If you live in the traditional snowbelt of the northland, cabin fever is likely raging. That affliction, north or south, gives you purpose to lace up your hiking boots to not only search for shed antlers, but to also do a thorough scouting mission of your hunting property. Yes, spring offers plenty of eye-opening revelations to include in an overall whitetail management plan. Here is what you should know.
Bedding Areas, Food Sources, and Sanctuaries
You may think you understand whitetail country, but nothing opens your eyes like a spring walk through the labyrinth of a whitetail’s homeland. This is the one time you have permission to slip through a refuge or sanctuary zone you have established on a hunting area. These areas must be a “no trespassing zone,” for them to attract deer visits most of the year. Fortunately, a cruise through that sacred bedding cover tends to be forgotten as the months transition from spring, into summer and finally fall.
Once inside, you stand a good chance of scooping up an antler, plus, noting where most of the bedding takes place. Mark areas of bedding activity on your HuntStand app for later analysis. Plan your intrusion to coincide when most deer will be outside the sanctuary to minimize your visit.
For example, a visit to a sanctuary area might be better planned for late afternoon as the area empties and deer head to food sources like adjacent agricultural fields and food plots. The same is true of visiting those food sources. Plan to trek those parcels from midmorning into early afternoon as deer rest up in refuge after dawn and dusk loitering at food.
Reality Check: The Things We Learn from Shed Antlers
Deer Trails, Travel Routes, and Sign
The bareness of late winter and early spring cover reveals much about the use of a particular area in all whitetail compass points. Rubs from the previous fall stand out. Scrapes have a difficult time hiding and conspicuously dot a well-used area. Some of them may even show recent activity as whitetails have no aversion to scraping to relieve anxiety.
Connecting to the entire whitetail community are trails that you cannot miss in the grime of spring’s arrival. As winter leaves, it leaves damp ground, mud-caked trails, and snowy paths through the landscape. Those with the highest traffic count have the appearance of cattle trails winding to a winter hay yard. Following and backtracking these routes could give up an additional antler or three, plus show you where deer are heading. These waypoints may surprise you.
Recording Scouting Finds
Mark scouting finds accordingly. Making notes on your HuntStand hunting app allows you to mark clusters of scrapes, log rub lines, and document areas of intense bedding activity. Use the wide selection of icons to customize your map along with notes attached to each finding on specific HuntStand hunt areas. Track trails as you hike them and mark where the high-density travel beginnings and endings. Your hunt area will come to life with each trip into a hunting property and the discoveries give you ample evidence to research in the months up to hunting season for strategy.
Shed Hunting Road Trips: Advanced Tips and Tactics to Find More Antlers
Whitetail Land Management Analysis
As important as the health of the herd is to hunting potential, so is the health of the land. When spring arrives, you witness the best and worst of winter’s wrath. Except during extreme drought, the land will not be barer than at the end of winter. This gives you the chance to see deer clues as outlined above, but also the clues of normal or extreme use of the land by all wildlife.
Start your assessment by surveying surrounding properties and then comparing what you see there to what is happening in your hunting heaven. Are you seeing more deer on the neighbor’s land? Is there more food on the surrounding ground than yours? Is the winter cover better across the fence? All of these and more could cause a migration of animals from your property to an adjacent oasis. Most deer return to their home territory, but do not bank on it if year after year if they discover better resources down the lane.
Next, take a walk through your food plots to calculate any leftovers or damage from overuse. The same is true of browse favorites. Classified as browsers, deer also favor saplings and other forms of brush. Ash, aspen, sumac, basswood, and other browse suppliers can be targeted in addition to your food plots. Survey these as you hike throughout your property and be looking for a browse line indicating overuse.
If you see over-browsing, it may be time to begin more culling of the population, adding forestry management, or expanding food plots to add additional nutrition to deer diet. Be land aware.
Whitetail Herd Management Analysis
There are many ways to analyze the health of your deer herd without hiring a costly wildlife biologist. Your army of trail cameras gives you sufficient evidence of deer using niche corners of your property. Bucks have enough character to stand out as individuals in those images and even some does present distinguishing features. Study the photographic evidence enough and you can begin to see what individual deer prefer certain core areas.
Spring scouting also gives up much evidence regarding the health of deer living on a property. As you explore, you inevitably use your optics to scan ahead for deer and another shed antler. Each time bouncing deer tails appear ahead, or you encounter herds already standing in openings, do a quick count. Make notes of how many deer you see at various locations stamped with time and date. The sightings feature on HuntStand provides the ideal platform for amateur surveying. When you combine trail camera images with your notes, it becomes much easier to monitor the trending deer population on your property.
You also stand a high chance of discovering unfortunate deer who succumbed to the Grim Reaper. Many of those will be scattered from the work of scavengers, but spend a minute trying to determine the contributing factor to each death. Accidents, winter stress, predation, or disease could be the culprit. One or two deer, here or there, die regardless, but if you suddenly feel as if you need to call the local coroner, you may best be served by detailing your finds to the state fish and game biologist in your area.
Short Film: A Woman’s Return to Whitetail Hunting
Making a Plan
After shed antler season passes, and ticks again reign as rulers of the whitetail kingdom, put your HuntStand discoveries to work. Open your hunt areas and begin connecting the dots. Follow the trails leading to and from food and cover. Scan for funnels and review possible ambush locations on the perimeter of sanctuaries.
You have several months to convert findings into a fall hunting plan. In a following post, I will illustrate options to maximize land setup, especially on a small property that so many of us have access to.
Spring offers a cure for cabin fever as you roam the woods looking for shed antlers, turkey hunting and enjoying a hunting property. Put your boot tracks to work and expand your outings to spring scouting that leads to a better hunting opportunity in the future.