Six Reasons Spring Scouting Means Big Fall Bucks

Serious whitetail hunters crave opportunities to learn more about whitetails year ’round, and I’m one of them. Those first days of spring when the final snow melts and the woods are come alive with life once again are great times to get out to the properties you want to hunt and look them over. You will be surprised at what you will learn.

Here are some reasons why I prospect for bucks in the spring.

Spring scouting helps me learn how deer use terrain features. During the fall, leaves are dropping, which covers up a lot of the sign. Trails that are indistinct during the late summer and fall are glaringly obvious during the spring before plant growth works against you.

Spring is the time to get mineral licks out and get trail camera photos to discover which bucks made it through the hunting seasons and winter.

Deer tend to follow the same terrain features generation after generation, and the spring is the best time to see where the well-worn trails are found. You will not only learn things about their travel patterns on that particular property, but you will also learn how deer use the topography and terrain that will help you diagnose the movement on other properties.

Scrapes, rubs and other rut sign are still there and easy to see. Spend time analyzing how the rubs are laid out in a specific pattern. In fall, you walk right by them because you want to spend your time hunting. But in the spring, you can really work the puzzle out. Take note of which side of the tree they are on and see if several rubs line up with the markings on the same side of the tree. Do this, and you have just found a buck’s travel way.

Signpost rubs and groupings of scrapes show you where a buck spends a lot of his time. Collections of several rubs in one small area may indicate a preferred bedding area. Bucks tend to rub a few trees when they rise from their beds in the afternoon, and their sanctuaries will often have several dozen rubs in less than an acre. A spot like this could be a gold mine come fall.

In the spring, you can walk right into the bedding areas and sanctuaries without worrying about damaging your hunting prospects. You would never walk right into the deer’s bedding area during the hunting season for fear of moving bucks entirely out of the area. Therefore, there’s no such worry now because your intrusion will be long forgotten by the opening of the season. Wade right in and look it over. Make some improvements by hinging a couple trees and piling up brush. I know one hunter who carries a bag of grass seed and seeds good bedding cover as he scouts his areas.

Combine your scouting with shed-antler hunting. Keep in mind that the place a buck drops his antlers may have little to do with his fall patterns because his winter patterns revolve around food, whereas fall patterns revolve more around interactions with does and other bucks. But picking up shed is fun and allows you to get an idea which bucks made it through the winter.

Rubs and scrapes from the previous fall are still visible and lead to clues about the hunting prospects of an area. Photos: Bernie Barringer

Spring is the best time to put out mineral licks. I place mineral as soon as the snow is off the ground. Deer use the mineral licks all through the spring and summer. These not only offer deer a healthy diet enhancement, but they allow you to inventory the deer with trail cameras placed at these sites. One good mineral lick maintained regularly should be on each piece of property, and for large properties over 300 acres, two sites is even better.

Once you have found great-looking places to hunt with lots of deer activity, put up some treestands. Prepping stands and trimming shooting lanes now offers the chance to spend the necessary time afield without the worry of leaving human scent all over the area. By putting up these stands early, there is plenty of time for the scent intrusion to dissipate. Your cuttings, tracks, trimmings and markings are long forgotten by fall. You may have found a place that will be a great hunting location year after year, and now is the time to get a stand in position and take advantage of it.

So, take some time out from fishing or turkey hunting this spring and get into the woods. The work you do now might make the difference between holding a nice buck in a photograph versus holding an unfilled tag come next fall.