Updated: Jul 21
Some of the most fun about hunting deer is the pre-season scouting.
It’s the beginning of unwrapping what the anticipation of the season gives us as a gift.
Which bucks lived? How many deer are moving through your hunting area? What improvements have been made to the habitat?
Avid deer hunters lean into their scouting gear and increase their scouting time more and more every season.
If you just started deer hunting, or are looking for some new tricks for your toolbox, here are some time-tested scouting tactics to help you find success this hunting season.
Top 6 Scouting Tips and Tactics
1. Current Location Assessment
One of the most important factors is whether you are scouting a property you know, or one that you don’t.
Obviously, a new lease or piece of public land is a mystery out of the box, but even a family deer camp can change with changes to the land and hunting pressure.
If you are hunting the same property for another season, look to see if there has been any logging recently as the new undergrowth should increase deer activity.
Also, try and see what, if anything, changed on the neighboring properties.
Did they put in food plots? Did they also have some logging done? Are there new treestands or hunting blinds that added more pressure on the local deer population?
2. High Impact vs. Low Impact Scouting
One of the most important factors to consider is high-impact scouting versus low-impact scouting.
High impact is making your way through the hunting area on foot or by vehicle looking for deer signs and not really in a situation where you’re concerned if you bump any deer while you’re out there.
You know that startling any deer would only be temporary. High-impact scouting is great for looking for rubs, scrapes, game trails, bedding areas, and actual deer far from the start of the season.
Low impact scouting would certainly be closer to, or actually in, the hunting season.
You’re looking for real-time data on where the deer are and what quality of deer could be there for movement of stands and blind locations.
Depending on the results - you could pull an audible on when or where you want to hunt.
3. Locate Food and Cover
Where’s the food? Where’s the cover?
These two questions you can ask and answer for yourself when scouting deer haven’t changed in a long time.
Using these answers, supported by deer trails, can help you to predict where the deer movement will be and when.
You can start with aerial maps to help narrow your search before you hit a new property, or if it’s a property you know, adding a food plot could be the secret ingredient to future success.
Hunting power lines has been a source of success for many deer hunters.
Why? It’s a constant clear cut leaving rich undergrowth for the deer to feed on with safe cover very close by.
Spending a summer evening watching a power line with some binoculars, or looking about 10 yards inside the tree cover could give you some very exciting information about deer activity in that area.
4. Locate Water Source
It’s no secret deer also need water to survive.
So, in addition to stopping at creeks and rivers to get a drink, deer also like moving waterways as a means of travel.
Seeing a creek or river on a map can be a perfect place to start when looking for where to hang your stand or set up your ground blind.
The muddy banks can show recent tracks of deer movement and waterways can help funnel deer movement.
5. Ideal Scouting Locations
Scouting open fields in the evenings might be one of the most effective tactics there is.
After bedding all day most deer will make their way out for dinner just as the sun disappears.
Larger bucks especially love to wait until they feel most safe with the least amount of light, so looking in areas just inside the tree line like a finger of trees pointing out into the field can be very exciting.
Bucks will wait, or “stage” there until it’s dark enough for them to eat, and chase does.
Stop by these areas to look for scrapes, rubs, droppings, and any other deer signs that could be there.
Then, all you have to do is set up at the best spot in range for the season.
If you’re scouting in mountainous areas, you might not have the benefit of agricultural fields, clear cuts, and food plots.
Deer will eat over 400 species of plants but they still want to bed during the day for protection for the most part.
Most mountain hunters know that a lot of deer, bigger bucks especially, will move to high points of protection in the morning to spend their day looking out for danger.
As the sun begins to go down so will the deer. Scout up high and look for where they are traveling to get low in the evenings.
6. Using Trail Cams to Scout
There has been no bigger gamechanger for scouting in recent years like the trail camera.
Every year they get better and easier to use. Between image quality improving dramatically, most trail cameras also feature HD video capture options, as well.
With the advent of cellular trail cameras, you don't even have to worry about physically accessing the trail cam to check your photos.
You can simply access the cellular trail cam photos remotely and without the worry of disturbing the deer.
If you have a spot that you feel you can safely put a trail cam without the worry of damage or theft, then by all means they are worth every penny in gathering deer movement information.
Most trail cams will tell you time, date, moon phase, and temperature - all crucial information in helping you to scout and pattern deer movements.
Scouting Tips Recap
There's a lot to consider when you're looking to scout for deer.
However, once you've determined the location of where you're scouting - the real work begins.
Trail cameras are a great way to scout efficiently, effectively, and without disturbing the deer.
Ultimately, if you can locate an area with an abundance of rubs, scrapes, game trails, bedding areas, and deer scat - you'll dramatically increase your chance of finding success this hunting season.
For more content related to archery and bowhunting, visit the rest of our Alpine Archery blog archive.