Few things are more depressing to a die-hard deer hunter than watching the sun set on the last day of deer season. Regardless of how good or bad the season was, you always wish for one more opportunity to sit in the stand. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and once you’ve accepted the reality of the season’s close, it can be real easy to settle into “hibernation” mode and wait for springtime activities like bass fishing or turkey hunting. The truth is, though, there is no better time than now to start preparing for next deer season. Here are four steps you can take now to ensure you fill that buck tag next season.
LEARN FROM THE PAST
The first step in scouting for next season’s buck is simple and doesn’t even require leaving the comfort of your home. All you need is a pen, paper, maps of your hunting areas, and a little quiet time to reflect on the previous deer season. I know it may sound silly, but with all the happenings of the recent deer season still fresh on your mind, this is the perfect time to sit down and think about the deer activity that you witnessed and to consider what went right and what went wrong. Think about the answers to some of the following questions, and write them down or make notes on your map for future reference:
Did I see the number and quality of deer that I was hoping for this past season? If not, is there something I could or should have done differently?
Did I pinpoint the key bedding and feeding areas, and did the deer move between the two as expected? If not, what was different about the deer movement?
How did deer sightings and movement change as the season progressed? Did I take the necessary actions needed to stay on the deer?
Were my stand setups effective? Is there anything that would have made them better?
Did I overlook any areas that may be worth checking out for next season?
Did I see any bucks that will be potential shooters in the upcoming season, and what do I know about their habits and movement?
These are just a handful of questions you can mull over, but what it all boils down to is this – how did this past season work for you, and what can you do in the coming season to improve your odds for success? Part of that improvement can come from spending a little time in the field post-season to get a better idea of what the deer are doing in your area, and what caliber of bucks you have to look forward to in the fall.
INVADE THEIR SPACE
A wise deer hunter knows that a trip into a mature buck’s core area during the season is a good way to educate him and kill any chances you have of putting a tag on him. That is why the winter months following deer season are the absolute best time of the year to get out there and stomp around your hunting ground, scouting out all of those spots that you avoided during the season. If you bump a deer this time of year, it’s not likely to cause any long term issues, as the deer will have all spring and summer to forget about your visit. The best part about post-season scouting is that deer sign usually sticks out really well this time of year – trails are easy to spot and follow, and those rub lines and scrapes are a lot more visible with all the leaves off the trees.
Since you already have a good idea of what the deer activity was like last season in the areas where you hunted, you should use this time to check out the places you didn’t get around to hunting, or may have overlooked during the season. Just take your time and cover each area thoroughly, looking for and making note of any signs of deer activity and marking down what you find either on your map or on a GPS for future reference.
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
Another great way to scout in the off-season is with trail-cameras. While a lot of guys are pulling their cameras this time of year and putting them away until late summer, I like to leave mine out for a month or two after deer season just to take inventory of what made it through. Not only will this give you a good idea of what kind of bucks should be around come fall, but it can also clue you in to when they drop their antlers, so you can get out and enjoy some shed hunting – which we will discuss in more detail in the next section.
SHEDDING SOME LIGHT
Nothing can fire up a deer hunter about the upcoming season more than finding a great set of sheds. Not only is this proof positive that the buck made it through the season, but you now have a cool souvenir to remind you of that fact during the off-season. Not to mention, shed hunting is just a great opportunity to break the “cabin fever,” get outdoors and get a little exercise. You can even get some of your hunting buddies together and make a friendly competition of it.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
The final step in finding next season’s buck brings you right back to where you began – in the comforts of your own home. It’s now time to take all that you’ve learned from last season, along with all the newfound knowledge from your post-season scouting trips, trail-camera pictures and shed-hunting excursions, and to begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Laying all this information out on a map of your hunting area should begin to reveal some travel patterns, overlooked feeding or bedding areas, or better yet – that quality buck you never knew existed.
This information, combined with some smart preseason scouting, could put you in the perfect position to fill that buck tag come opening day.