Mule Deer Scouting
Success favors the prepared. This quote holds especially true for us hunters. A successful hunt starts with preparation, and the more work you put in, the higher your chances of success. Of all the pieces needed for a successful hunt, scouting is one of the most vital ones. Finding an area that you know and understand makes the hunt go smoother, and increases your chances of success.
Everyone has a different situation when it comes to their fall hunts. You may be coming from out of state for a single week, or you might be a local who hunts weekends and every other chance you get. Scouting tactics for mule deer change based on your circumstances, and what you can do throughout the year. I’ll go through some of the tactics that I use throughout the year to scout for mule deer.
The internet is a powerful tool that we are fortunate to have as hunters. Many mapping websites exist, such as Caltopo, OnX, and specific state’s hunt planners. These are great tools to start your scouting. As a public land hunter, I begin my scouting with maps. I start by taking a general area that I’m interested in, and seeing what public lands there are. How much public land is there? Are there a lot of small parcels, or some bigger blocks? How much checkerboarding is there? How accessible is it? What does the aerial imagery look like? These questions can all be answered with maps. The aerial feature of a map is great for finding the specific country you’re looking to hunt.
The specific spots that I look for depend on the time of year, and what the hunting pressure looks like. For archery season, I tend to look for food sources. With archery season having lower pressure than rifle, deer are more comfortable feeding in fields and in more accessible areas. Aerial imagery is great for finding fields, and access points to get to those areas. Once we get into the October/November time of year, I’m looking more into areas that are tougher to access, in hopes of having less hunting pressure. Many of these tougher to access areas hold higher deer numbers than the rest of the year because of the pressure around accessible areas, such as roads and two tracks.
One of my favorite ways to scout for deer is during shed season. We all get that spring itch to get out and enjoy some fresh air, and what better way than looking for some bone and scouting new areas. Through the winter months, I’m compiling areas that I’ve mapped, and come spring I head out to check them out. With mule deer being an open country animal, these days consist of hiking and glassing. Finding sheds can tell you about a specific area’s trophy potential, and deer numbers. Aside from looking for sheds, you’re usually crossing tracks, sign, and seeing plenty of deer as well. These springs hikes also help a person learn things about an area, such as roads conditions, hiking distance and time, good vantage points to glass from, water sources, and food sources. Fall hunts go much smoother when you know where you’re going, the drive time, your hike distance and time, and where you want to start glassing from at first light.
After months of studying maps and finding sheds, we get to the couple months leading up to the start of archery season. This is the time to get out and put some glass to work. This time of year, deer are in their summer patterns. Generally, you will find the same groups of deer feeding at first light and before dark. This is a great time to find areas with whatever size class bucks that you’re looking for, or maybe a high doe area if you are looking to put some meat in the freezer. If you’re an archery hunter, patterning nice bucks is exciting and make scouting in August really pay off. Even if you’re not an archery hunter, this time of year is beneficial for finding areas that are holding quality bucks. Come November, chances are pretty good some of those bucks are in nearby country.
With spring just around the corner, hopefully, everyone is as anxious as I am to get out and start scouting for the fall of 2019. Good luck all!