If I had to choose one month to scout for my next buck, I would choose April! By April, snow is gone and green-up isn’t quite there yet, at least for the first part of the month. Take advantage of this time when “the lake is drained” and scout! Here are 5 tips to use in April that will help you consistently kill big bucks.
- Chart Your Walks
If you could ever drain a lake of its water, you’d have an unfair advantage, right? You’d see all the topography right there in front of you, and all the fish would be laying there. All of the rock piles, weed beds, points, mud flats, and more would be right there in front of you, and the fish would be laying right there showing you exactly where they are hanging out! In terms of deer hunting, April is like having a “drained lake”. There’s no foliage. All the leaves, grass, and shrubs are basically flattened from snow, and yet all the deer trails, rubs, scrapes, hair, and beds from the previous fall are easily visible. It’s almost unfair. The bucks pants are down, and now’s the time to go figure him out! Take time in April to walk your hunting properties. Really study them. Map them on a GPS or smartphone. Mark rubs and scrapes. Take note of tree species. Don’t even worry too much about processing the information right away. Just walk, walk, walk! Pay attention to topography. Take good notes. Bring a video camera to remember things.
- Analyze Your Data
There are a lot of ways of processing the “data” that you collect when you walk, so I’m just going to tell you what works for me. The longer I’ve done this, the quicker I can “put it all together”, but this isn’t a race, so take your time, and enjoy the game! After really scouring the woods, I like to map out what I’ve seen. There are ways to do this digitally that really work well, but it can be as simple as a topo map and a pencil. I like using Google Earth’s smartphone app in conjunction with their desktop app. If I have a signal, I’ll track my walk with breadcrumb trails so that my paths are visible on a screen later. When you zig zag throughout the woods during a long walk, it’s easy to lose track of exactly where you’re at but, more importantly, how things you’re seeing relate to the “big picture”. Going back later and charting what you saw on a map really helps bring it all together. When you see all your marks and combine it with what you know about deer behavior and hunting pressure, etc, light bulbs start going off! Bedding areas will pop right out. Trails that are bed to feed or bedding to bedding become apparent. Bedding groups vs single beds, along with tracks and topography help tell you buck vs doe bedding. It all comes together.
- Focus Your Walks
Once you’ve walked an area and taken in all the information it’s giving out, and analyzed it, now’s the time to get specific spots in mind. I like to make another pass through the area, this time focused in on some specific areas. Armed with the experience of your previous walk and the map study you’ve done, even more things will stick out when you go back. This is when specific spots for stands will be selected. You might even prep some trees. I don’t like to leave stands up from spring until fall because of tree growth and rodents, but getting them ready for a silent hang & hunt is all that’s needed.
- Turkey Hunt!
By the third or fourth week of April, most states open their turkey season. This is a great time to get out and learn more about your hunting properties! I’ve always been a multi-tasker, so getting to turkey hunt while I scout for my next buck is right up my alley. My kids are the focus of my turkey hunting these days. I think kids can get turned off from hunting if they’re thrown into the “big buck trophy hunting”, that so many of us are addicted to these days, too early. Long sits with only occasional success is not the way to bring kids into the sport.
- Plan for the Future
Don’t forget to look beyond this fall. There are states with draws happening in April, so it’s important to keep up with this and apply for necessary bonus points and preference points if you want to someday draw a premium tag. I have as many as 14 points in some states! It takes discipline, and good calendar reminders, but it pays off! Apply for Kentucky Elk this month. Apply for Kansas deer licenses in April. Here’s a cool page from the Huntin’ Fool with state hunting application dates and deadlines. And don’t forget to start building points for your kids!
- Bonus Tip: Organic food plotting
If you’re planning on planting food plots later in the summer, one thing I like to do is run my disc over my plots in April after they’ve started growing in with some weeds. Don’t let them get too tall. I’ll likely disc again in late June too. By doing this, I avoid having to use Roundup or other herbicides to kill off tall weeds. This is better for your soil and your deer herd’s health.
Mistakes to Avoid in April
As a professional web designer and developer with many clients in the hunting industry, I see what happens to web traffic in April versus the fall. Simply put, it tanks. This tells me that most hunters aren’t thinking about deer in April. If you’re serious about putting big bucks on your wall with regularity, you’re making a mistake if you’re not scouting for your next buck in April! Take advantage of that “drained lake” and go read the sign!
Good luck with your next buck!