3 Ways To Improve Your Winter Whitetail Scouting

3 Ways To Improve Your Winter Whitetail Scouting

This is it. March is the month where, if you want to set yourself up for success this season, you need to hit the woods. Yet, for all of its obvious value, winter scouting seems to be an oft-preached, but little-practiced, aspect of whitetail hunting.

The best public land hunters you know of all burn serious boot leather this month. They know the benefits of finding last season’s sign while taking a look at the bare woods, and they know how it benefits them when opening day comes.

They also know how to get the most out of their off-season efforts. This typically starts with a loose plan.

Aerial Images & Actual Routes

Too many whitetail hunters view winter scouting as a walk in the woods. To them, it’s a net-neutral endeavor. One that might swing positive if they find a few of last year’s rubs or scrapes, or stumble upon a killer fence crossing.

A better strategy is to plan out what you want to look at while keeping an open mind to what the woods might show you. Instead of parking in the ditch and walking into the woods without a plan, spend some time scouring aerial photography. Even if you’ve hunted the same farm for 20 years, look at it from a bird’s perspective. Drop some waypoints on areas you want to investigate, and then go investigate them.

It’s pretty simple, but some loose structure to the day will keep you looking, and expose you to findings that would be impossible to see on satellite imagery. This is one of the best parts about winter scouting, but often only happens if we intentionally break from the spots we know should have sign. This strategy takes us to new terrain traps, exposes us to staging areas we didn’t realize existed, and gives us an overall fresh look at land we might have walked dozens of times already.

This is also, of course, a great way to start on a property you’ve never seen, too. It just requires a rough idea of where you’ll go through the day, and a willingness to put in the work.

Don’t Be Lazy

The whitetail hunters who consistently kill bucks on pressured ground often share a trait that serves them well—they aren’t lazy. Many of them are gym rats who are in really good shape. They don’t take shortcuts in life or whitetail hunting. They’ve learned that success in the woods often usually comes down to putting in more effort than the competition.

This goes for day seven of a rutcation, and it goes for winter scouting. If you’re at the bottom of a bluff and 150 feet above you is a sweet-looking bench, but you’re already tired, guess what? You’re probably not going to hike up there. If you don’t, you might miss finding a big lone bed, which tells you so much. Or you might never see the rub line leading uphill like a trail of breadcrumbs to the neighbor’s alfalfa field.

Another climb, another mile or two, another day out in the rain when you could be home, all add up to more knowledge about deer. And that knowledge is how you set yourself up to be in on the action all season long.

Don’t Trust Your Memory

Even if you have a great winter scouting plan and you’re in better cardio shape than the average Olympic swimmer, if you don’t figure out a way to document your findings, you’ll minimize your winter scouting gains. The best memories are only so good, and if you think you’ll remember exactly where the biggest concentration of rubs was on some piece of public, you might be right.

Or you might be off by 200 yards when you return in the fall. You might think you’ll remember the specific tree you want to saddle up in, or the best route to cross the wetland to get there, but six or seven months is a long time.

In fact, it’s more than enough time to dull the sharpest memories. When that happens, you’ll walk into the woods with an idea of what should happen, and it won’t happen. You’ll leave more ground scent, get more frustrated than you should, and (if you’re like me) hate yourself just a little.

Take detailed notes on your scouting app or in a notebook. Work through your findings in person, and put them down on real paper or in digital form. Give yourself the information that your future self would need to hunt each spot to the best of your abilities.

You’ll thank yourself later.

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