By: Roy Goodwin

In the last column I promised some more ideas to help you improve your odds of taking a trophy class whitetail deer with your bow. The shot at a trophy deer all seems to come together in seconds, but making it happen should be a year long effort if you want to improve the odds of getting to enjoy those few seconds come fall.


Steve Phelps holding a set of sheds a client found this spring while scouting the farm he hunted last fall....he's coming back!

If you live near by good trophy deer country you are truly blessed and should spend time improving your odds all year long. Scouting is very important, and the scouting for next season should start the week after this season ends. Because you can no longer actually hunt deer after the season, spending time hiking trails looking for scrapes and rubs won’t screw up your hunt (like it would during the season). This is a good time to get to better understand travel routes, bedding and feeding areas, and to get a good feel for which bucks survived the recent season.

Author standing in a deer trail at a creek crossing...there are no cattle on this farm!

Winter and early spring are great times to continue the scouting process and have the additional advantage of shed antler hunting. There is little else that will get you as excited about hunting next season as finding a record book set of shed antlers on the property you hunt! Getting out before the spring green up will also allow you to get a good look at the trails, scrapes, and rub lines from the previous fall. Figuring out the trails, and if they are coming or going from feeding and/or bedding areas, will help you pick stand sites for next season, and let you better understand the best time of day to be in those stands.

This is a photo of a sign post rub we found this spring on the new lease...probably not done by a year old six point!

If your trophy hunting isn’t near home it gets harder to do some of this scouting, but you can still make it happen. I hunt whitetails each fall 1200 miles away from home with Illinois Trophy Bowhunters. The owner (Steve Phelps) is a friend of mine, that is real serious about improving the odds for his clients. He and his guides do a lot of spring scouting on all their leases, but more importantly they invite all their clients to come out in the spring and shed hunt the lease they are hunting that fall. While stomping around looking for sheds the clients get to trim out stand sites and cut shooting lanes. Some of the guys even hang their stands so when they arrive come November they can sneak right in quietly and be hunting soon after they arrive.

Another large rub on one of the leases.

Steve does a lot of other things to help his clients succeed, which is why they have such high success ratios and take so many really large bucks each season. One of the many things I like about the operation is that each client can reserve the same hunt on the same property (and the same stand locations) for the following year. It makes it a lot easier to pass up 120-130 class bucks if you know everyone else on the property will also let them go AND you’ll get to hunt those bucks the following year when they are even bigger! Steve puts a penalty on shooting bucks that don’t score 130 or better on all his leases, and has started increasing the minimums on some of his better leases to increase the number of 150+ class bucks the clients will see from stand.

Author admires another rub he found while scouting this spring.

Improving the habitat where you hunt is also an important way to increase your odds of success. Putting in some food plots can not only provide additional nutrition to grow bigger racks, it can help the property hold more deer, as well as help define travel corridors. Establishing good security cover can be very important, especially on small tracks of land. If you want the big bucks to hang out on the property you hunt you have to make them feel safe. That means setting some thick cover aside for bedding areas, and then resisting the temptation to go in there to hunt….hunt smart and let the bucks come out of the security cover to you.

If you have to travel a long way to find trophy class deer, or your time is very limited, you should look for a good guide/outfitter to help you. The right guy will have good property tied up and limit access. He’ll do a lot of scouting and get you set up in a good area to start your hunt. Farming out some of the scouting can free you up to hunt more places, but there is an expense involved. In my next column I’ll talk about ways to select a good guide and plan your next hunt so you won’t come home disappointed. Until then, good hunting!