You can significantly stack the odds in yourfavor for next year’s rut and late season…


April 01, 2014

Big bucks in Michigan are no easy task. The next few months are the best time to “earn” your next big buck. Your efforts during these months will be directly related to your success this fall.

Talk to any serious big buck hunter and he will likely say the backbone of his hunting success is scouting. To the average hunter, scouting means going out a few days prior to the season opener and finding some deer sign. They focus on beat down deer trails made throughout the summer months, concentrations of tracks, or maybe the nice buck that has been coming out into the lush bean field all of August.

Deer Scouting…This Michigan buck’s primary bedding area was discovered during spring scouting. Author photos

1) Much of the sign they are setting up on is no longer relevant because it was summer sign and just about the time deer season opens the whitetail deer’s pattern changes once again.

2) By employing high impact scouting just days prior to the season you will undoubtedly pressure your deer into more nocturnal movement or worse yet, bump them out of your hunting area.

By scouting just after the season ends with snow cover and scouting again on bare ground before green up, you are scouting deer sign that is relevant to when you’ll actually be hunting the following seasons.

Snow Cover

The advantages of scouting when there is snow just after the season ends are huge! With a little effort you can see exactly where the deer are traveling, where they are bedding, and where they are feeding. Most times, during late season quality food sources are scarce and many of the more subtle food sources come into play. You can easily find these little hidden gems by tracking the deer in the snow cover. Once I find these locations I try to find a set up that allows me access in/out without spooking deer for a future late season hunt.

Bedding areas for mature bucks during the late season will likely differ than the bedding spots they preferred during October and November so being able to back track deer to their bedding locations is a huge advantage. One of my favorite late winter scouting tactics is backtracking a buck from the food source to his bed. There is so much to be learned by doing this. You not only get to see how he traveled through the cover but also the exact bed he was laying in.

Several of the weather websites give past weather conditions so you can also check the correlating weather and wind conditions during his traveling time. I try to find the perfect setup on this route for a bow kill where I think I can get a daylight encounter.

Access in/out without being detected is priority number one all while trying to get as close to bedding as possible which can be really tough in the late season. I prefer to be closer to the bedding area on these types of setups but during late season this can be tough due to lack of cover and foliage so I often find myself set up off the beds some or even closer to the food source and waiting for perfect late season weather conditions to hunt it.

Setups for firearm can be less aggressive as you can sit back some and still are in an effective range. All of this gathered information is so valuable to you for future hunts in a time where Michigan hunting is downright tough…the late season. Keep in mind on farmland as crop rotations occur, bedding areas and travel routes will change also.

Bare Ground/Before Green Up

This will likely be the most important time for you to spend in the woods. Most hunters spend the majority of time in the woods during the rut phases in late October through late November. The sign that is visible on the ground right after the snow melts is indeed the sign that was made in that exact time frame the season prior. In addition to hopefully finding some shed antlers of surviving bucks I focus on mature buck beds, doe bedding areas, scrapes in thick cover near mature buck bedding, rub lines/rub concentrations, travel trails through pinch points, intersections of multiple trails in thick cover, parallel trails just inside the cover on a field’s entrance and exit side, parallel trails on downwind side of doe bedding. These are my priorities and my most effective spots during the rut so that is what I key in on. In each scenario I’m looking for good wind setups that allow me access without bumping deer.

I take special notice of mature buck bedding as I will fine tune precise setups to hunt these individual beds throughout the month of October before the buck changes to more of a rutting and unpredictable pattern. This has been one of my most successful hunting tactics throughout my career and is my favorite setup. Mature bucks in a high pressure state like Michigan will not travel far from their beds during daylight hours outside of the rut. If you want to have any chance at killing good bucks on high pressured ground before the rut starts you have to get in tight to these deer. Some people call these areas a bed staging area; some call it a safety zone. I don’t care what you call it but that’s where you need to be to kill mature deer on high pressured ground.


Well there you have it. By thoroughly scouting your hunting areas just after the season with snow and in early spring before green up you have significantly stacked the odds in your favor for next year’s rut and late season, not to mention planned out some early/mid season buck bed hunts for the month of October.