Trail cameras. Long-distance glassing. Boots-on-ground investigation. If you’re not using all three scouting methods, it might be time.
Summer scouting for whitetails is nearly a lost art these days. At least, when it comes to utilizing the full gamut of intel-gathering options that bowhunters have available. The prevalence of quality, affordable trail cameras has given most of us the excuse to stay in the air conditioning while our 24/7 digital scouters do the work, meaning we sometimes ignore two-thirds of the many strategies we should be utilizing.A “whole-hog camera strategy” might seem like a sweet trade-off compared to hiking through an ocean of burning nettles, while swatting horse flies, gnats and mosquitoes, but it’s not. Trail cameras are a tool that should be used to complement a wise boots-on-the-ground scouting strategy. And don’t forget that long-range glassing should play into your summer routine too, because the value of watching the whitetails’ world through a spotting scope can be immeasurably high.
This means that the summertime scouting approach that takes into account these three most-popular methods is often the best. Here’s how to do it.Smarter Digital Recon. Technology is wonderful in many, many ways. From digging into aerial photography to hanging a 20mp camera on the side of a tree, all bowhunters have high-tech options for pinpointing deer hotspots. With the aerial photography and topo maps, the best bet for right now is to seek out water sources, food sources, and travel routes that bucks will use throughout the season.Drop waypoints, load up some cameras with fresh batteries and SD cards, and get ready to lace up your leather hiking boots. Your goal after identifying potential hotspots should be to make a plan to start covering ground, which is where the foundation for good deer intel is laid.Eyeing Up The Good Stuff. The idea behind heading into the woods right now is to accomplish two things. The first is to check out the spots you identified in your digital scouting. If you saw what looked like a killer pinch point along a ditch, or maybe a creek crossing, get in there and really look at the area. If it’s pounded with tracks, an obvious clue, you know you’re onto something.
Here’s where scouting gets tricky, and a little discipline comes into play. If that creek crossing is gouged out and pock-marked with hundreds of whitetail tracks, you’ll feel a strong urge to hang a camera there. Don’t. Instead, look for a good stand tree or ground-blind ambush site and mark your spot. Figure out how to hunt it, because if you’re dealing with a quality travel route that is loaded with sign, you don’t need a trail camera to tell you the deer are using it. Just figure out how to hunt it. The next time you return should be to hang a stand in the pre-season, or hang-and-hunt during the open season—not to check a camera that is going to tell you what you already know.Now, if your digital scouting led you to a spot that isn’t a no-brainer, then it’s time to employ the camera. Hang it above your head and angle it down to try to keep it out of the deer’s line of sight. Spots to consider hanging a camera might include a lightly-used sidehill trail, a pond tucked into the timber, or a soft edge between two types of cover. If you have a hunch a spot is good, but isn’t obviously a deer highway, use your camera to scout it for you. That’s where the value of a trail camera is highest.Long-Distance Voyeur. Hiking into bedding areas and hanging cameras is an in-your-face strategy that is necessary, but should fall into the category of quality over quantity. Setting the spotting scope up in the evening to view distant whitetails is different. It’s a low-impact, potentially high-reward strategy that works as a great complement to the other two styles and if you do it right, allows you to scout for as many days as you need.
It’s also a strategy that doesn’t carry a lot of weight with bowhunters these days. This is probably because long-distance glassing is often thought of as a private-land hunter’s game. And it certainly can (and should) be. If you’ve got some agricultural fields or destination food plots to watch, you should be watching them.If not, don’t fret. Even if you’re hunting public land, you probably have more long-range options than you think. I’ve glassed private fields that I can’t hunt bordering public lands that I can, as well as fresh clear cuts in big woods settings. I’ve glassed CRP fields on public land, and even just remotely open hillsides. When you go into a nontypical glassing situation and spend some time fleshing out your options, you’ll usually find something promising to work with. This might involve a full-camo, sneak-attack operation where you’re cognizant of the wind and have an escape route planned, as opposed to parking your truck on a hilltop and fastening your spotter to your truck window, but it can be done.
The goal, no matter what hunting situation you’re working with, is to take a seat and watch. What you’ll find, and what many western bowhunters already know, is that when you stop walking and start watching, you begin to unravel the daily lives and travels of the local game animals.
The value to this is several-fold. First off, seeing mature bucks in their natural habitat, which is never easier than in the summer months, gives you the chance to watch a critter that is very, very difficult to locate at other times of the year. Watching where he walks, what he browses on or drinks out of, can all help you out when it comes to hunting him—or other deer of his caliber. That can be a huge advantage.
You’ll see obvious behavior, of course, like the bachelor group that trots into the far corner of a green soybean field and starts munching away. If you spend enough time glassing, you’ll also see less-obvious behavior like how all of the deer use certain terrain features. Some of that movement will be year-round, meaning you’ll be able to take advantage of it during the season. Again, these are details not to take lightly.The Final Word. Scouting is every bit as important as time spent on stand, but it has to be done with a bend toward actually figuring out what the local deer like to do. This means you’ve got to efficiently cover ground with a solid plan of attack, while hanging cameras in strategic spots you’re curious about. Backdrop that with a smart long-distance strategy, and you can put together a pretty good picture of what your local ungulates are doing, no matter whether you’re on a private farm, or hunting heavy-pressure public dirt.