Apr 24, 2014

Micro-Scouting: Hunting White-tailed Deer


1. the activity of gathering information about game animals in a small area.
    "Micro-scouting is necessary preparation for locating good hunting spots."

1. the act (or process) of looking for signs of animals in a small area, field, or trail.
    "He micro-scouted for deer in a small patch of trees."

Doe and Yearling White-tailed Deer Concealed in the Forest.
Doe and Yearling White-tailed Deer Concealed in the Forest.
The ultimate goal of scouting is to set up your golden opportunity: a well-placed shot at your game. Micro-scouting is how you figure out how to get close enough to your game to get the perfect shot. Most game animals, especially white-tailed deer, will leave unique and noticeable signs of their daily behavior, including feeding patterns, movement, and even population density. Micro-scouting involves literally following their trail and finding these pieces of evidence that the animal you are hunting has left behind. For this reason, every hunter should spend time micro-scouting before and during the hunting season. In general, the more time you spend scouting, the better and more confident you’ll become at picking quality hunting locations. Scouting will also motivate you to get outdoors, enjoy nature, appreciate your natural environment, exercise, and learn about the animals you love to hunt.

We've come up with three basic steps for micro-scouting that every hunter should be doing. While micro-scouting applies to almost all types of hunting, it is especially useful when hunting white-tailed deer. The rest of the post will focus specifically on micro-scouting white-tailed deer.

1. Tracking – Begin the micro-scouting process in areas you macro-scouted and spotted significant amounts of white-tailed deer activity. Literally hike to the location(s) where you saw the deer. Start with tracking their movement through fields, paying close attention to signs which includes tracks, trails, scat (droppings), habitat, beds, and feasible food sources.

Read about Macro-Scouting First →

White-tailed Deer Tracks In the Mud
White-tailed Deer Tracks In the Mud
When you see a set of tracks, look for multiple sets and try to approximate the age of the tracks. If the tracks are old, check for newer ones. You may need to canvas a larger area. It’s important to differentiate between new versus old tracks and find regularly used trails versus trails used only a few times.

Next, begin looking for other signs. Inevitably, you are looking for high-traffic areas. When you find high traffic areas, you will notice significant alteration of the surrounding environment. For example, white-tailed deer tend to leave numerous tracks, scat, trails, beds, scrapes/rubs, and even antlers behind. Any area where you find all of these signs in abundance is likely to be an excellent location to hunt white-tailed deer.

Remember to not get over-excited over the first sign of deer activity. If you only see one set of tracks, scat, or other sign, the deer traffic in that area may only be sporadic. Check for trails and more prints nearby. If a deer has been through an area once the entire year, you may find a single set of tracks and even a bed but may never see the animal again for months. Don't waste time in an area where you cannot verify heavy deer traffic.

2. Canvas the Area – To hunt successfully, you need insights as to what time of year, season, and day the deer will be at specific hunting locations. The best way to do this is to broaden your search by canvassing the area. This will help you figure out which directions they are coming from, why they are in specific areas, and what times of day you can expect to see them.

For example, if you find a deer trail that is located between a nearby farm field and an adjacent section of woods, obviously, you've found a trail between their sleeping and eating areas. Not only is this the best type of trail for the early season, it may also become a low activity area later in the season. This may happen for numerous reasons but two basic reasons come to mind.

a. Shortly after the field (food) is harvested in the fall, there will be less food and less cover for white-tailed deer. Activity may dwindle shortly afterwards. Stalking and watching deer in ghillie suit with Nikon binoculars. Stalking and watching white-tailed deer with ghillie suit and binoculars.

Stalking & watching deer with ghillie suite & Nikon binoculars
Stalking & watching white-tailed deer with ghillie suit and binoculars.
b. Later in the fall, the rut will begin. White-tailed deer priorities will shift from eating to breeding. Although they will maintain certain eating habits, they will spend much more time searching and chasing their mates. So, a location like this will work well as an early season spot but, later in the season, you will need to re-evaluate your hunting location and/or continue tracking and following the herd.

3. Stalking & Watching – Bow hunting requires close proximity to your game. Animals like white-tailed deer can be difficult to get within range of a bow and arrow. Stalking and watching them will give you clues as to where you will be able to see and make a clear shot.

Sit and wait just like you are hunting. Watch and study the deer that come by. From this, you will learn how to be quiet, hold still, and move without alarming them. Most importantly, watching will teach you a great deal about the deer (or any type of game animals) you are hunting. You will also understand why, when, and how the deer are moving through.

For example, not all deer trails are created equal. Some are used for moving between feeding grounds while others are used for escaping predators. The only way to know which type of trail you’re looking at is to sit and watch. If the deer are walking too far from your spot, change your location. These specific details and habits of deer are only known through micro-scouting.

 ← More On Hunting →

Macro-scouting whitetail deer in southern Wisconsin.
Micro-scouting whitetail deer in a soybean field.


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