Stephen Spurlock and his dad with a whitetail buck.
Shed locations can be an important piece of the puzzle.
Locating this buck’s shed the year before was a key to successfully harvesting him. Keep track of shed locations! This information may prove useful.
Rub sign... literally.
A habitat improvement project in Iowa. A little timber-stand improvement can go a long way.
The Symmetrical 10 buck in 2014.
The Symmetrical 10 buck in 2015.
Mapping out the Symmetrical 10 buck through the years.
The next hunting season is right around the corner and now is the time to prepare, plan, and refocus for the 2016 season. Early spring is a great time to get back into the gym and also re hone your shooting skills in the backyard. This is also the best time of year to start laying the groundwork for success this fall. Integrating postseason scouting into your spring routine should result in more antler inches next fall. Below are some great ways to get going on your spring scouting and why it’s a critical component to success. All of these tips can help if you're a whitetail, mule deer or elk hunter.
Postseason scouting provides a unique look at your hunting area. The postseason landscape exhibits sign like no other time of the year. Travel corridors, food sources, bedding areas, and rutting sign are all very evident and the locations bucks choose to shed their antlers reveal habitats and tendencies that may of gone unnoticed during the fall.
I like to keep track of the location of every decent shed I locate. This is useful for the following season because bucks tend to utilize the same late season food sources from year to year. They also favor the same bedding areas. Post rut bucks are extremely worn down and most stick to only the best habitat types during the late season. By noting shed locations, you may unlock some habitat features that you missed during the fall.
Keep in that mind that if you're looking for elk or mule deer sheds in the west, the shed areas aren’t always the best areas to plan to return and hunt. Bucks could be 10 to 50 plus miles away from where they were in the fall, especially if you hunt deer in the velvet. Exceptions would be some of the plains areas where bucks summer and winter in very similar areas.
These sign features all represent pinch points that control deer movement year round. Fence crossings typically stay the same year to year. Noting physical barriers and how deer move across them can be the key to your hunting success.
Rub sign... literally.
Communal scrapes, rub lines, and other rut sign can help you identify hot spots for the fall. Communal scrapes are my favorite feature to identify and mark during this period because these scrapes will funnel deer movement like fence or river crossings.
The late season is a great time to identify bedding cover you may have missed during the fall season. Not all bedding areas are going to be extremely evident on aerial photos. Native warm season grass, old homesteads, and brushy fencerows may be serving as bedding areas that are under the radar during your fall hunts. These “secondary” or out-of-the-way bedding areas may be critical to your fall success. During the rut, bucks gravitate to less active bedding areas to seek out does. If you find sheds in an obscure area, it’s likely that you have stumbled upon one of these secondary bedding areas.
The late season is great time to reevaluate how you approach your in-season glassing and scouting. Finding non-invasive locations to glass can help you unravel movement patterns in the fall. The key to glassing location is access. Being able to move to and from your glassing point without being detected is important. There is no better time to map out your glassing strategy than during the postseason.
For the whitetail or even some mule deer areas, the postseason is the best time to evaluate habitat quality and look at prescribing habitat improvements. Throughout the western range, the winter can be the most stressful season. Identifying your habitat thresholds during the postseason and addressing them can spell success the following fall.
Postseason scouting can provide you with a plethora of information. How do you manage this information in a way that results in antler inches in the fall? Using an aerial image and Google Earth to mark important locations from postseason scouting can help you keep track of the information you gain in the offseason.
The Symmetrical 10 is a buck I have had my eye on for the past few years. In 2016, I plan to hunt him. By keeping detailed notes, I have hopefully established a good game plan to keep tabs on him before the hunt even begins. By preparing for the coming fall now, hunting season may be that much easier.
I’m hoping that this story ends with a harvest photo in 2016. At this point, the work is done. It is going to be a long off season!
The postseason is a great time to initiate your fall hunting strategy. Identifying locations for ground blinds and trees for treestand location (and hanging treestands in anticipation of the coming fall) should all be part of your postseason scouting strategy. The number one factor that prevents whitetail success each fall is human intrusion and pressure. By getting things set up in the off season, you can avoid unintentionally pressuring the bucks you intend to hunt in the fall. Try an aggressive approach to your off season scouting and the result may be more antler this fall!
Once again, if you're scouting areas for elk and mule deer, pay attention to the limitations snowpack has on when you can get back in your hunting area to scout. A lot of the mountain areas in the West, you can't do any real post season scouting until the snow melts.