There’s no denying the deluge that passed through Kansas, Missouri and Illinois over the 4th of July weekend seriously disrupted a few people’s lives, property and/or livelihoods, and they have my heartfelt sympathy. But there’s also no denying that the multiple inches of rain that fell over an unusually large area were welcomed by most city dwellers and country folks alike.
Among other benefits that people who aren’t serious deer hunters might wrongly think are more important, the rain left a clean slate upon which even a journeyman tracker can read where the deer on the property he intends to hunt are spending most of their time and what routes they’re using to move through their environment.
Yes, I realize this is July. I also know archery season is more than two months away, and the all-consuming regular firearms season doesn’t open until November 12. So is challenging mid-summer’s heat and bugs really worth it? If you’ll be hunting anywhere deer travel routes are relatively stable the year round–mixed cropland and woodland habitat is a good example–you bet it is!
I’ll start with creek crossings, because the right one is, at least in my opinion, the best–but certainly not the only–spot to guard with a treestand throughout the four months one or more of the various deer seasons are open. It’s certainly true that, at any given time, a deer might cross a creek, a river or even a lake just about anywhere it takes a notion to, but far more often most of a given area’s deer will cross water the easiest and most practical way possible.
Since most streams–with the exception of some located in extremely hilly terrain–have steep earthen banks, right now the best way to scout them is simply to walk them looking for the same breaks and fords countless generations of deer have already scouted before you. If you’re scouting a stream a week or two after a cleansing high water event, the fact that you don’t see a single deer track at a given potential crossing site doesn’t necessarily mean deer never use it. Conversely, numerous tracks in a short time means that deer use it a lot, and playing the odds is an important factor in successful deer hunting.
Now expand your search away from the crossing. If tracks on several trails converge at the crossing point, the site is almost certainly worth hanging a stand. It’s possible to eliminate that “almost” by follow the trail(s) showing the most use in both directions to find out where they lead. If you discover a bedding area or a daytime food source within at most 200 yards of the creek crossing, you might do well to spend most of your hunting time guarding it. You can, too, if you locate two or three stand sites, so it won’t matter what direction the wind is blowing.
Crossings aren’t the only place the ground’s soft enough to hold tracks right now. I seldom hunt crop fields before cold weather makes hungry post-rut deer more likely to use them during legal shooting hours. That said, I check field edges anytime the ground is soft in order to find out where deer prefer to enter them. Then, just as at creek crossings, I backtrack to find out where the deer using the field are coming from, which, a little more often than not, will be a bedding area.
That’s twice I’ve used the term “bedding area,” the very mention of which gives some otherwise sane deer hunters apoplexy. The plain unvarnished truth is that, while no deer — not even a mature buck — has a specific bed or even a bedroom, it does have relatively small areas within its home range in which it feels safe during the daytime.
Anyone who hopes to consistently harvest mature deer of either sex must know not only where these areas are but also how the deer enter and leave them. Right now’s the time to handle this part of your scouting chores, because it’s impossible to do anything short of clear cutting in July that will have any impact on deer behavior in September, let along November.
While I definitely advise against doing so close to or during the season unless absolutely necessary, trespassing on a mature buck’s sacred ground isn’t the ultimate disaster some people would have you believe. If it were, there would be no mature bucks on public land or in suburbia.
If you decide to take my advice about summertime scouting, take twice as much water as you think you’ll need, apply plenty of insect repellent and wear clothing that will at least make ticks and chiggers work to get at your tender skin.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]