In the winter, deer require about 1.5 quarts of water per day for every 100 pounds of body weight. During warmer, summer months, their hydration needs double. This is worth knowing, no matter when or where you hunt whitetails.
Even in areas where water isn’t in short supply, identifying the most likely spots for a buck to slake his thirst is a solid strategy. Where water is limited, it can be a bigger draw than food, bedding, or any of the other cornerstones of a deer’s life.
Large sources, like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, are easy to find. They also, often, aren’t as productive for stand sites as smaller water. Deer like to rehydrate in cover, which means the smaller the source, the better. Tiny streams, hillside seeps, ponds, and even puddles, can be unreal for ambush sites.
To find them, you’ll have to do two things. The first is scout, a lot. Spring scouting, when the toads and frogs are very interested in making tadpoles, is a great strategy. If you’re hiking trails and looking for last season’s rubs, listen for the sound of frogs. They’ll let you know you’re close to water.
If you want a jumpstart on that process, or simply can’t get boots on the ground for some reason, go to a mapping app like onX. Toggle between topo layers and satellite layers. The topo layer will show you wet areas in easily identifiable blue lines and dots. Switching over to satellite mode will let you see the water source as it actually looks.
Sometimes you can see surface water, sometimes you can’t. Either way, drop a waypoint on likely spots, and then if you can, pull those up on other mapping services. Companies often seem to display satellite imagery from different sources, which can allow you to see the potential water hole at different times of the year, or during different years.
Pay attention to the type of water you’re e-scouting and ask yourself how likely it is to be around in September or October. Seasonal ponds often dry up, which means the sweet spot you find in April could be completely dry by deer season. The same goes for tiny streams. Although, if you walk a stream bed long enough you can usually find a spot where standing water exists after much of it has totally dried up. This can be an unbelievable setup. More reliable sources include seeps, cattle ponds, and guzzlers, which often stay wet all season.
All whitetail hunters should factor water into their hunting equation. It’s as important as food and security to survival, and something that can truly concentrate deer movement throughout the entire season. It’s also something that a lot of other hunters tend to ignore, so they can instead focus on hunting thick bedding areas, or obvious destination food sources.
In other words, find the water, and you should find the deer. It’s as simple as that.
Feature image via Matt Hansen Photography.