In order of early scouting importance, once on foot, focus your attention on sign for stand locations in primary scrape areas, fruit and mast trees, within bedding areas, funnels between bedding areas and terrain feature funnels. Plus areas offering security cover that protrude out into crop or weed fields, scrape lined runways, narrow draws offering transition security. Also cover that protrude into crop or weed fields, funnels between bedding and feeding areas, clusters of rubs and rub lines, convergence points of several runways, and water in areas with minimal water sources.
1 – Primary Scrape Areas
A primary scrape area consists of several ground scrapes (could possibly be one large scrape) in a small opening or open area and they are always located in high doe traffic areas. Most commonly they are located; within close proximity to or at a preferred food source, where multiple runways converge, at pinch points within transition cover, and where differing terrain features meet and force consolidation of deer (doe) traffic.
While ground scrapes are made by bucks, each scrape will have one to several overhanging licking branches that are socially scent marked by does and bucks with their saliva, preorbital, nasal, and forehead glands.
Due to their high doe traffic location parameters, active scrape areas appeal to all bucks, especially leading up to and during the rut phases, so even if the dominant buck from the previous season was taken, the social scrape area will attract other mature bucks next season.
Scrape areas are usually perennial however crop rotations, and fruit and mast production can cause them to change.
Keep in mind that in heavy consequential hunting pressure (HCHP) areas, isolated scrape areas that offer perimeter security cover are likely the only ones that will get visited by mature bucks during daylight hours, thus eliminating common perimeter scrapes around short crop fields as good hunting locations.
While it’s common on TV and in videos to see big bucks taken along perimeters of short crop fields and food-plots, remember; they hunt micro-managed properties that; hold several mature bucks, have heavy breeding competition, and have minimal if any other hunter interference. For these and many other reasons, mature bucks in those types of areas are comfortable moving into open vulnerable areas during daylight and your hunting area likely doesn’t offer that same luxury.
Well over half of the bucks I’ve taken in the past 25 seasons, whether at home or out-of-state, were taken from active scrape areas surrounded by some form of security cover. When hunted correctly and during the right time of season and time of day, an active scrape area within security cover is as good as it gets.
2 – Mast And Fruit Trees
When apple trees (any fruit tree) and oaks (especially whites) located within security cover bear food they are awesome locations that depending on the area may become primary scrape areas. Other mast trees to note in big timber areas where there is no agriculture are chokecherry, beechnut, and locust trees (with long thorns and long beans).
During post season you won’t know which trees will produce food next fall, but the location and the sign at them should be noted as they may be sites you end up preparing.
Isolated mast and fruit trees are excellent early season locations as well as rut phase locations if they continue to drop food. If there are only one or two fruit trees in an area, they will become a first come, first serve breakfast or dinner course and deer will somewhat compete to get to them first.
If in a woods with lots of similar mast trees such as oaks, search for white oaks, and if there are a lot of them, choose the one closest to the best transition cover or nearest a known bedding area as it will likely be the first tree a mature buck would visit.
White oaks are identified by their; rough bark up the tree and out each branch, rounded lobes on their leaves, and their small acorns. Burr oaks often found in swamps are a type of white oak and have big fuzzy caps on their acorns.
Red oaks are identified by their; smooth bark up and out each branch, pointed lobes on their leaves, and large acorns.
Do yourself a favor this fall and pick up one of each. Shell them and eat the white first and then the red. You will not forget this test and will immediately know why deer prefer whites. You’ll spit out the red due to its strong bitter tannins.
Deer eat red oak acorns, but if there are whites in the vicinity, they will visit them first.
3 – Within Bedding Areas
Depending on the circumstances, for the life of me, I can’t understand why hunters don’t strategically hunt where mature bucks spend most of their lives.
Bedding areas have many entry and exit routes and there are unlimited directions a deer can go once outside, so with limited rut phase hunting time, why not strategically hunt within the confines of their home?
I have a hypothetical question. If someone wanted to kill you, wouldn’t their best opportunity be to wait inside your house where they know you’ll come home to each evening?
In pressured areas the vast majority of daytime chasing and breeding by mature bucks takes place within the secure confines of bedding areas. Never forget that killing and not listening from the outside perimeter of a bedding area, is the end goal.
Michigan and many other states’ gun seasons coincide with the peak rut when mature bucks are typically with or are in search of estrus does, so unless you have control over a large area, the likelihood of a mature buck wandering beyond your fence line and getting shot is pretty good. So why not strategically plan a couple all-day interior bedding area hunts between Halloween and gun season.
To hunt within bedding areas they need to be scouted and locations need to be prepared during post season. When scouting interiors of bedding areas search for; isolated mast and fruit trees, scrape and or rub lined runways, rub clusters, and small openings where several runways can be within your comfortable shooting range and where there may be a scrape area.
Standing cornfields are temporary bedding areas if the field is large enough. Mature bucks will transition between timber and standing corn and do so wherever the most secure transition route butts up to it. While I never hunt along perimeters of short or picked cornfield edges in Michigan, I do hunt along perimeters of standing cornfields and that’s where I took my first buck in the 2015 season.
If you know a field will be planted in corn and there’s a lone oak within it, it needs to be prepared as a location. During the years the oak has acorns and the field is in standing corn, hunting it at any time of season can be productive.
Swales or openings in standing cornfields are also great locations as deer will oftentimes skirt their edges when transitioning. These locations may require a ground blind be prepared later in the summer.
There is an exception to hunting interiors of bedding areas. On private parcels, if there are several hunters on the same property and they all have equal authority, if you decide to hunt the bedding areas, they may want to as well. Interiors of bedding areas are not for party hunting, but rather for very specific and strategic solo hunting. If this is the case, leave the bedding area as a sanctuary area otherwise multiple hunters will blow all the deer out or severely alter their daytime movements.
Most public lands are large enough that if you do the legwork, you can usually locate an isolated honey hole where others are unwilling to go due to the work involved in getting there and those are the exact locations mature bucks are pushed into once there’s perimeter pressure.
4 – Funnels
The most common way to describe most funnels or pinch points is to simulate them to an hour glass where deer movements from a larger area tapers down to a narrower passageway which most deer will move through to get from one area to another.
Funnels often exist between large stands of timber, in long meandering saddles and draws, in swamps and marshy areas that border and follow rivers and creeks, at ends or along bottoms of ridges, and in agriculture areas where crop fields are not perfectly squared off and there are travel corridors between them.
While other types of funnels such as those created by; small dry ground passageway gaps in large areas of standing water, a shallow flat a deer can walk across in an otherwise deep river or creek, mucky areas within the understudy of timber, differing densities of security cover understudy beneath the tree canopies, and changes in general terrain features are more difficult to notice, they are just as, if not more likely to consistently funnel deer traffic. It would take a long chapter in a book to describe each of these funnels and how they might apply to hunting areas final location choices.
Pinch points located between bedding and open feeding areas (short crop fields) get used the entire season however the amount and type of hunting pressure an area receives will dictate whether or not a mature buck will transition through them during daylight hours.
Funnels offering transition security cover located in travel corridors between bedding areas are my preference for rut phase hunting as during this period mature bucks are laser focused on searching their core areas for estrus does and the most likely places to find them are with bedding areas. The odds of mature bucks searching these haunts for hot does during daylight hours are also much higher than any other time of season due to the peaking of their testosterone levels during the rut phases.
From an amount of sits standpoint, my history of success on mature bucks in HCHP areas in funnels between bedding to open feeding areas is so dismal that I rarely prepare those types of locations anymore.
My top four location options all have one common denominator, they are all destination locations or transition zones that offer some semblance of security cover. Always search for small transition or destination locations because deer naturally funnel through, gravitate to and or use them to; feed at, locate estrous does, breed in and transition through.
In HCHP areas, locations that also offer an immediate exit route with ample security cover are more apt to have daylight visits by mature bucks.
5 – The Rest
Deer will transition through areas of untillable security cover that protrude into crop fields. If there’s a tree in which you can shoot to each edge as well as at the tip, you’ll have three phenomenal routes at which to shoot.
It’s common for the edges and tips of these fingers of security transition cover to have active scrapes along them. One of the best locations I ever hunted was a long finger of untillable ground that extended into a crop field and it was only good during the years the field was in standing corn.
The same holds true to protrusions into tall weed fields which often act as bedding areas.
Water is pretty basic. If you locate a source of drinking water in an area otherwise devoid of water (which is rare in Michigan), and it offers a secure transition route to it, it will attract all deer during hot weather and will attract does during daylight and therefore bucks during the rut phases.
Scrape and or rub lined runways need to be noted and not necessarily prepared unless your certain the buck using that route that made them, wasn’t killed. They are noted so that they can be checked the week prior to season for fresh rub activity and obviously set up on if it exists.
On many parcels of both public and private property I’ve scouted over the years the only sign was runways. There were no scrapes, crops, oaks or fruit trees, water, bedding area, funnels, points, and few if any rubs. Most often I walked away from them without preparing anything. If this is your quandary and there are no other property options, all you can do is scout where the most runways converge and hope for the best.
Always be on the lookout other hunters’ locations. They should be quite obvious by looking for cut lanes, scars on trees from climbers, and bare ground where bait piles were as a high percentage of Michigan hunters use bait. I view many other hunter locations as deer deflectors for the mature bucks I target and typically their hunting skillset can be assessed by looking at their set-ups.
If possible avoid setting up anywhere near other hunters as they will likely have the mature bucks in the area well educated and likely nocturnal outside their secure bedding areas.
6 – Requirement
Six is not a location, but rather a requirement for every location when hunting in HCHP areas
Some hunters that own, lease or have their own large parcel of property to hunt, struggle to accept the hard reality that the amount and type of hunting pressure an area receives has a direct correlation to how many mature bucks exist, how much they move during daylight, their tolerance to human presence and odor, and how difficult they are to kill.
No matter how awesome the sign looks, without transition and perimeter security cover, the odds of a daytime visit by a mature buck in an HCHP area is extremely low. Security cover is that vital to a location’s daytime mature buck traffic.
Having perimeter security cover negates setting up along edges of short or picked crop field edges even if there is a scrape area, clusters of rubs, and multiple runways passing by. I learned over 30 years ago not to waste my time hunting exposed areas for mature bucks in heavily pressured areas.
To be extremely blunt, anyone consistently taking mature bucks from exposed areas such as in food plots and short crop fields is not hunting in a heavily pressured area where there’s typically consequences when bucks of legal size encounter hunters. This is so blatantly obvious
when watching most TV shows
Security cover is so critical to daytime movements that when scouting public land I have a standing rule that I never waver on…no matter how awesome the signposts or location looks, if I can easily walk to it, it won’t get set up. Not only will other hunters set up at or near the area due to the easy access, the likelihood that mature bucks made or left that sign during the security of darkness is nearly 100 percent.
On Michigan public lands in zones 2 and 3, only pay attention to sign left in areas where few if any other hunters are willing to go. Locations only accessible by using chest waders, hip boots, canoe, boat, or crawling through brush are where you need to scout and interestingly, those will be the same areas mature bucks may feel secure moving in during daylight.
When scouting HCHP areas think of it this way. If all the hunters in the area were trying to kill you, where are the places on the property where you might feel secure moving in, or transitioning through during daylight hours. Once you find those locations and if there is sign, you can bet that if hunted correctly, there’s a good chance of an opportunity.
You certainly wouldn’t walk into an exposed area or through a stand of open timber with no understudy security cover. This realistic thought process should narrow your search down quite a bit and save a lot of time in preparing locations that are relatively worthless for daytime mature buck traffic.
Unlike the old days searching large parcels of public ground on foot. Nowadays some of these remote locations are easily found by reviewing Internet aerial maps. While scouting, mark location prospects on your map or note pad and don’t set anything up until you’ve totally scrutinized the entire property. Otherwise you prematurely might set up a location and then find a better one close by. That’s the beauty of post season scouting, you can trash out the area without concern of altering fall traffic.
When scouting during post season, relax and take all the time you need, don’t make it any more difficult or stressful than it needs to be.
Once all your scouting is done and you’ve noted potential hunting locations of interest, it’s time to decide which ones to prepare. Do not do this hastily. Take into consideration which ones are best suited for early season, the October lull, and the all-important rut phases.
Choose according to sign, security cover requirements, available trees or ground blind cover, other hunter’s locations, and accessibility for other hunter’s. It’s also very important to know how heavily pressured the area is as that should make a difference in not only choosing your locations, but in how you prepare them.
Once your locations are decided, you have ample time to prepare them as spring green-up while preparing locations, is a non-factor.
John Eberhart is an accomplished big-buck bow-hunter that specializes in heavy consequential hunting pressure areas with 28 bucks listed in CBM’s record book from 19 different properties and 10 different counties. John produced a 3 volume instructional DVD series titled “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and co-authored the books, “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails,” “Precision Bowhunting,” and “Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way.” They are available at: www.deer-john.net