We’re coming into primetime scouting months if you’re a diehard whitetail hunter committed to consistently shooting mature bucks. Continuing a year-round series, here are 5 tips for March to help you do just that.
- Start Walking
This winter’s been mild and most of the midwest should have little to no snow at least some point this month. Right after snow melt is a perfect time to hit the woods and cover ground. It’s like draining a lake and being able to see where all the fish are! Grass and foliage are matted down, trails are clear, rubs and scrapes are still easily spotted. The main thing I want to learn, first and foremost, is where the deer are bedding. Find a buck’s bedding area(s) and you have a LOT better chance of killing him. Know whether he beds on your property you can hunt or not. It will have a big impact on how you hunt him. After bedding, find and walk travel corridors to and from his feeding and between other bedding areas. Find primary scrapes. Rubs and rub lines can help you quickly learn how a buck uses a particular property. Rubs and scrapes can be good indicators of doe bedding areas too because bucks spend time on their downwind side marking things up for the does to visit. Learn as many pieces of the puzzle as you can now before green-up. You can worry about piecing them together later, which is why I take good notes (bring a camcorder!). Cover ground and learn, learn learn!
- Shed the Sheds
I think guys waste time looking for antlers on the ground when they should be studying other things about the sign and terrain. Don’t get me wrong, I love finding nice antlers, but it’s just not a priority for me. I’d rather find a big set at the end of a fresh blood trail in the fall. When your eyes are locked on the ground, you tend to not see the forest for the trees. Focus on the big picture when you walk hunting properties. Study the types of trees you have, potential entry and exit routes, potential stand locations, blowdowns and other natural funnels you can’t see on a map. Maybe I should get a shed hunting dog so he can search for antlers while I search for the other clues!
- Go Beyond the Maps
If you’ve done some remote scouting over the internet with mapping applications, you’re worlds ahead and can really hit the ground running. Now is the time to get in the woods to confirm (or not) what you’ve seen on maps AND to look for what the maps CANNOT show you. Here are some things maps cannot show you that you need to know:
- Human Presence: Maps won’t show you human footprints, treestands/blinds or old setups, cigarette butts, etc. It’s important to learn where other hunters are frequenting and you can only do this by walking an area. You won’t know how much use a particular road or trail is getting until you see it in person.
- Water Sources – Maps can show you where water MIGHT be (blue lines for rivers/creeks, blue shaded ares for lakes/ponds) but you don’t know until you check it out in person if there’s actually water there or not. They won’t tell you how deep a creek is and if you just need knee boots or hip boots, waders, or canoe! They don’t tell you how hard or mucky the bottom is for walking on and if it’s traversible anytime or just when frozen.
- Funnels: Many can be seen from maps, but some of the most effective cannot. You need to watch for subtleties that affect the flow of wildlife. In Hill Country Bucks, we talk about hunting the high side of steep cuts, and until you check out cuts in person, you won’t know just how much junk is in them or how deep they’re really cut to know if deer are able to go through them or have to go around them. Blow-downs are funnels too, and they can’t usually be seen unless you’re there in person.
- Parking/Road Access: Maps can clue you in on where you might be able to drive, but you won’t know until you’re there if a road is actually driveable. Sometimes national forest roads on maps are overgrown by 5 year old pine trees. Sometimes what you were told was a road you can access with a car/truck can only be ridden with a quad, or maybe not at all!
- Logging: Sometimes even up to date maps don’t give you a great picture. I hunted some big woods in southern Ohio in recent years and my maps showed “clear cuts” that were 10′ high pucker-brush…not very clear! It also showed forested ground that was newly logged. Being there in person to learn these things often has no substitute.
Make a Bucket List of Hunts
The winter and spring months continue to be the time for applying for limited draw tags. Think big picture about what you want to hunt. I made a spreadsheet (nerd in me) years ago listing all the hunts I was thinking about doing short term and long term. Then for each one, go through and do some research on what it will take to make it happen. How much money? What tag and where? Who would I go with? It’s crazy how fast 10-20 years can fly by when you make little steps each year towards a long term goal and then focus most of your time on shorter term goals. Before you know it, the long term goals are within reach! My brother and I hunted elk in Arizona after 8 years of applying. That was 9 years ago and I’m already looking at being able to do it again soon!
- Road Trip!
Every spring I try to make a road trip somewhere and scout something new. Last year, Lee and I spent a couple days scouting Nebraska. Farmers are often more approachable before planting time starts, and, as I said above, with the sign all laid out because everything’s matted down and there’s no foliage, you can scout stuff much quicker and cover a lot of ground. Gas is cheap right now, so get a couple friends, a small backpack and some overnight stuff and hit the road for a quick weekend of exercise and scouting. It can pay off big time come fall!
- Bonus Tip: Try Frost Seeding!
If you’re into food plotting and want to plant a perennial such as clover, frost seeding in March can be extremely effective. The shift from freezing to thawing temps back and forth increase seed to soil contact and improve the germination rate when temps do climb for the year. Learn more about this from reputable sources such as Frigid Forage and Real World Wildlife Products. John Barsody (Frigid Forage) and Don Higgins (Real World Wildlife Products) are both a wealth of knowledge on these things.
Mistakes to Avoid in March
Most guys think September is the month to get out and do your scouting, but this is a big mistake. March (and April) are hands down the best time of year to figure out where and how you should be hunting come fall.
Good luck with your next buck!