Whenever deer and wild turkey move around in the woods, they leaves sign that they have been there. Game animals move for two main reasons – to get something to eat and to find a place to rest or sleep (called bedding down). They leave sign when they do these things, and you can learn to find thst sign.
People look for deer sign because they plan to hunt deer or are looking for a place to observe deer. Lots of deer sign in an area means that’s a good place to find deer. Looking for deer sign is called scouting. You can look for deer sign before hunting season starts, and during the hunting season.
Whether you’re scouting or searching for deer sign pay attention to the sign you are leaving in the woods. As much as possible, you don’t want to let the deer know you’ve been there! Your sign may make them move somewhere else. If you can, wear rubber boots (they don’t leave scent) and try not to touch branches as you walk through the woods – that’s nose level for a deer.
Two of the easiest things to look for are deer tracks and deer poop – deer leave a lot of both! Their tracks are best found in places where the ground is soft, like around water or at the edge of a farm field. They leave poop everywhere – did you know that a deer goes to the bathroom (number two) from 27 to 34 times a day? You can even tell how old the poop is, or how long ago the deer made it. Old poop is dry, and you can break it apart easily with a stick. Really fresh poop will look shiny.
Closer to the fall hunting season, buck deer start to leave breeding signs called rubs and scrapes. If they travel enough back and forth from one place to another, they start to make paths called deer trails, or game trails.
Dr. Dave Samuel taught deer biology at West Virginia University for thirty years. He’s got the skinny on rubs and scrapes.
“Deer make rubs and scrapes to ‘talk’ to other deer by leaving scent there,” Samuel explained. “Bucks talk to bucks and does talk to bucks – most of the talk is about mating, and that’s why deer make rubs and scrapes in the fall, around mating season.”
Another way to look for deer and deer sign is from far away, using binoculars or a spotting scope, you can look at deer in farm fields and open areas late in the afternoon, before the season starts. That will give you an idea if any big bucks are living in the area.
You can also use binoculars from high places and look over the land. Sometimes you can see areas where deer will most likely travel, like patches of woods between open fields. Remember that deer and other wild animals don’t want to work any harder than they have to when they move from place to place. They stay away from areas that are boggy or really steep.
You can do some scouting even using a topo, aerial or satellite map. Roads, swamps, and water like ponds and streams are visible on these map. Looking at these kinds of maps can really help you pick the best places to do your scouting. A great place to get a good maps of the area you want to scout and hunt is MyTopo.com. MyTopo makes it easy to select a map od your exact area.
When you’re scouting, look hard for plants and things that deer like to eat. In the fall, deer put on as much weight as they can because winter is coming. They like to eat corn, apples, meadow grass, and acorns. People call these the “food source.”
Once, deer biologists did a study on a group of deer that they were fenced in. They put out three piles of food, corn, apples and acorns. The deer picked the acorns every time.
Even if the acorns aren’t falling yet when you’re scouting, you can use binoculars to look up into oak trees and see which ones have the most acorns. Acorns usually fall first from trees that are on ridges or high ground, because those trees get more wind. But, trees closer to water usually have more acorns.
Once you find a lot of deer sign, you know what area to hunt. To really see what is in your area and to determine when and where they move, I advise using a quality trail or wildlife camera. Set them out as directed and then check the camera regularly during times deer are not moving. You want to be very careful not to disturb the area any more than absolutely necessary. With photos to judge by you will know everything you need to know about your area and the game that it is in it.
You also have to pay attention to wind direction. Deer have a really good sense of smell, and if they know you’re around, they won’t come near. Plus, after all that work scouting, you don’t want to ruin it by having a deer smell you and run away.
“We have 10 million sensory cells in the lining of our nose, and a dog has 220 million,” Dr. Samuel said. “A deer probably has more than a dog, because it has a bigger nose.”
You could say that a deer could smell a pair of stinky socks in your gym bag inside your locker – from outside the school! So, use the special soaps available to de-scent your hunting clothes, right down to your socks, and yourself. ATSKO has laundry soaps as well as sprays for things you can’t put in the washing machine, like your bow and arrows or boots.
Do your best to hunt from a spot where the wind is not blowing from you to where you expect the deer to be. If you do enough scouting, you will have a couple places to go for hunting. Check the wind and let that make up your mind where to go each day.
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