You could argue the most effective deer hunters get the job done before the season opens.
It’s no secret winter morphs into summer at a breakneck pace and before you know it, you’re
coming into deer season pessimistic and unprepared. Between the honey-do lists, job
responsibilities, and everything else, it feels impossible to carve out time to put boots on the
ground for pre-season scouting.
But there’s a way to kill two birds with one stone…pun intended.
We’re going to cover how you can double dip to gain the info you need for next fall – without
having to dedicate additional time away from pesky real-life responsibilities. And chances are
you’re thinking more about gobbling turkeys in the spring than rutting bucks anyway.
The fact is spring turkey season is one of the best times of the year to get the intel you need to
put venison in the freezer six months from now. Especially if you’re a newer hunter on public
hunting land – honing your woodsmanship this spring puts you at a huge advantage come fall.
This is your chance to cover ground and learn the lay of the land without worrying about
bumping or spooking deer. And the beauty of turkey season is you can either run and gun to
cover ground or patiently wait ‘em out. Either way gives you an opportunity to get ahead.
Let’s break it down.
Access & Hunting Pressure
This could be the most overlooked aspect of deer season by newer and veteran hunters alike –
you need to know how to get in the woods undetected. As you move and listen to locate
gobblers, make note of all possible parking spots, walking trails, and roads. But this isn’t just for
knowing how you can get in the woods later on…you want to use this info to anticipate where
other hunters will be coming in.
And if you happen to locate treestands or ground blinds left behind by other hunters, it’s safe to
assume they will be back next fall. Don’t be surprised to find these close to access points and
trails. While it’s frustrating knowing the number of hunters in an area, use that information to
your advantage by eliminating those zones. If you find certain spots with heavy human
pressure, you can bet the deer know to steer clear as well – especially when they’re exposed to
it during the fall.
Though you can count on foot trails being used heavily by hunters, spring is the ideal time of
year to find little-used access routes to get you away from pressure. This could be as simple as
finding a route through thick cover, walking a steep ridge, or cutting through a swamp. There’s
usually small paths to get through these obstacles and once you make it to the other side,
you’re often in an area with little hunting pressure. The trick is to find these obscure routes
before summer growth kicks in and makes them impossible to discover.
And if it seems like we’ve talked about getting away from pressure, it’s not always about going
further than everyone else. Don’t overlook sign close to roads that other hunters walk right past.
And while those areas could be used primarily at night, it’s worth knowing deer are close by,
especially if you find it adjacent to thick cover.
Find the Sign
This is the perfect time of year to get an idea of deer numbers in a particular area. They haven’t
been hunted in months so they’ll be moving naturally and it’s common to see quite a few deer
while you’re turkey hunting. Depending on the type of terrain you’re in, you could get a close
look at how deer use the land to move between bedding and food sources. Though deer travel
and patterns change seasonally, there’s always terrain features impacting movement throughout
the year. This could be strips of cover connecting fields, timber, ridges, or thick bedding areas.
Make a note of where you see deer moving, especially if they’re on a heavily used trail.
And if you’re new to an area and see little sign and even fewer deer, it could be a clue to look
Most turkey seasons start before trees start to leaf out and the woods are open. While this
makes it tough to slip in close on an old gobbler, practically all of the deer sign from last fall is
visible. This includes old rubs, scrapes, and heavily used trails. Pay particular attention to rub
lines and big scrapes as many of these are used every fall by different bucks. It’s not uncommon
to have the same trees rubbed year after year.
Find the Food
Food sources might not be scarce in the spring, but it’s a phenomenal opportunity to identify
what’ll be available to deer in the fall. While acorns will typically be rotten or eaten up, drop a pin
if you find old acorns because there’s a good chance it was a feeding area for deer last fall. And
you want to remember the specific trees, especially if oak trees are few and far between. If
you’re in an agricultural area, try to figure out what crops are going in nearby.
And don’t just key in on the obvious food sources – spring is the perfect time to identify
lesser-known food sources such as berries, honey locust pods, aspen buds, and honeysuckle.
Assess Potential Setups
Since the woods aren’t too thick yet, it’s an ideal time to pick specific trees where you could
make a setup for next fall. If you were to do this scouting in late summer or early fall, you not
only risk bumping deer, but the amount of cover will change drastically by the time the leaves
come down. What you thought would be a slam dunk setup could turn out to be a barren
landscape with no cover to hide in.
And while you’re waiting and listening for gobbles, why not consider wind direction, potential
bedding areas, and runways? Deer season is months away so you’ve got everything to gain and
nothing to lose…you’re simply coming up with ideas and backup plans. There’s a good chance
you even find the perfect setup as you continue to learn the area.
And perfect setups are what put both longbeards and bucks in the back of the truck.
So if a hard gobbling turkey and cabin fever isn’t enough to lure you out of the house, just
remember those venison backstraps sizzling on the grill aren’t guaranteed. There’s no better
time than spring turkey season to learn everything you need to know for fall – stack the odds in
your favor and get out this spring so you’re ready to punch tags in the fall.