I was out turkey hunting in the snow this week hoping to cross some fresh tracks to chase. Unfortunately, I could not find any sign of turkeys but I did however find some deer sign and decided take the time to scout the area and check out the potential for hunting next week since buck season opens on Monday.
It is nice to take advantage of the snow to find travel routes and bedding areas the does are using. Plus it is easy to find where the deer are feeding and what they are feeding on most heavily. At this point in the season, the deer are in full rut mode and the bucks are going to be where the does are.
I like to concentrate my scouting on thickets and where I find signs of feeding, and the trails the deer are using to access it. I also look for scrapes and rubs from any bucks in the area. I spent a couple hours looking around patches of rhododendron and grape tangles and was not disappointed by the buck sign I found. I found a few fresh scrapes recently pawed out in the snow and several small rubs. This was encouraging but I was hoping to find sign of a bigger buck in the area so I continued searching then I found what I was looking for, a big fresh rub on a tree as big around as my leg. This got me excited, I started looking for similar rubs and found another big one on a trail leading into a rhododendron thicket. This is a scenario I really like; often a buck will separate a doe from other does when she is ready to breed and they will stay together for a day or so using thickets for protection while mating and venturing out occasionally during the day to feed. These thickets make a buck feel safe and often they are, bigger bucks that have been around a while know where danger comes from and will hole up in these jungles when they feel pressure from hunters. However the rut is in high gear and the urge to breed is so great that they will leave these sanctuaries to find does that are ready to breed, after they have mated with one they will seek out other does coming into estrus. If you see a doe that looks nervous and keeps glancing behind back, wait a while and don't move the buck you are looking for just may be trailing her.
Once I find an area I want to hunt, such as this one, I go home, start looking at topographic and aerial maps for the area, and locate funnels, saddles, pinch points, or anything that looks like a good travel corridor. After studying topo maps of the area, I will look at an aerial view to find thickets and heavy cover to determine how it relates to the topographic features. There are several good sites on the internet for this but one of the best I have found is , this site contains a wide assortment of maps with good aerial and topographic views. I will mark on the map the sign I found and try to figure out the most likely spots for an ambush according to the available cover and find likely escape routes when the crowds enter the woods Monday.
I also like to try to determine where other hunters will be coming from and how the deer will react to the pressure. By selecting several locations, you can still hunt from place to place, if there are too many other hunters around and watch escape routes and openings in heavy cover waiting for the buck you are hunting to make a mistake.
There seems to be good numbers of bucks this year with most people reporting increased numbers over last year with some nice racks here in the mountains where I will be hunting. With the abundance of food I think most deer will be using the thickest cover they can find during the day and feeding nearby when they get up to browse through the day before they travel to more open feeding areas at night.
The weather may not be the best with rain or snow forecasted for the first few days, but this can be a good thing. Most hunters like snow on the ground when hunting, seeing deer is much easier with a white background and footsteps are muffled allowing a hunter to sneak through the woods more quietly.
There should still be plenty of snow in the mountains for the first few days at least and the cooler temperatures should have the deer moving if the weather isn't too bad.
So get out there and enjoy your hunt. I wish everyone good luck for a safe and successful season.