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Five Fundamentals for Optimizing Your Summer Scouting

Here are five tips to kickoff your summer scouting ventures to help you punch your tag this fall.

Five Fundamentals for Optimizing Your Summer Scouting

A handful of hunters consistently punch their tags on mature bucks and bulls year in and year out. It can be easy to envy these individuals, or we can learn from them. I choose the latter. So, what is their secret?

If you were to ask these savvy hunters what their keys to success are, you would get a plethora of responses. But there would also be some fundamental similarities. One of which would undoubtedly be the countless hours spent preseason scouting. The summer months provide the perfect opportunity for hunters to swing the odds of success in their favor long before opening day.

summer-scouting--2
Look at summer scouting as, "The hunt before the hunt".

Whether your hunt unit is in your backyard or halfway across the country, I cannot stress enough the importance of putting boots on the ground before your hunt begins. Depending on when and what you are hunting, your scouting approach will change, but the basics remain the same.

WHERE TO START

Whether hunting your old stomping grounds or venturing into virgin turf, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips that is easy to gather and learn. Start your summer scouting by mulling over mapping apps like onX and Google Earth images of your intended hunt area. An entire in-depth article could be written on e-scouting, but that’s for another time.You should begin by marking springs, ponds, trails, and potential access points and then go exploring.

summer-scouting--maps
OnX and Google Earth are a great starting point for selecting where to spend your time summer scouting.

MAXIMIZE YOUR TIME

Time is precious. Maximize every hour of the day when summer scouting, especially when you are traveling a substantial distance. Look for animals early and late but map out the rest of your day scouring the hunt unit, building blinds, and checking water sources.

In states where it is legal, this is also a great time to hang and check trail cameras. Getting a picture of a buck or bull rarely results in the killing of that animal, but trail cams can provide valuable information on the amount, or lack thereof, of game in a specific area.

FOLLOW THE SIGNS

The timing of your hunt in the fall will change what kind of sign you should be looking for in the summer. If you are hunting elk in September, look for tree rubs and old wallows but, most importantly, look for the ladies. Where the cows are, the bulls will be when the rut kicks off. Seeing bulls during your summer scouting trips is great but, in reality, is quite useless information—unless you are hunting them pre-rut. By early September most bulls will have vacated their summer ranges in search of love.

summer-scouting--sheds
Hunting for sheds in the off-season is another form of scouting. Finding sheds can tell you the caliber of animals that are roaming the area.

If your elk hunt does not open until November or December, then figure out where the elk spend their winters, and then wear out some boot leather. Post-rut bulls become reclusive and seek out the deepest, darkest holes they can find. During this time the bulls also have a relatively small core area. This makes these areas more difficult to find, but that much more critical to discover during your summer scouting efforts. Look for shed antlers, old elk drop- pings, and bedding areas. Focus on secluded south-facing slopes with bedding cover close by. Once the rut finishes in early October, many of the mature bulls pull off the cows and head for their wintering grounds regardless of snow levels.

Summer scouting for mule deer is a little different than for elk. If you are hunting deer in August or September, the summer months are crunch time. Spend as much time as possible behind your glass and cover as much country as possible. During this time of year, bucks are visible, in bachelor groups, and—most importantly—they are patternable. With a few exceptions, these bucks will remain in these same core areas until mid-October when they start to venture towards their rutting grounds.

GETTING AROUND

One of the most overlooked aspects of summer scouting is learning to navigate a unit. Take time to familiarize yourself with roads, access points, trailheads, and glassing points during the summer. Doing so will save precious time once your hunt opens as well as arm you with valuable intel of the entire unit.

summer-scouting--camping
Take time during the summer to scout out ideal camping spots for your fall hunts. Look for a spot with water and within striking distance of game.

Summer is also a great time to locate the ideal camping spot that is within striking distance of your game. Look for an area with cover for protection from the elements as well as a viable water source. If water is scarce, or will require excess physical exertion to obtain, it never hurts to start hiking a gallon or two of water into your camp each time you are in the area scouting. Doing so will save time and vital calories once your hunt opens.

OBSERVE FROM A DISTANCE

Deer and elk are creatures of habit. Once they sense pressure, their habits change. When possible, scout from a distance, especially when scouting early season mule deer or pre-rut bulls. Of course, it would be great to run a trail camera into your target buck’s core area, but you also run the risk of blowing him out. I learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion.

Recommended


summer-scouting--glassing
Study game from a distance to learn their bedding and feeding areas. Be cautious of hiking in to post a trail cam—you risk blowing animals out.

A mature, public-land buck or bull has outwitted hunters for years. They haven’t done that by chance and have little to zero tolerance for human presence. Too much pressure and they often go nocturnal or completely vacate the area. Once you have a target animal located, assess the landscape, and establish the best vantage point for studying his habits without blowing him out. If you spend enough time scouting a particular buck or bull, you will know where he feeds, beds, and waters. All this information will up your odds of success come opening day.

What you do now will undoubtedly have a direct correlation to your success on the mountain this fall. Go stretch the legs, learn a new area, and reap the rewards of your efforts. You won’t regret it.

summer-scouting--mule-deer
With these tips and a little luck, you'll put eyes on a great buck this summer to target come fall.



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