Post Season Scouting: A Key To Next Year’s Bowhunting Success by Brad Herndon

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Fence crossings can be productive, as can creek crossings where bucks may make a hard landing that will loosen antlers.

Steve Knebel was up early as usual, well before daylight. He fixed a thermos of hot coffee and was soon on his way to one of his big buck hotspots. After a short walk he settled into a small, timbered high spot, a location that is somewhat rare in the flat land of northern Indiana where he lives.

During the course of the morning he saw several deer crossing the fields that lay before him. Two of those whitetails were mature bucks following doe, but they were well out of range, even with a firearm. Interestingly, Steve Knebel didn’t have a bow, or a firearm in his hands. Several days before he had filled his bow tag with a great buck going over 150 inches gross.

On this day, which was during the firearms season, he was already scouting for next year’s archery season. He was actually sitting on the ground, glassing and sipping coffee, taking in all the action that would reveal to him the bucks that survived, and what their movement patterns might be.

Post Season Scouting Starts Now!

Indiana allows only one antlered buck per year, so in effect Knebel’s buck season ended when he harvested his deer early in November. Knebel is a stickler for details and loves to deer hunt, so he keeps right on scouting throughout the fall and winter. Without doubt, his attention to detail is what makes him one of Indiana’s best, and most consistent, trophy hunters.

I like to use similar methods. For instance, in 2009 I tagged a 4-1/2 year old buck early in November. On and off I

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Post season scouting is a great time to discover where each deer trail is located and what each trail connects.

would continue to hunt and scout and in late December during cold, snowy weather I walked a ridge top on a property I hunt and found and incredible bedding area. Interestingly, it appeared these deer dropped off of this ridge to the east, using various trails, and then headed to fields to the north.

I again tasted success early in 2010, but my wife Carol had not. So when December hit and with it one of our snowiest, coldest Decembers in history, I sat in the east side of this ridge top, down low to see if the deer would use the region the same as they did in 2009. I snuggled against a tree in some brush near the base of the hill around 4:00pm, not intending to shoot a doe, and simply watched to see what would happen.

At 4:18pm deer started dropping off that ridge top in various spots, all within my viewing distance. I ended up seeing between fifteen and twenty deer, and five of them were bucks! Even more amazing was the fact three of them were 3-1/2 year old bucks. No monsters, mind you, but nice bucks.

Of course I told Miss Carol about my results and she was able to hunt there when the wind was right a few times before the season expired. She too, had some great hunts and saw several bucks, including some 3-1/2 year olds. None suited her standard, however, so she passed on them. The good news is all of these bucks survived and will be true 4-1/2 year old shooters next year.

This shows the importance of scouting even within hunting season after your tag is filled.

Scouting When the Seasons Are Over

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Finding a shed antler is exciting because you know the buck you want to hunt next fall is alive and well.

Several years ago two of my friends and I were walking down a gravel road in a nearby county when they went completely ballistic. They started running and screaming, pushing each other, and arrived at a nearby barbed wire fence at about the same time. I thought they were insane until they both picked up separate, sizable deer antlers. Obviously the buck had shaken them off when he landed after jumping the fence.

As you know, antler hunting can definitely be exciting and knowing a mature buck survived in your region certainly kicks the bow hunter’s confidence up for next year. Fence crossings can be productive, as just noted, as can creek crossings where bucks may make a hard landing that will loosen antlers. In bitter cold winters, pine thickets will be productive since they shelter deer from the wind, thus they will spend considerable time there. The south facing side of a woods can also be good for shed antlers since bucks will stand there in the warming sun in late afternoon.

Bedding areas, trails, fields and food plots will also produce sheds, but if you want to find every shed antler, you must use the grid system of shed hunting. This is the system we like to use and it’s best carried out using two, three or four people. We take a section timber, line up on one end about 20 yards apart and walk to the other end of the timber. We then swing around and make another sweep, continuing the pattern until the woods is covered.

If we go north to south the first time, a couple of weeks later we’ll come back and hunt this section east to west. This gives us a different look at the terrain, plus waiting two weeks means more antlers may be on the ground. Here in southern Indiana antler hunting gets productive around February 16 and we’ll keep looking for antlers right up until spring fishing time or thereabouts.

Other Methods of Post Season Scouting

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Surveillance cameras will let you know what deer are still alive, and what area they are using.

Years ago shed hunting was the primary way of discovering whether a buck survived or not. This unfortunately, has all changed with the emergence of numerous surveillance cameras now on the market. Immediately after season ends, trail cameras can be strategically placed to monitor deer movement, and the pictures will even reveal when the bucks start shedding their racks.

While camera placement is usually limited during hunting seasons in order to avoid disturbing the deer being hunted, in post season the sky is the limit. You can place the cameras in bedding areas on any trail you desire, on various types of crossings, and in food plots and fields. If you have enough cameras, you can even determine buck movement over a large area. By using a map, you can mark the locations where the bucks show up most often and put this valuable information to good use next archery season.

While what I have mentioned thus far is crucial to post season scouting, there is still more to be learned immediately after seasons end.

Productive Oaks, New Trails, and More

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By marking a topographical map you can determine where rub lines are during post season scouting.

Carrol and I took a four mile walk in a public hunting area in early winter this year. We had a bumper crop of acorns in the fall of 2010 in Indiana, and with a good snow on the ground we pinpointed all of the oak trees where the deer were pawing out acorns. We marked these on a topographical map and in years to come we’ll know where these acorn trees are located which the deer favored.

In addition to marking hot oak locations, we also paid careful attention to deer trails.

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While post season scouting, always look for locations where deer have been feeding. Whitetails have been pawing out white oak acorns in this location. Mark the spot on a map for future reference.

We walked a ridge top for a couple of miles and when we came to a saddle we would carefully note where the deer trails crossed each saddle. Many of the trails were exactly where we expected them to be since we had hunted the region a few years back and had tagged some good bucks in the are. One saddle, however, produced a surprise.

In past years the deer trail had been near the bottom of the saddle, but since then a new, heavily used trail was evident closer to the top of the hill. We followed this trail a short ways and found a sizable pine tree that had been shredded by what was obviously a big-racked trophy buck. I wondered why the deer trail location had changed, and by walking the ridge top for another few hundred yards I received my answer.

The state foresters had sold off some mature timber on an east facing hillside a few years earlier and it had grown up into a nice thicket. At the bottom of the huge thicket there was a fire trail the local deer hunters often used, so the deer were simply filtering out the top of this thicket, then coming around the hillside on the high side and easing through the saddle on the new high trail we had discovered. Interestingly, a friend of mine saw four different mature bucks in this general area of the the hills during the late 2010 December season. Obviously his sightings have me mighty excited about placing a stand over this trail in 2011.

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Always look for hot terrain funnels while post season scouting. Take along a compass to determine the best wind directions for each location you discover.

One other thing I like to do while post season scouting is to carry a map, a compass and a powder bottle with me. On my map I mark numerous rub lines I discover, feeding location information, plus bedding regions and trail locations. In prime terrain funnels, such as saddles, I’ll use my compass to note exactly what wind directions I need to hunt each location. I’ll also use the powder bottle to see how the wind “works” in each spot.

In closing, if you put in the time and effort to do quality post season scouting you should fill your bow tag with more mature bucks than you ever have before. Add in the benefits of good exercise and having a great time with family and friends and you will find winter to be a time of expectation…of once again putting your Havalon Piranta to good use….not a time of boredom.

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One Response to Post Season Scouting: A Key To Next Year’s Bowhunting Success by Brad Herndon

  1. This is a very nice article on post season scouting. I implement several of the tips my self. Shed hunting, cameras and looking for new trails and oak trees all help when the season rolls around. Another means of scouting I use is glassing the woods and fields while hunting coyotes. One would be surprised what kind of deer in your area survived last years season. Nice article thanks. Dave

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