Where turkeys live, so too, do deer. The crossover between pursuing both species is huge, and while you might not learn much about spring turkeys while hunting deer in the fall, the inverse isn’t true.
Spring turkey hunting can tell you a lot about whitetails.
You just have to pay attention when you’re out there listening for gobbles. Whether you only bowhunt birds from a blind for hours at a time, or you have to run and gun nonstop because you have the patience of a highly caffeinated toddler, the opportunity to set yourself up for better fall deer hunting is out there in the May woods.
This, like most scouting, begins with looking for sign.
Like a skywriter’s message, last fall’s deer sign is destined to fade. In most places, this has already started due to the spring green-up. Scrapes are the first to go, and rubs will soon follow. You can still identify rubs, but they won’t be as easy to spot as they were even a few months ago.
Pay attention anyway. Stumbling across a rubline now is a net benefit to your fall deer hunting. Finding a community scrape with a well-used licking branch over it, is too. These are easy ones that any decent whitetail hunter should be aware of.
There are also beds, tracks, and trails to consider. My favorite turkey season sign to find is a pounded trail. This is because I know that where deer travel is tied to two reasons. The first is to get from point A to B as easily as possible. Deer lean into this year-round, so where May bucks walk because it’s a direct, easy route, the bucks of October will do the same.
The second reason is to stay undetected. A trail that is beaten down when you spy it in May, is a trail that should host some good deer travel from September to season close. If you find a river crossing, a fence crossing, or some terrain feature that funnels movement, you have a real winner on your hands. Drop a waypoint, make a few notes, and don’t forget about your findings during the summer.
There isn’t a piece of deer sign that is more valuable than actually seeing a deer. If that deer happens to have two big nubs on his head, that’s even better. When you’re sitting out there with your back to a tree, or whiling away the hours in a hub-style blind, keep watch.
When you get to observe deer, even the ones who stomp and snort at your decoys, take note of what they do. It might seem like the deer movement of May is totally divorced from November, but it’s not.
The way deer leave a river bottom to bed in the hills, or how they approach a pond to drink, might remain consistent for all 12 months of the year. There’s a reason why deer do certain things, and those reasons often don’t change just because it’s spring and not fall.
They travel with intent. They use the wind all year to make sure they aren’t going to get surprised by coyotes in the spring, as much as they use it to bust us in October. Such is the life of a prey animal. The more you observe this behavior, the more they’ll tip their hand to you.
If you have a bit of trouble focusing on two things at once, like turkey hunting and deer scouting, do this—just take note of the deer you bust. That’s it. When you’re moving up a ridge to set up for the latest gobble, and you see a few stark-white tails bounding through the brush, make a mental note.
Where were they? What time was it? What was the wind doing? The goal is to come up with a reason for why you think they were there. This might seem simple—that’s because it is. It doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it, because if there is one thing that happens fairly often in turkey season, it’s spooking deer.
Instead of cursing them for potentially spooking your longbeard, consider it an opportunity. Maybe those busted bucks can teach you something that you can put into action six months from now.
While whitetails won’t be your primary focus when you’re turkey hunting, don’t write off every encounter or bit of sign you find useless. It’s not. It just might help you find an ideal stand site or a spot to place a trail camera this summer to gather up a little more intel.
For more information on scouting whitetails, give these articles a read: The Best Sign to Find While Winter Scouting, When Should You Start Scouting For Whitetails, and Scout in March to Kill in November.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.