Big-game hunting seasons are wrapping up around the country, and you might be feeling a touch of the post-season blues. However, it is not yet time to put your hunting boots away! Put them back on, grab your binoculars and head back afield now to invest in next year’s tags.
Revisit old areas and visit new areas.
Now that deer, elk or pronghorn season is over, scouting can play a big part in whether you tag one next year. Start by letting the woods return to a sense of normalcy for a few weeks. Then venture out midday and stalk slowly through areas you like to hunt. Look for tracks in the mud, bare ground or along creek banks. Squat down often to see things from an animal’s perspective. Often you may notice rubs on trees or hair on barb wire fences when you are lower to the ground.
While you are out in areas you normally hunt, make a point of venturing into new areas. Perhaps there is a draw you have never really walked into because you felt it was too small, insignificant or maybe you never had time. Take a few minutes and go look. I have found so much sign and connective trails in places I never suspected I would by simply taking an unhurried walk after the season. Small areas can hold big animals that have figured out that there is safety in that spot.
Here's an example. An acquaintance and I were hunting a buddy’s property one year. He headed down a trail that I often used and decided to get off the “beaten” path once in the woods and venture into a small but unhunted location. While sitting next to a tree, he noticed antlers across the draw from him next to a log. Then they moved! A big buck was lying there watching downwind but had his nose to the air every few minutes to smell what may be coming from behind him. Where he was bedded was less than 125 yards from where I often hunted from two different directions. I had never seen that buck before, and we later determined that he used a very small dry runoff ditch to access that draw and bedded down often behind that log. The volume of deer droppings around the log told the story.
Use weather to your advantage.
Snow is a big help in determining where big game animals travel. You cannot only see their tracks after a light snow, but you can see animals much easier because they stand out against the snowy backdrop. I would suggest going scouting after a light snow. Heavy snows may move animals to where they would only go when it snows really hard. A light snow may be less likely to affect normal routines. Plus, hiking in light snow is easier anyway!
When scouting after a light snow, pay attention to where the animals seek shelter in such weather. Bedding areas are a good thing to recall next time conditions are comparable. Pay attention to where food sources may be found in such instances, and remember that information next season.
“Hunt” for sheds.
Sheds are antlers that drop at the end of the season. Shed hunting is a fun way to take stock of which bucks or elk may have made it through the season. As the breeding season ends and we start to get more daylight, testosterone levels in deer and elk drop and they drop or shed their antlers.
When deer or elk drop antlers, it often happens when something jars them or they knock the antlers into something. Think about cutovers where the animal has to weave through saplings. Look along fences they may duck under, logs they may jump over, creek crossings or along field edges.
The best time to find sheds is probably going to be mid-afternoon when the winter sun starts sliding down and the angle of light is just right to brighten up the white or creamy color of an antler. Using binoculars to scan from a hillside can be useful. Get up high and take your time looking. For thick areas, head there on foot and pay attention to other sign while you are at it.
When you find a shed, tuck that location into your memory. You may consistently find sheds in the same area year after year. Deer and elk are creatures of habit and travel the same places for generations.
Scouting just after the season ends when leaves are gone, insects are not harassing you and visibility is superb is a pleasant experience and a great time to get the family out when you don’t have to be super quiet. This month and next, consider taking a few trips to the deer or elk woods to “hunt” for next season’s meat!