How to Conduct In-Season Scouting Without Pressuring Deer

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It’s Important to Limit Human Intrusion When Scouting for Whitetails

In-season scouting doesn't have to be difficult. Follow a series of steps to find the hotspot where you hunt. (John Hafner photo)

In-season scouting is a topic that few hunters agree on. Some advocate for it. Others advocate against it. I’m caught somewhere in-between.

I think it’s important to always limit the amount of pressure you put on deer whether during the season or outside of it. During the season, pressuring deer (especially continuously) damages your chances of seeing deer move during daylight. But it’s also important whenever the season isn’t open as well because pressure stresses deer. And ongoing stress hurts the physical health of a whitetail. Nonetheless, here are some things to keep in mind when conducting in-season scouting this fall and winter.

Methods for Low-Impact Scouting

I always begin with low-impact scouting tactics that aren’t as likely to spook deer. Time permitting, that’s the most logical sequence of events. Don’t pressure deer if it isn’t necessary. If low-impact methods gather the information you need, why do more and risk alerting deer to your presence?

The first thing I like to do if the terrain allows is to scout from afar. And “from afar” doesn’t have to be several hundred yards. It can be shorter distances. The key is to sit in a location that doesn’t bump deer walking in, while there, or while walking out.

Another low-impact scouting tool is to use trail cameras. Put them up in areas where deer likely already expect human intrusion. These are typically large food sources and major trails close to food sources. Your presence in such areas typically doesn’t result in major home range, core area or pattern changes unless you’re constantly spooking deer.

The third and final low-impact, in-season scouting method is to hang an observation stand. You’re actually hunting now; but it’s in a location that puts you in position to see how deer are using the area. And who knows, if you get lucky, you might even get a shot from that location.

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Times to Not Invade Bedding Areas When Scouting

There are only a few times you shouldn’t scout heavy cover — If you already have enough information; if others have already been applying a lot of pressure in the area; if you know the property well enough that scouting is less important; and/or if you plan to hunt funnels and pinch-points during the rut.

Outside of these scenarios, you’re better off scouring the property once to learn as much about it as you can, despite the pressure that follows it. Don’t worry about pushing deer out of the area. One trek around the block shouldn’t cause that. So don’t feel like you can’t peek into the heavy cover once to see what you find — especially if it’s still early in the season.

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Don’t Feel Like You Shouldn’t Put Boots on the Ground

There are two sides to the scouting coin — low-impact and high-impact. Sometimes, the low-impact tactic doesn’t get the job done and you have to turn to the high-impact methods. There are really only two high-impact methods you can rely on — boots-on-the-ground and placing trail cameras closer to the bedding and staging areas.

It’s common to read in modern deer hunting literature that any pressure is bad. And that can be true. But it’s more often a half-truth and the information you gather while in the field is worth the limited pressure you apply while out there.

I’m a firm believer you can bump a buck from its bed and get away with it. He’ll come back. After all, if you think about it, the bed served its purpose and allowed the deer to detect danger before danger detected it. It makes sense to believe that a bump or two would increase the buck’s confidence in its bedding choice. Granted, a deer will likely uproot and find a more secluded bed if it’s continuously pushed from it. One scouting trip afield shouldn’t cause that, though. And knowing where that deer beds is invaluable information when planning for future hunts.

It’s also effective to place cameras in areas deer are more likely to frequent during daylight hours. That said, I’d place those there for long-term scouting. Or, if you have minimal time to hunt, take a trip before the hunt and place cameras near likely bedding areas. Leave them running until you return to hunt. Using this method applies some pressure, but it provides valuable information — especially if you aren’t already familiar with the area.

So get out there and scout this fall. Do what it takes to punch that tag and put venison on the kitchen table.

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