Scouting For Success: Spring Scouting for Fall Whitetails

Sunset over the ReservoirArticle by Contributing Writer J. Minich

Last week we had a gorgeous early spring day here in Central Pennsylvania.  Not one of those almost too-warm afternoons that brings everyone into frenzy, but a pleasantly mild 50-some degrees, truly my favorite weather.  I took the opportunity to head straight from work to scout for deer in the mountains.

Many folks shed hunt this time of year, which I somewhat do, but what I am really searching for is buck sign leftover from last fall’s rut.  During winter, the deer in this area herd up in thermal hemlock valleys which they don’t frequent nearly as much during hunting season, so shed hunting does not benefit me substantially. Early spring prior to green-up is a tremendous time to be searching for new spots.  I am looking for general areas with good deer concentrations, and next fall I will do stealth recon missions to verify there are bucks using the area and pinpoint stand locations. The combination of signs I look for are quite simple, yet require tuned-in observation to locate:  convergence of deer trails, typically on benches, saddles, and other map features; with scrapes and rubs (preferably big) in the vicinity; and, food (acorns) and bedding within easy reach.

Seeking more of these places to add to my maps, I climbed the ridge into a large clear-cut from which the PA DCNR had recently removed a deer exclosure fence (these fences are a sore subject, but I will save that for another day), in theory opening up a wealth of fresh browse in which I expected to find deer.  I was disappointed to find very little deer sign after scoping out a few square miles, so I cut my losses and headed back down the mountain.

Not having a plan, but with a couple hours of daylight on my side, I took off down the forest road and went for a drive, laying eyes on new ground and finding places to scout another day with more time.  To be successful in the big woods public land that I bow hunt, scouting is essential because there is so much country, but much of it contains very few deer.  You really have to know what to look for and burn a lot of boot rubber to find concentrations of deer.  I was able to find a great new spot for a rut tree stand not 100 yards off a road meeting my criteria and with heavy deer sign.  Normally I like to get back in way farther, but there are a few great spots close to roads, usually in overlooked areas.  These are my go-to spots for quick evening hunts, so I keep a few in the hopper.

After driving over an hour, I made it back to the main road and decided to check out a small reservoir that the Commonwealth drained to make dam repairs.  I had been thinking how valuable it would be to scout the natural structure and pinpoint where to target fish when they repopulated the lake.  Happening to be in the area with daylight left, I took the opportunity to walk the exposed lakebed, camera and GPS in hand.

Scouting for Fish On Land
Scouting for Fish On Land

What a good decision that turned out to be.  Visualizing these structures underwater will place great context into the sonar images I will see while floating above those structures in my kayak.  Besides the natural contours of the lakebed, there were a half dozen manmade rock piles combined with a lattice of mature tree trunks.  There was a quarter-mile long pile of shale creating a perfect ridge for fish to one day congregate.  Cribs of phone poles, assorted tires, Christmas trees, rock humps, stumps, and creek channels rounded out the rest of the structures that I marked.

At significant points I noted visual landmarks, marked GPS coordinates, and took pictures of pathways I will take to fish the edges of these structures.

SwansHaving completed my work at the lake, I sat on one of the rocks with my binoculars and enjoyed the sunset while watching graceful trumpeter swans in the remaining portion of lake by the dam, and flocks of redheads, mallards, and wood ducks fly past.  In this moment I was just soaking in the wild with nothing else on my mind.  If more people could experience moments like that, we would have fewer problems in this world.

I returned home without harvesting anything to eat, but with a mixed bag of knowledge I will put to good use.  In seeking dinner with our own hands in the great outdoors, the knowledge that scouting provides is invaluable.  Remember that it is a journey, and the answers to the questions we seek about where to find the best hunting or fishing spots lie not on the internet, but through exploration and good old sweat equity.

Read more about preparing for fall whitetail hunting
Tips for Harvesting Mature Whitetails
A Preview of the Fall: Looking Forward to the Whitetail Hunting Season
Practice Makes Perfect and Drives Hunting Season Success
Archery Preparation for Hunting Season
Increasing Archery Draw Weight


About the author.
J. MinichJoe lives in Centre County, PA with his wife and growing family.  He lives to bowhunt, and especially elk hunting out West, in addition to whatever is in season around his home.  Joe also is an obsessed fisherman, especially walleyes, and he dabbles in foraging from time to time.  Joe most enjoys utilizing the bounties his lifestyle provides by cooking frequently and constantly experimenting with new methods and ingredients.
Connect with Joe on Instagram @j.r.minich

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *