When you are new to deer hunting, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with everything there is to learn. The best thing to do when starting to learn how to scout for deer is to take it slow. Make it easy on yourself. First, remember that when you are scouting, you are really just looking for signs that deer are moving through the area. You’re looking for all the subtle signs that are easy to overlook like whether or not that little dirt path is a human trail or a deer trail. The main things to keep an eye out for when scouting is tracks, trails, poop, and buck rubs. Those are the easiest to spot.
A deer track is your absolute best sign to find for verified proof that deer are using the trail or area you are looking at. We can venture a pretty good estimated guess when it comes to rubs, scrapes, poop, and trails but none of the other deer signs are as definitive as the track. The best way to describe a track if you have never been shown one before is that it looks like an inverted heart. The biggest difference is that with the track, there is a clear break in between the two sides like the ridge you would find between your toe marks in your own foot print. Depending on the track, you may also see the marks from the dew claws but most of the time those are missing.
If you have never seen deer poop, it generally looks like a bunch of pebble sized pellets in a little pile. Usually, you will always at least find a few pellets even if part of the poop is looser or more solid. Also, there really is no way of determining whether or not the poop is from a buck or doe. The best you can do is possibly determine if the poop is from a fawn or an older deer based on the size of the pellets and the size of any tracks that may be right there.
Generally, a buck rub is pretty easy to spot when walking along a deer trail. This is especially true if you are scouting during the season and you come across a fresh rub from the currant season. You can see an example of a decent sized buck rub in the photo at the top of the article. This rub was found at the convergence of two main trails running through a very thick part of the woods on a little high spot. The rub does not look too repaired so I would guess it to be from last year. There were two rubs within 20 yards of each other along the same trail indicating that this is a trail that at least one buck uses on a regular basis, making rubs as he walks. With these rubs, there were no nearby trees that may have gotten hit by accident or any other indication of the size of the buck. At best, signs of the size of the buck are subjective. Seeing a lot of scrapes on nearby limbs and trees that are not part of the main rub are an indication that it could be a good sized buck, but no guarantee can be made without having a trail camera there watching the deer make the rub.
Trails are sometimes quite easy to spot and other times there are only very subtle signs that a trail exists. One of those subtle signs on faint trails is buck rubs. Many times, bucks will use different trails than does and fawns, making their trails much harder to find unless there are rubs all along it. The easy trails to find are often doe family group trails. During certain parts of the season a trail can be so worn down by doe family groups that you can actually see a dirt path that is close to 6 inches in width. If you find a trail like that, you can rest assured that you have found a major highway of deer activity. since the path is worn down to dirt, you may be able to confirm the trail was made by deer by finding tracks along the trail. If you are able to find tracks, be sure to note which direction they are pointing. A trail with all tracks pointing in the same direction is still a good trail, but not nearly as good as a dirt path trail with tracks heading in both directions with poop and buck rubs all along it as well.
How to Scout for Deer Basics
The fastest way to find a spot where deer are moving through is to follow along creeks. As you follow the creek, watch the bank for signs that you are at a preferred location to cross. The main sign to look for in this location will be tracks and beaten trails (often with tracks due to wetness). First off, decide if this is a location that you can get in and out of. For more info on tree stand access, see the article titled Tree Stand Access – A right or wrong way?. If this is a location that is too difficult to get a good entry and exit route, proceed to follow the trail on either side of the creek crossing. This is something you will want to do even if you are able to set up a stand at the crossing. Though it may not matter since you have found a natural funnel, it’s never a bad idea to find out why the deer are moving through that area. Follow that trail in either direction until you find either food, water, bedding, or a combination of all three. The more you can find out about where the trail you are set up on leads to and from, the better you will be able to determine the best times and part of season to sit in that stand.
The more signs that you can line up in a single spot, the more likely it is that a deer will be passing by that location within hunting hours. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or completely new to learning how to scout for deer, remember to start slow and easy. Make notes of the things you find and if you have a GPS, use it to mark weigh points where you find good sign. By starting in the easiest place, you will be lead in to the wide web of trails on your next scouting mission. The next time you are on a leisure walk in your local park, look for trails that are crossing the public human trail. Oftentimes, those will be deer trails calling for you to follow them. See what you can find, you will probably be surprised that what you find was right under your nose this whole time! The more you look, the faster you will be on your way to knowing how to scout for deer like a pro. Good luck and enjoy each and every opportunity to be in the woods.