Mapping Deer Sign and Property Features When Post-Season Scouting
Post-season deer scouting can happen anytime you walk in the woods after deer season and before spring arrives. It’s called post-season for obvious reasons, but this type of scouting doesn’t occur once spring growth starts. Why? The one thing that creates ideal scouting conditions for the post-season is the existence of the past hunting season’s deer sign. Rubs, scrapes, runs, food plot pressure, woody browse pressure, and even beds are all still fresh and clearly visible, something the spring green-up clears up in a matter of days. That growth is the fine line between post-season scouting and pre-season scouting, pre-season being scouting that occurs during spring and summer. You may only have a few weeks left to actively scout your property with this available deer sign, so make sure you don’t waste a single second or observation.
Photo: A detailed hunting map after noting deer sign during a post-season deer scouting trip.
Deer Sign to Take Note of
The secret to worthwhile post-season scouting means knowing exactly what deer sign to look for and what information to take away from each observation, especially information that can prove useful for next year’s hunting season.
A bedding area, in the general sense, is the categorization hunters have given secluded areas of a property where deer tend to bed. Deer bedding areas are often located in thick early successional habitat, native grasses, sunny wooded south facing slopes, or patches of habitat in agriculturally dominated landscapes. These are extremely important to take note of as they happen to be the bases for both deer movement and hunting strategy on a property.
Photo: A bedding polygon labeled as sanctuary and the individual deer beds actual found in the bedding area after post-season scouting.
Critical Notes: Organizing bedding areas on a map in detail, including the full size of the area through detailed polygon placement, will allow organization of areas hunters should avoid. Each bedding area should essentially be classified as sanctuary unless that particular area busts most if not all movement on the property by hunters. Note the orientation of the slope if there is terrain. Sunny south slopes will become heavily used as the temperatures plummet throughout the season. In addition to orientation, major runs coming out of bedding areas signal direction of travel and potential funnels to reveal hunting opportunities.
Why it Matters for Next Season: Again most hunting strategy is completely based off of the location of bedding areas. Stand access, food plots, trail camera locations, set wind directions, and any property improvements must all be decided upon with factoring in where deer bedding areas are. If you’re finding multiple beds or single beds, drop icons inside the entire sanctuary polygon (note the pic above). This will give you a better idea of where deer are in each bedding area. Chances are the same bedding area and beds will be used year over year.
As the highways and backroads of the woods, deer runs or game trails are a critical observation to note when post-season scouting. These trails are easily visible in snow or just before spring arrives, a time when snow melts and late winter rains create muddy conditions. This allows hunters to map how deer move across a property. It also cues to whether or not habitat or property improvements have taken root in deer behavior, telling a hunter whether or not significant travel has been directed towards those improvements.
Photo: Deer runs (deer trails) exiting a bedding area and moving towards food.
Critical Notes: Assigning a number describing the severity of “wornness” to each run allows you to figure out where deer are likely to travel. Generally a number 1-3, 1 being lightly traveled, and 3 being heavily traveled routes, can allow you to note where more traffic is coming and going. If spotted, big buck tracks should be noted. Make sure to clearly label deer runs differently than stand access, property roads, or old logging roads.
Why it Matters for Next Season: Hunting opportunities are made over deer runs. Besides food plots, travel routes are obviously the next best bet to encounter bucks. Deer runs between bedding and food, across terrain, or between different bedding areas (especially in the rut) need to be targeted at different times of the year. For example, in the picture above, the run (yellow path) leaves a bedding area traveling to the east and progress through a small staging food plot (in this case clover) before going out into a large bean field. The small staging plot is a perfect opportunity to catch bucks staging just before dark. The run leaving the bedding area on to the west works through a fall food plot, around a water source, then out to a large corn field. This run offers several opportunities for intercepting deer in the late season.
One type of deer sign that gets quickly swallowed by spring growth are scrapes. These are important to take note of, especially if you‘ve had observations of bucks working them when hunting or through trail cameras. Small random scrapes on edges of food plots or randomly throughout the woods are not as important as large community scrapes. These scrapes are often larger in diameter with several different tracks versus one distinct buck track and scrape marks in a smaller scrape. These are vital communication points for deer, points that offer hunters observation and hunting opportunities.
Photo: Labeling scrapes, especially large community scrapes, while scouting a hunting property.
Critical Notes: Simply identifying locations of large scrapes will help piece together deer behavior, movement, and communication across the property. These spots are more than likely going to be used year over year, particularly scrapes in funnels or by food sources. Make a special note on the scrape waypoint noting any great trees for a stand or a good location for a camera. Keep in mind that the location should be easily accessed with sanctuaries and food sources in mind.
Why it Matters for Next Season: Large scrapes whether made by deer or by a hunter (mock scrape) are tempting locations for deer to congregate. This can pull a deer in front of a trail camera, or within bow range of a stand site in staging areas, crop fields, or food sources where deer tend to spread out. Scrapes in and around a hit-list buck’s core area can be vital for developing a pattern of movement through trail cameras. This can be one of the most successful intel gathering strategies during October and the first part of November before the peak rut.
Giant rubs can fire any hunter up. It’s the one distinctive trademark of a large buck in the area. But how important is it in terms of mapping deer sign? Why it might not be as vital to mark as scrapes, runs, or bedding areas, they still have their place in the puzzle of figuring out how to harvest a particular buck. Finding a rub or multiple rubs in a known buck’s core area might signify more movement out of the buck than previously thought. Large rubs, or several large rubs are often found inside bedding areas or deer sanctuaries that you might have kept out of during the season.
Photo: Identifying the location of a deer rub and adding a photo to the waypoint feature in the HuntStand hunting app.
Critical Notes: Making note of the size and your guesses of which buck it might have been can be important down the road. In addition, taking a picture of the rub for your mapping records will be sure you remember which rub it actually is for future scouting efforts.
Why it Matters for Next Season: While rubs won’t create observation or hunting opportunities like runs or scrapes, they can still be considered one small piece of the overall puzzle of figuring out how to harvest a buck.
Anywhere from late January through the end of March, you can expect to find sheds while post-season scouting. Chances are you’ll be shed hunting more than post-season scouting, but both can be done simultaneously. So are shed finds important enough to map out? Absolutely. The blog link below shows you exactly how to map your shed hunt, including some helpful features of the HuntStand App that will allow you to find more sheds!
Critical Notes: Sheds are concrete evidence of a buck’s presence. More so, this evidence points to a significant amount of time spent traveling or staying in that particular spot. As the blog above outlines, sheds are often found in food sources, bedding areas, and the travel routes that connect them. Taking note of where the shed(s) has been found and which deer the shed(s) belongs to can create extremely valuable hunting information.
Why it Matters for Next Season: The “Mapping Your Shed Hunt” blog provides a real example of how information from finding a shed can provide hunting information and opportunities for next year.
Other Key Mapping Objectives for Post-Season Scouting
If you haven’t mapped your property out on a hunting map, post season scouting is the perfect time to do so. Chances are you’re waiting for the weather to break in order to get your tree stands, trail cameras, and blinds out. In addition, you’ll be combing your property in and around every feature the property contains. Here is a quick list of features you’ll want to map!
- Trail camera locations
- Stand and blind locations
- Water sources
- Food plots
- Other food sources (browse, crops, hard mast, and soft mass)
- Access routes to stands
- Parking access
- Mineral or bait sites
- Deer feeder locations
- Known funnels or pinch points
Post-season scouting is only valuable when it benefits your hunting down the road. In order for this to happen, you need to be able to know exactly what intel you should gather, including detailed notes and mapping. You really only get one chance a year to freely roam your hunting property without the concern of running deer off of it. Add the fact that much of the past season’s deer sign is available and sheds are scattered across the property waiting to be found, and you have a recipe for some enjoyable and worthwhile time spent in the woods.