important to have a good plan in place with regards to food plots before heading into spring. Use Google Earth to plan where, what, and how much you will plant.
Search for New Properties
Shed hunting and coyote hunting are the perfect opportunities to get out and explore new hunting land. Whether it’s scouting a new piece of public land or knocking on a few doors, your search for new properties should never end. Many times, landowners are more open to letting coyote hunters and shed hunters onto their property compared to deer hunters. Building relationships now may open some doors for the fall.
Use this time and these helpful tips to lock down a new piece of hunting ground for this fall.
I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I’m rushing to get things done at the last minute when it comes to deer hunting projects. Make this year the year of preparedness and try to get as much done during the winter and spring. If you do, I’ll bet that you’ll have a more successful hunting season.