With deer season in the rearview mirror, you might ask yourself, “how can I be a productive hunter right now?” What’s most beneficial? Shed hunting, scouting, or maybe going ice fishing instead? It all depends on three things. What kind of property you hunt, how into details you want to get, and if you’re able to make sense of all the factors involved.
Multiple people have asked me about the benefits of winter scouting. But really, it’s not a simple question to answer. The answer largely revolves around what kind of property you’re able to hunt. But today, I’ll try to give some insight into this question.
The first thing you need to identify when scouting during the winter is what you’re looking for. When do you hunt the property? For example, let’s assume that whatever property you are scouting in February, you’ll be hunting during the rut in late October/early November. Your property might be loaded with late season food, so deer are using it more often then. In situations like this, I’ll start searching for sheds to see if I can identify any bucks that might be in the area. When hunting the rut, I like to know what caliber of bucks are running around in the general area. Even though bucks may not necessarily be living on your property during the early fall, they could use it during the rut.
There are other things to notice when scouting this time of year too. Keep your eyes peeled for scrapes and rubs if there isn’t a ton of snow on the ground. These might just give you a story to decipher. I’m particularly keen on finding these in multiples. A few rubs here and there doesn’t tell me much. But if I can find areas where rubs are plentiful, including rubs from years past, I figure that bucks are at least moving through the property during the fall when I would be hunting.
Winter scouting ultimately comes down to not taking anything for face value, and asking “why?” about everything. Let’s say you’re out taking a walk on your favorite piece of hunting ground and come across a big shed. Instead of just being excited that you found a big shed, ask yourself why it’s there. Why would that buck be in the area this time of year? Is it because of a particular food source? Does your property offer exceptional bedding? These questions can lead to more questions. Such as, do you have trail camera pictures of this buck during the fall? Or does he only show up during the winter? With every question you ask yourself, you can uncover more information that you may not have otherwise realized.
I think deer hunters too often head out to scout and get consumed with all the signs. They then think that’s exactly how it will be come November. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, they might find nothing in the winter and think the property is no good. I can’t emphasize this point enough: Don’t take anything at face value.
Things Aren’t Always As They Appear
I’m going to quickly run through a great example using a certain North Dakota property. It doesn’t look great in the winter, but becomes a great property to hunt come fall. This property is a small woodlot surrounded on all sides by crops. This sliver of timber is always good in the fall, but once the crops come out and the rut ends, the property dies off. There isn’t a lot of good thermal cover in the winter. A while after the crops come out, food dwindles, so the deer move on during the winter. If you were to walk this property in January or February, you’d think it’s an absolute ghost town. But when you dig deeper, you’re able to understand why.
Is winter scouting important to you? It all depends on how you approach it. It can be very useful, or it can be a waste of time. For me, if I’m able to analyze everything I find, I think scouting this time of year can prove to be useful. And let’s be honest, it’s a great excuse to spend time out in the woods, no matter the time of year.