Recently, I had the good fortune to escape Wisconsins’ winter for 10 days to visit my daughter, who attends college in a place where sun tans never fade. As my plane departed from Madison the temperature was -20 degrees. Somewhere shortly after take-off, as I gazed at the frozen tundra below, my thoughts of thawing out were replaced by the realization that I was flying over some of the best deer hunting turf on the planet. From miles above them, the patchwork of woodlots and naked farm fields revealed places where deer were bedding, travelling, and feeding. My wife, who is seated next to me, occasionally glances out my window and knows all too well what I am thinking. To her credit, she keeps silent while I continue “scouting”. We talk a lot more on night flights.
As our flight leaves the Midwest behind, my thoughts progress to the hills and swamps back home, where I hunt deer. Mother Nature has dealt out a tough winter so I’ve opted to stay out of the deer woods since the end of bow season, to give the deer a break from having to use up precious energy avoiding man. As winter snows recede, but before the ice thaws my hunting partners and I will scout the swamps. High ground will be checked out just after that.
A few years back, I was scouting a cattail swamp as the ice was beginning to rot. I was focused on finding buck bedding areas and were typically finding them on small clumps of high ground out in the sea of cattails. While walking on a deer trail through the cattails, I came to a spot on the trail that was rapidly thawing. I was surprised when my right foot plunged through the cattail mat, into the bottomless muck below. My leg submerged up to my….er….where it joined my other leg. I’m sure there are ancient Mastodons buried in this same swamp muck, so I was happy to pull my leg out with my boot still attached. On another early spring scouting trip, Jarrod Erdody and I teamed up to check out an unfamiliar creek bottom. The melting snow roared downstream between us as we scouted opposite sides of the creek. I decided to join Jarrod on his side, so I put on chest waders to cross the creek which I guessed to be waist deep. Three steps into the creek and I was standing in icy water up to my chest. I still had 20 feet until I would be across and, at that point, Jarrod convinced me to give up and turn back. A local farmer later told us that creek runs 10 feet deep at this time of year because of the melting snow. Good call Jarrod!
Scouting the hills and dry ground is dull compared to the thrills the wetlands can offer. At this time of year, March Madness can be more like Marsh Madness for those who venture there. As the landscape turns from white to brown, deer sign that has been frozen in time is revealed, and needs to be discovered before things turn green. Now is the time to start locating deer to hunt for the upcoming fall. For some guys, deer season never ends. Yea, we put away our weapons when the regulations tell us the hunting season is over, but we put on our boots and start scouting soon after, for the next one.