What to Look for When Scouting

It’s time to do some homework. Late winter is the best time to scout your deer woods. The leaves have fallen making it easy to spot signs in the wide open woods. Also, scouting too close to the season can spook the deer into hiding or off of the land. Taking action now will allow the deer more than enough time to forget the intrusion.

Having successful seasons year in and year out requires scouting in the off season. It is more than taking a leisurely walk in the woods and finding tracks or droppings. It is more like a game of chess. Discovering the signs and using those to strategically make your moves in the fall. Effective hunters get to know every mile of the land they intent to hunt. Some spend more time scouting than they do hunting.

Build your scouting technique by knowing what to look for and planning your strategy accordingly.


Droppings indicate that deer are making use of  a food source nearby. Look around the area to try to identify the food source. If the dropping are fresh, you should find tracks.


Tracks signify that deer are or have been in the area. It is important to determine the tracks age. If the tracks are less than 24 hours old, the edges will be sharp and the imprint will be free of debris. Follow the direction of the tracks to look for any changes in their patterns. Frequent stops can mean that a food source is nearby. Locate and note the food source. If the tracks abruptly change direction this could indicate that the deer are heading to or from a bedding area. If you locate deer in a timbered or busy area, a bedding area is probably nearby. Mark this area on a map or with your GPS.

There is no way to be certain of a deer’s gender by tracks alone. The tracks of a mature doe and a young buck can be the same size. However, if you find a track that is bigger than the others and additional signs of bucks are present in the area, those are most likely buck tracks. Note the area.

Game Trails

Beyond tracks, also look for well-trodden paths. Deer prefer the path of least resistance. Studying these trails can tell you how many deer are in the area, where they are going and how often they are using the trail. Keep a notebook to chart each new set of tracks that appear. You might be surprised how many times a single deer will use these trails.

Most likely, the deer are traveling back and forth to a food or water source. Look for any water holes, seeps or springs you come across and leafy buds, sage flats, stands of acorn-bearing oaks and new vegetation on old burn sites. As long as the deer are utilizing the same sources during the season, it might be a good point of ambush.

Paths can also lead you to winter bedding areas. These are probably not the same bedding areas that the deer are using in early season, but they may return to a favored area later in the season. Keep these in mind if you have an unfilled tag late next season.


A buck leaves scrapes as a visual sign to other bucks that this is his territory. He makes scrapes by working the ground down to the bare dirt. You can spot a scrape easily because it is the only place where leaves and other debris do not cover the forest floor.  Mark these on your maps. These are a sure sign of that buck is in the area.

Rub Lines

Rub lines are the most important sign that bucks leave. Look for bark that is removed from tree trunks. Rubs are created when the deer rubs it’s antlers on a tree to remove the velvet from their antlers. The larger the rubbing tree, the larger the buck. To locate a rub line, stand next to one and look ahead for the next one. Mark these lines on your map. This is a good place to hang a stand in the fall. The buck is showing you his travel route as many bucks use the same trees to rub against over and over. Finding more than one rub line your area could indicate that multiple bucks are nearby.


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