Get Your Whitetail With 3 Simple Whitetail Scouting Tips
As a native Nebraskan, whitetail hunting is a sport I’ve been part of, seen, and thought about my entire life.
I’m fortunate to have taken part in several successful hunts that have landed trophy bucks and have watched the habits of long-time successful hunters. Here in this article, I’m going to share the most proactive whitetail scouting tips from my own experience and from what I’ve observed the most successful hunters doing. A successful scouting expedition is an unforgettable experience and by incorporating these tactics into your approach, you’ll find that tracking and bagging whitetail deer is an accomplishable task.
#1: Find the right habitat.
Whitetail deer follow habitual feeding and living and patterns. You aren’t going to see them springing alone across grassy knolls in broad daylight while you sit nearby, ready to ambush. Tracking deer starts with finding their living, grazing, and migrating hubs.
- The simplest way to go about finding habitats likely to host whitetail bucks is to look for mature hardwood forests. These provide more cover than younger forests, as well as more nutrients and food. Acorns are a great sign – you’ll typically see white oak acorns falling as soon as September, with red and black acorns falling later in the season. Whitetail feed on these acorns and also on surrounding fauna.
- Places like creek bottoms, clearings within forests, and other spots where the ground is relatively level and dry are places bucks will congregate. If it’s rocky, they will keep moving or avoid the area altogether.
- In the right areas, you’ll find early scrapes from the bucks. Identify where bucks have marked territory with their antlers, forehead, or saliva, or kicked an area free of leaves and debris with their feet. On travel routes from higher elevations, you should be able to find areas marked by these scrapes as the bucks move towards feeding areas (source here). Find a secluded spot that provides visibility of their movement across the areas and observe what happens over the course of a morning. Not much activity means they may have detected a threat or moved on.
- I always start by looking for natural and manmade objects that attract deer, perhaps the most basic of my whitetail scouting tips. Power lines, crevasses in otherwise flat terrain, ridges, rivers and streams. I recommend keeping three things top-of-mind during your approach:
- Do whitetail feel safe here?
- Can they feed or drink here?
- What other wildlife is in the area that may drive them away?
- A good visual of these areas is provided here:
#2: Locate staging and bedding areas
Staging areas are where deer wait until after sunset to move into an open field for food. They won’t do this during the day, but signs of their presence are usually visible. They move down from bedding areas, stage themselves 200 yards or less from the target area, and proceed when they feel safe. Look for these signs:
- Bedding areas are typically found in areas where the bucks rest during the day and where the feed during the night. You will want to look for areas with shade and/or easy access to food, such as orchards, high fauna areas near water, and clover fields. If you can identify game trails you’ll know you are on the right track, follow them towards covered areas or areas with more diverse vegetation than just an open field.
- The Whitetail Journey Team gives great examples of this in this video.
- When whitetail approach a feeding or bedding area, they have a ‘prey’ mentality. They stop along hedges and trees up to 200 yards from the area and analyze the situation, usually waiting until dark to head into the open. These ‘staging areas’ can be great places to spot them. Backtrack from the bedding area towards cover and look for signs of presence like droppings, ruffled and nibbled branches/leaves. Here is another video showcasing staging areas:
- Deer will forage five pounds of food every day. Partially chewed fruit, berries, and leaves are a great sign of recent activity in the area. Fresh droppings are also a good indication. Once you have found food sources and staging areas, you’re ready to find the rub line.
#3: Use the locations you’ve identified to unravel a rub line
Now you are ready to make your move. Find the rub line, find your ambush area, and wait. Keep these things in mind:
- The mature bucks, the ones you really want to be focusing on, will make the first and most noticeable rubs. I usually see this happening in September. When you see a rub mark on a tree, you will know the buck faced that direction as he passed the tree, so head in that direction to find the next rub. You will likely notice some markings of passage from the buck. Once you have identified a line of rubs, mark them on a map so you don’t forget the locations.
- After you have the line marked out, walk around the area and mark down key ambush spots along the rub line. Where will you have the best shot? Which areas provide the best visibility?
- For the best whitetail scouting, use a trail camera. You’ll want to place it along the already identified rub line because you know that the deer are already using that route. This will save film and time, and help you identify when the route is being trafficked so that you’ll know when to be at your ambush spots.
- Get to your spot early. Be very quiet. These seem like obvious whitetail scouting tips, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted. (Early season whitetail scouting is the best time.)
These are my tried and tested whitetail scouting tips that helped me land my first buck. Be smart in the field and be aware of your surroundings. This methodology combined with growing experience out in the field will help you be more successful in your hunting and feel more in control as well. I hope you enjoyed reading this and are excited to try the tips on your next!
I’d love to hear what you think about this article, feel free to comment below and share on social media – the more educated and aware hunters are of best whitetail scouting practices, the more sustainable our sport will be not only for us but for future generations.