Pre-season tactics for bow season

Scouting for deer sets stage for upcoming hunting season.

It’s August, and bow season is only several weeks away for most of us. If you’re like me, it seems to take forever to get here, and the next thing you know, you barely have enough time to get ready.

For me, pre-season scouting is important for a few reasons. Of course, the most obvious of which is to look for deer sign, but another is to reacquaint myself with my old stomping grounds. There’s nothing more depressing than sneaking stealthily to your favorite spot on opening day, only to find that you zigged when you should have zagged, and now you’re walking around in circles, getting hot and stinking up the place.

By going in early season, I re-asses and clean my trails, maybe place a few more “all-way shine” bright eyes, and clean out a little new growth that would otherwise be a scent wick for forehead sweat on my opening-morning walk.

If nothing else, I re-imprint that walk in the dark for ease of my first hunt.

As with most of you, I enjoy using trail cameras to gather the most telling info for me as to the current deer activity. Wow, did I learn a good one last week!

I usually like to put new batteries in, make sure my card contact points are good and clean, and do a couple walk-bys to ensure my camera is working. OOPS! I found out that working isn’t good enough.

This year, I decided to do a little test. I hung six cameras, some new and some used a bit, that I’ve collected over the last couple years along a fence. Six cameras, four different brands, and astonishingly different results.

I passed at varying intervals and at different distances. I don’t want to list the brands here because I think it would be a little unfair as I compared new and used cameras, but I can tell you, there were patterns between different brands.

Here are the results:

Camera 1
• Total pictures: 120
• Pictures of me: 92
• Empty pictures: 28
• Maximum distance: 17 yards

Camera 2
• Total pictures: 102
• Pictures of me: 73
• Empty pictures: 29
• Maximum distance: 17 yards

Camera 3
• Total pictures: 66
• Pictures of me: 60
• Empty pictures: 6
• Maximum distance: 14 yards

Camera 4
• Total pictures: 42
• Pictures of me: 9
• Empty pictures: 33
• Maximum distance: 8 yards

Camera 5
• Total pictures: 18
• Pictures of me: 9
• Empty pictures: 9
• Maximum distance: 8 yards

Camera 6
• Total pictures: 11
• Pictures of me: 11
• Empty pictures: 0
• Maximum distance: 8 yards

You can imagine my dismay at not hunting one of my good spots last year because I wasn’t seeing encouraging activity on camera. I know from experience, too, that there could be good activity, just not quite in the line of the camera. I’m hoping to do a more comprehensive test in the near future and report the results for you.

But what a lesson!

I was quite disappointed in my scouting trip last week to the hotspot I had found last January during the rut. Dissapointed, but certainly not discouraged.

Something to keep in mind this time of year is that the deer are deep into their summertime routines, and this will soon start to change as the acorns begin to drop.

Even if the sign isn’t there, have faith in that where you saw deer activity last year during the hunting season: It will be there again.

As a kid, I used to focus 100 percent on tracks – and didn’t have much luck. Now I focus on two things: food, and most importantly, deer droppings.

One of the predictors I like to use are the oaks and the acorns. I don’t hunt in an area that allows baiting, so, of course, that’s a completely different game. I like to take binoculars in this time of year and stare at the ends of the oak branches. When I find some trees that are loaded like grapes, even though I don’t see sign there I know that’s where I’m going to be during early season.

And at any time of year, if you find a few more sets of droppings than usual in an area, hunt it! It’s not by coincidence that biologist use dropping counts as a heavyweight in population counts.

Best of luck. Now go find ’em!

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