Scouting Whitetail Deer

Scouting is a very important part of hunting whitetail deer. If you don’t know where the deer are, how are you going to be successful. It is possible to for luck that a deer will happen past your stand but if you put the time in knowing where the deer are and where they are going, you will be much more successful.

I scout year around. I start in the spring to see where the deer are bedding or where they are moving to. These patterns will change as the season moves on. Sometimes they will remain the same but usually with the different food sources will change throughout the year.

These changes in food sources will change the deer patterns as well. If you know where they will be and where they are going you will be much more successful. Without scouting and walking the area you’ll never know that they moved. As the years go on I tend to have to scout a little less as the deer in the area have become predictable.

Being predictable and following the same trail each time is a different story. I know that they will move from bedding to food sources but where they will come to those food sources and from which direction will be different. Wind direction will have an effect on their movements as well. Deer will try to travel into the wind so they can use their nose to their advantage.

Scouting Equipment

There is different equipment that will make your scouting easier. None of it will completely remove the need for you to get out of the recliner and into the woods but will help you scout smarter. Back when I started hunting there was no real gadgets that were made for scouting. A simple compass was all there really was. Surveyors tape helped to mark where you had been.

Now days I don’t go into the woods without my GPS unit. It makes hunting so much easier as it tells you where you have been and where you parked. The unit that I use is not all that sophisticated but does the job well. I put in a wave point where I part, and put in wave points where possible stands and tracks are found.

There are also several apps that can be added to any smartphone that will do the same things. I have a couple that I use myself. Some are free and some have a cost. It is just another part of my scouting and hunting arsenal.

A word to the wise though depending on where you are hunting, your smartphone may not get signal. In the area’s that I hunt in northern Wisconsin, I have this issue. I have only seen a couple of spots where my GPS don’t get signal so I use both.

Before I ever set foot into an area that I am thinking about hunting, I will first look at aerial maps to look at terrain and example topographical maps to look for possible bedding and food sources. The topographical maps is extremely useful when I am looking for funnels and ambush points. Once I have the areas that I want to check out, than I head into the field to do the actual scouting.

In recent years the trail camera technology has gotten better and less expensive. Now cameras can be purchased for less. Cameras solve two issues that are common with scouting. First you can spend less time in the area spreading around human scent and they can take pictures when you are not there. The camera’s that I use have motion detection and night vision. The camera’s will take pictures at night as well as in the day. I have gotten many different animals on camera. There is always a feeling of excitement when I go get the cards to see what I had captured since I was there last.

Pre-Season Scouting

Early in the spring I will start my scouting. I will actually be scouting for turkeys but will kill two birds with one stone so to speak. Anytime I am in the woods, I pay attention to my surroundings. I have found little hidden gems that way. Deer can be a creature of habit. Their patterns will not change all that much but can vary from year to year depending on food and cover sources.

I will walk the areas that I am hunting to check on stand location and look at deer movement. If I can get out right after a small snowfall at the end of winter or beginning of spring, I will try and cover as much territory as I can. All the tracks that you see will be fresh.

I also like to get out after a rain storm. The tracks left in the soft ground can give you clues as to where the deer are and where they are moving to. Pay close attention to water sources as well. Deer and other animals need to drink. If there are no water sources in the near vicinity, I will add a kids pool into the ground for the animals to drink from. I have had a lot of successes doing this over the years. If there is water in the area than this tactic usually will not work as well.

Take careful notes of what you are seeing and where. This information will be very beneficial once the actual season starts. If you have been able to pattern the deer during the preseason, setting up stand locations should almost be second nature. Find the deer and put stands up to ambush them as the move to and from food sources.

Scouting During the Season

I will scout during the season. You in the woods anyway so you might as well scout as you move through the area. I will check stand locations that have produced during the past to see if there is sign in the area as I hunt. Leaving a little early or on days that you are not planning on hunting can be beneficial.

A word to the wise though. Don’t scout to heavily or you can drive the deer nocturnal. Nocturnal means that the deer will not move until after dark. Mature bucks are usually the first to go nocturnal. Don’t let that deter you from scouting while you are on the field. Just don’t over due it.

I check camera’s during the season usually on my way in or out. I try not to check them to often during the season but I will check them more often as the rut gets started. Its nice to see what you are after is actually in the area.

Another tactic that I will sometimes use is to go into an area I haven’t hunted before and just walk around till I find a good spot with a lot of sign and go up a tree. This tactic has worked very well over the years. Not only do I get to scout a new area but I get to hunt it as soon as I find the sign. This gives the deer much less chance of finding out that a hunter is in the area till it is too late.

Post Season Scouting

Once or if I tag out I still spend time scouting after the deer gun season. I watch where the deer are moving to. Their patterns will change as December rolls around. The deer will move into their winter range. This scouting allows me to find of where they are moving and what food sources they are using.

All this is done in case I don’t tag out one year and I have to go back out bow hunting after the gun season or for the late doe season. The information of where the deer have moved to will become invaluable. They usually will not be where they were in the spring and fall. Food sources have become much more scarce and the deer will move to find new food sources.


Time scouting can be even more important than the actual time spend hunting itself. Deer can become wise to a hunter’s presence and change their patterns accordingly. I have seen deer pattern other hunter’s and avoid the area that they are hunting in once they know that they are there. Even worse they will only cross those areas after dark.

There are tons of tools available these days to assist in scouting. Spend the time looking over aerial maps and topographical maps before you ever set foot in the woods. Spend your time scouting wisely. Having a plan prior to can save a lot of time as well as human scent in the area.

Cameras have added an element to scouting that is undeniable. Having something that can monitor an area 24 hours a day 7 days a week is invaluable. I would suggest that you take advantage of their use. They can be purchased inexpensively. Take the time to hide them best you can so they don’t get spotted by potential theft.

Scouting is just another tool a hunter uses in their pursuit of that trophy deer. The time spent scouting an area that you hunt over and over will become less and less. There are areas that I hunt now that I check only a couple of times a year as they continually produce year after year. Take that with a grain of salt though as I have had stands that produced for years than all of a sudden are dead.

Enjoy your time out in the woods. I look forward to comments and questions below. Thank you for reading my article. Dan

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4 thoughts on “Scouting Whitetail Deer”

  1. As someone who is newer to deer hunting, this was an extremely helpful read. My friend owns land in Central New Jersey, and here it is legal to bait during periods of the season. He has actually taken to changing to deers paths with the food he uses to bring the deer past where he wants them to go. He has also used the GPS, trail cameras, apps, as well as scouting on foot to mark points around his property. It has taken a lot of the guesswork out of his hunting and led to amazing results! Thanks for the article!

    • Hello Steve,

      It was legal to bait here until 2 years ago. The county went bait free due to CWD being discovered. It should come out of the baiting restriction next year.  Baiting does help to change their patterns but that still is not a guarantee.  I used to bait and up in the north woods of Wisconsin it is almost a must to get the deer to move in any type of predictability. That being said by using sound scouting techniques deer can be patterned even when their is not any fields for them to feed in.  Just take more leg work to figure out where they are going and why.  Thank you for your comment. 


  2. Personally, I’ve never been to even a single hunt in my life. Regardless, this is such an interesting read.
    I would never guess that there could be so much going on between a hunter and a dear. And the use of a camera – it makes a lot of sense when I think about it. But I would never think to bring one on my own…so, thanks for the tip in case I ever do go hunting.
    Also, I’ll keep the scouting in mind too.
    Great article, I truly enjoyed it.
    Thanks for sharing it!

    • Hello Boby,

      I didn’t think that a camera would make that much of a difference. Now I have multiple cameras due to their effectiveness. I will likely add several more this upcoming spring. Thank you for your comment.


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