Spring is here. And the dog days of summer will soon be upon us. Even though it just ended, deer season is just around the corner. Before long, opening day will be knocking at our door as we prepare to get our game on. The question is, will you be a step ahead of the game? While there are no guarantees in whitetail hunting, we can increase our odds of success dramatically by keying in on bucks during the summertime months. In this feature, I’ll pick apart ways to turn those hot, humid summer afternoons and evenings into major scouting missions that may very well lead to filling more tags this fall.
For many folks, whitetails and summertime simply don’t mesh together very well. Serious scouting just doesn’t rank highly on a list of priorities. Instead, thousands of hunters are sidetracked by summer cookouts, barbeques, baseball games and projects. Since my life revolves around deer, they’re my summer project -- and fall, winter and spring projects as well. Do you see a pattern here? I’m not one to really beat around the bush, so I’ll just lay it on the line: The more serious you are regarding summertime scouting, the more successful a deer hunter you will become.
Finding the Bucks
One of the best parts of summer scouting is the near blatant visibility of bucks. At no other time of year are they more visible. This allows us to watch certain deer develop over the course of the season, and get an idea of the dynamics of the deer herd in your hunting area. Start off with a dependable vehicle and a good pair of binoculars. Drive the roads around your favorite honey holes, and try to pick out the greenest, most lush food source you can find.
This time of year, whitetails are thinking with their stomachs. In my area of Kansas, the major menu items include alfalfa and soybeans. Green fields such as these are excellent sources of legumes and help to pack protein into a deer’s body that will re-build muscle tissue, fine-tune metabolic rates, and help with antler growth. After an intense rut and a long hard winter just months prior to the emergence of this food, it’s a much-needed commodity at this point in a deer’s life.
When you find food sources such as these -- especially those next to good bedding cover that offers deer ample security -- it’s time to grab your optics and wait for the show to begin. Remember, the landowner can be your best friend in situations such as these. Don’t hesitate to stop in and ask the landowner what food sources are planted where, and where he or she has been seeing the bucks. They spend a lot more time in the field than we do, so don’t be afraid to ask them a few questions. It may just save you a lot of work.
Get Comfortable, But Be Careful
You’ve located several lush food sources that show major potential. Now it’s time to play the waiting game. But before you sit down to wait for Mr. Big, take note of a few things. Serious hunters know how important it is to play the wind, including your summer scouting ventures. The reason you’re out there is to keep track of the regular bucks on the property while keeping from educating them. You should be the one figuring him out. If he nails you down, it makes locating and killing him a much more complicated (and frustrating) issue. Summer seasons often bring southerly winds. This may be something to keep in mind when deciding how and where to set up on a certain field. Let the wind be your guide. Another thing of utmost importance is scent control. I honestly believe many folks take summertime scent control for granted, and I can’t begin to tell you how big of a mistake that is. I feel the usual scent-destroying shower sessions should be strictly adhered to even during the summer months.
And last -- but certainly not least -- don’t get too close, too fast. I prefer locating deer from a distance, being very conservative at first. This is where good optics come into play. If you don’t have a nice pair of binoculars and a spotting scope, save a little cash and buy them. You’ll definitely be glad you did. I use a good pair of Nikons, and they have never let me down. I’ll take a few nights to observe bachelor groups of bucks from some distance, just to gauge what they’re doing and where they’re coming from. Once I have answered those questions, I make my move, taking vantage points closer and closer each night. If you rush things too quickly, the deer will soon learn something just isn’t right and the entire situation will go south in a hurry.
No matter the time of year, patience is a virtue with whitetails. Once I’m close enough to see the size of the bucks, I call it good enough in terms of distance. Judging size and movement habits are all we really need to do this time of year, and we can do so from some distance. There is absolutely no need to push things and get too close. Remember, those bucks will most likely still be there when darkness falls, and you still need to leave. Be careful and be conservative.
Think Smart, and Think Ahead
When I’m glassing bucks from a distance, I look at more than just the deer. As much as I try to study the bucks, I also study land features and terrain for future vantage points. I ask questions like, “Will that tree trunk work for another wind direction?” or, “Will that particular bush mask my outline and allow me an easy way out?” and even, “If a mosquito bites me and I have to move, will I have enough cover in front of me to get away with it?” By thinking about more than just deer, it allows one to come up with a specific game plan for other evening sits. This sort of dual-purpose scouting gives me the luxury of studying deer and the best-case location for whatever scouting adventure I have planned at any given time. That way, I have it all worked out in my mind how I want to do things on another evening rather than some spontaneous decision that could leave me with regrets on down the road.
Keep the Faith
As the summer progresses, mature buck sightings drop off. Don’t get discouraged here. Assuming you haven’t made any serious mistakes, the buck is most likely still around. Food sources may have matured slightly, causing the buck to hit a different crop in a different field. Rotate your evening sits around different fields in an attempt to find the buck that has already gotten you interested.
This is where trail cameras come in handy. They can scout during the day, they can scout during the night. And if set up properly, they can tell you what you so desperately want to know. Just remember to keep clean and reduce your scent as much as possible when setting up your cameras.
Summertime scouting may seem like a hot and sweaty process, but the results may wind up being downright scorching. Not only will it show you what deer are on the property but the observation of their movement patterns will allow you to tweak early season stand sites in anticipation of those movements. Locate a good buck this summer, and get a game plan going. Chances are that your next early fall barbeque could be featuring venison backstraps.
Editor's Note: This was originally published on July 21, 2005.