Late Summer Scouting for Whitetails

“That Ruger FTW Hunter of yours really does like Hornady 250-grain GMX, doesn’t it!” commented Tim Fallon when I showed him two targets I had shot at the Lodge range with my .375 Ruger a few minutes before.

 

“Yes Sir! Three shot essentially into the same hole at 50 yards and basically the same at 100. That impresses me! From the range card you did for me, sighted dead on at 50 yards it’s dead on again at 200 yards and only 3-inches low at 250. I trued it to that at the 200 and 250-yard steel plates. At the latter I shot 3-inches low with a dead center hold. And I noticed on the range card that with the Trijicon 4-15X scope you mounted on the rifle for me, at 750 yards, I simply hold on target the tenth line down from the primary center crosshair. I have not trued at that distance, but next time I come to the ranch, I want to try to do exactly that. Not that I would ever shoot at a critter at that distance. But, I do admit shooting at steel plates that far with what most hunters consider an “elephant gun” is great fun.” I responded.

“You coming back to the ranch before we leave next for Sweden and Norway?” asked Tim, knowing I dearly love spending time on the FTW Ranch (www.ftwsaam.com) which is thankfully only about sixty miles north of where I live, not only to shoot but also to spend time learning about the critters that live there, especially whitetail deer.

 

“Based on how I shot today, I feel pretty confident being able to shoot a small bodied roe deer at 200 yards should I need to, and, a reindeer even farther out. In either instance I hope to get as close as possible before pulling the trigger. From what Stefan with Scandinavian Prohunters told us at the Dallas Safari Club convention where we had Patty Curnutte (www.theglobalsportsman.com) set up the hunt, we should with both animals get opportunities at one hundred yards or less.” I countered. Tim nodded an affirmative. “I do want to come back however right after we get back from our Scandinavian safari and do some whitetail scouting. I know you’ve got some whitetails here that will bear looking for. If not for me then certainly for some of your clients coming to hunt later this fall.” Tim again nodded an affirmative.

 

I knew the FTW produced some absolute monstrously antlered whitetails, the result of an excellent management program in terms of both range and herd. Each year the ranch does numerous controlled burns. Deer and exotic game populations on the ranch are also carefully monitored and controlled. For the past several years my grandsons and granddaughter had hunted the ranch, helping Fallon and crew with their management program by harvesting does and bucks with less than desirable antlers for their age! Deer populations need to be controlled to insure proper habitat management.

 

I, too had helped with shooting does. With proper habitat management, does provide extremely good venison. But I have on occasion also hunted bucks on the FTW Ranch. One year I also took a 170 class 10-point with a short drop-tine. My choice of firearms for that hunt was Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye, Guide Rifle chambered in .375 Ruger, shooting Hornady’s 300-grain, DGX. That particular Ruger preferred it over any other ammo.

 

Tim and crew use a fair number of trail cameras to help them get an idea where bucks are traveling and to some extent when. Me? I appreciate trail cameras and the information gained from them when I’m scouting for other hunters. But when it comes to my personal hunting, I like being surprised by what might be found in the area I hunt. Perhaps that’s a bit “old school”. To me there is something to be said about hunting where the bucks do not all have names.

 

Maybe I’m a bit old school when it comes to scouting for mature bucks. I like doing so during the late summer, about the time bucks start shedding their velvet. But I do most of my scouting starting in late winter, then concede the summer to the deer, and start scouting again late summer to early fall.

 

During the late winter I spend a fair amount of time looking for shed or cast antlers. Over the years of hunting numerous places across North America for whitetails and looking for shed antlers, I have frequently ended up taking a particular buck within less than 100 yards or where I found his cast antler the previous winter. I have I found that some of the truly old mature bucks tend to have rather small home ranges. Not all of them but enough. Some of the bucks I have hunted decreased the area they ranged over as they got older. In so doing they became extremely knowledgeable of their home. These are the bucks that tend to be extremely wary and secretive. They know every square inch of their reduced range and how to avoid hunters. These, too are the bucks I truly enjoy pursuing and matching wits with.

 

I look for their cast antlers, but then also try to determine where the bucks which have shed them had their scrapes and rubs. Often these rubs and scrapes show repeated use of the same rubbing trees and same scrapes year after year. Being old school, rather than using “google earth” or similar apps, I tend to hand draw maps of the area I hunt showing the various features of the property.

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I usually start my post-season scouting about two weeks after the deer seasons close. By then the deer are pretty well back to their normal patterns and they are not spooked badly by someone’s presence. With map and pen in hand I do my best to find all the rubs and scrapes in the area. I look for rubs with scars for past years’ use. And I look for scrapes that are deep and show a lot of use. I mark the location of these on my hand-drawn map. These will serve as reference points for where I will want to start hunting the following fall.

 

I return to the hunting area about the time the bucks start casting antlers. Then I mark on my map where I find those antlers that look like they come from mature, or about to be mature bucks.

 

Only time I return to the hunting area during the early or mid-summer is if there is a dense thicket on the hunting property. If so, I go into the thicket and cut some winding, about 6-feet wide trails in the thicket. These are laid out so regardless which way the wind blows I can hunt these “cuts”, particularly from the ground using my Nature Blinds’ Stalking Shield (www.natureblinds.com) and my Rattling Forks (www.rattlingforks.com) rattling horns. I cut the vegetation down to about two inches above the ground. When finished I fertilize these trails with Triple 13 fertilizer or whatever cheap fertilizer and I can buy at the local feed/seed dealers. These make great secretive and hidden food plots as well. This accomplished,

I do not return to these areas until I’m ready to hunt them.

 

If there are mast trees on the property, I spend some time in August looking to see what particular trees are producing acorns. When there are many acorn/nut of soft mast (persimmon) producing trees, I select several. These I fertilize these during the winter with the cheapest fertilizer I can find at the local feed/seed dealer. I dig a shallow trench along the drip-line, where the outermost branches end, which is where the tree’s primary feed roots are. I pour in fertilize then rake soil back in place.

 

Fertilizing mast trees makes their nuts and fruits “sweeter”.   Deer quickly pick up on the sweeter acorns and soft mast to the point where deer will feed on the fruit and nuts of these before the do any other. By fertilizing mast trees, you can actually pull deer to one tree or a grouping of trees, creating a natural food plot.

 

For several years I managed a considerable chunk of property in Union and Crittenden County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River where Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana come together. The property had considerable honeysuckle, ideal winter browse. Honeysuckle responds well to fertilizer as well. In the area I hunted myself, I fertilized honeysuckle in select spots which were ideal for hunting. It was in one such natural honeysuckle fertilized food plot I shot my biggest Kentucky buck. I did no scouting in these areas. I did not go there until hunting season opened and I was carrying a rifle.

 

The only real scouting I do these days during the late summer is to check on food, or changes in land practices. And I seldom do any up close and personal scouting during this time. I find a place where I can scout from afar using binoculars and checking oak trees for acorns or watching squirrel activity. If there are a lot of squirrels in the area, chances are there are going to be acorns. And if there are acorns there will likely be deer when those acorns start falling.

 

Where I hunt in Texas water comes at a premium. In mid to early September in Texas mourning and whitewing dove seasons begin. I only very occasionally shoot a shotgun, but I love going on dove hunts. The difference is, while others are shooting birds, I like to slip away from the group and go find a remote waterhole I can watch, to see what kind of deer are watering there. Over the years I have used such scouting quite often, and more than one of my really nice Texas whitetails were scouted during early fall dove season.

 

Two days after sighting in my rifle, I got a call from Tim Fallon. “Wait’ll you see the trail camera picture we got of a buck last night. Pretty sure it’s the old buck I told you about last hunting season. He should be 9-years old this year based on what we know about him. It looks like he’s got the best antlers he’s ever had. He just might go 180 or better.”

 

Well so much for my being surprised! Love it!

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