Summer scouting is a reliable technique to find more and bigger bucks
Finding big bucks in Michigan can be a daunting task, unless you develop a scouting program that guarantees success. If your goal is to shoot a dandy buck this fall, a deer worth hanging on the wall, your chances are greatly increased if you pinpoint a brute’s hideout. Listen up, I’m about to help you dramatically increase your chances at success.
With fond memories I recall a scouting mission in search of a big buck near Athens. We were driving along HIGHWAY 60 near Union Lake when my girlfriend spotted the big buck feeding in an open alfalfa field. I pulled the van over, glassed the monster and came to the conclusion the dandy buck was a 160-class scoring whitetail with10-points, tall tines and heavy mass. After several scouting trips and conversations with local landowners I discovered the big boy was living on private ground where hunting was not allowed. I got permission on adjoining farm land and got a close shot at the big boy when he was chasing a doe-in-heat during gun season.
But my point is this; scouting helped me to pinpoint the turf the big buck was using and gave me the confidence to remain on stand. Truth is I spent at least 100 hours in the woods hunting the brute and probably spent no less than $500 dollars just in gas driving from East Lansing. But in the end I managed to score; only because I used the deadliest scouting trick in the books…locating bucks during summer. Here’s how this strategy works.
Intense summer scouting is a hunting plan that will reward you with big dividends come fall. The strategy is simple: scout open fields from July through early September, find bucks in bachelor groups, identify trophy deer, get permission to hunt and get ready to shoot a dandy when hunting season begins.
IDENTIFY FOOD SOURCES
Bucks in velvet are attracted to open fields during summer. This is when they are visible, vulnerable, and less shy and gathered in bachelor groups. It is very common to see several bucks joined together in herds. Often the biggest buck in the territory will draw subordinates and they follow his guidance, learn his travel route and travel together until summer ends, velvet drops from antlers and deer become territorial about breeding areas.
Michigan is blessed with great diversity in deer habitat. You can find bucks in northern counties feeding in open grass fields. Southern Michigan varieties prefer to hang out in agricultural fields planted with sugar beets, beans and corn. If I had my choice of agricultural crops I’d pick alfalfa. Big bucks love to gather in alfalfa fields during summer to display their dominance, make mock scrapes along fence lines and strut their stuff. Some big bucks will migrate as far as 5 miles to seek out an alfalfa field where they can roam, impress does and gain a following of smaller bucks. I’ve seen as many as 21 bucks in a single alfalfa field and most will accommodate from 6-12 bucks, depending on the size of the local herd.
Just ask Kim Ignash from Bath about how deadly summer scouting can be. He joined me on a simmering August night, we drove back roads, spotted a couple hundred deer and made note of each buck. Come dark our total count was an amazing 43 bucks. Sound interesting? I hope you think so and will give summer scouting a try this year.
It helps to have a good understanding of the fields that deer prefer. In Southern Michigan you can count on finding plenty of open fields planted with various crops. Some are deer magnets and others have little whitetail draw.
Bean fields would be my second choice. There are several strains on soybeans, some deer like and others are ignored. Various beans produce a soft succulent flower and the leaves have a sweet odor and taste. Find a bean field that deer prefer and you can count on seeing the bucks available in the immediate area dining on the sweet summer buffet.
Forget scouting at sunrise and high wind and rain can put deer down for a couple days. The best time to scout is at sunset, following a hot sunny day. You know the kind of day when the setting sun brings relief from the heat of the bright summer sun. This is when low light and cooling air draws megabucks from area swamps, woodlots and underbrush into the wide open.
I’ve scouted thousands of acres in Michigan, criss-crossed almost every county in southern Michigan and come to the conclusion that big, smart trophy bucks frequently do not slip into the open until late in the day. High-scoring brutes wait under the cover of the forest until the light gets low before they march into the open. Oh sure, if you find a hot field and set up with telephoto gear, literally live on the turf, you will eventually capture the big boys image on film. Many times the more you view a buck the faster he will disappear into the brush, tall grass or behind rolling terrain.
Shine the field at night and you will see him. But smart bucks are extremely light shy and after you light then up with spotlight they will become much more difficult to see again. Some disappear if they even think a human is looking at them, never to return. The impressive sight of a colossal velvet rack slowly disappearing behind a hill, illustrates how adult deer use terrain, ditches, roll in the ground to their advantage.
HUNDREDS OF BUCKS
I’ll cut it straight with you. In the average summer I’ll spend hundreds of dollars for gas, cover a few thousand miles, spend hundreds of hours scouting and glass over 200 different bucks. Might sound amazing, but I work roads, scout fields and spend 5 out of 7 nights in search of trophies. Come the beginning of September my scouting is over, by then I’ve located some big dogs, got hunting permission and I’m busy hanging stands.
Come bow opener I’m stepping into the woods where a big buck resides. This gives me a huge advantage over folks who are married to a particular piece of turf, hunt the same blind every year and seldom stray from a holy tree. If your goal is to score on a big buck this fall it might be wise to seek new hunting grounds, learn new territory and gain access to several hunting locations.
Bow opener is a fine time to catch a big buck off guard. Early in October some bucks are still following summer patterns and you might stick a dandy that is out prancing open areas. A few bucks will use summer patterns until leaf drop in late October, and then they disperse into the surrounding cover.
Deer flies and other biting insects can cause summer bucks to run for open fields. In early spring when their antlers are first growing they are extremely sensitive and insects cause bucks to run helter-skelter and car/deer accidents soar.
As summer progresses there are different varieties of insects that still drive bucks in velvet nuts. Deer flies hatch out in July and you can identify when they are disturbing animals because deer will shake their tales, flip their ears and run short distances to shake off the pests.
Monster bucks, with sensitive velvet racks, will eagerly dance in the open in an effort to escape biting flies that leave soft tissue racks bloody and swollen. When deer flies go bonkers you can count on bucks traveling recklessly into easy sight. Any other time of year and a huge buck would be concealed in the underbrush and unwilling to enter the open during broad daylight.
Scout deer now and you will discover that summer is when bucks are more visible than any other time of year. It is a season of plenty, deer are relaxed and to sweeten the pie bucks gather in bachelor groups and you can quickly assess your herd, locate big bucks and have a good idea where to hunt this fall. The most amazing thing about summer scouting is the unsurpassed reliability that you will see bucks. Hey, when you put your binoculars on that first high-scoring megabuck and you feel your heart skip a beat, the adrenaline rush is like shooting a buck. Well, not exactly but it certainly will keep you coming back to see more, guaranteed.