I got my first lesson in deer scouting from a gentleman named Ray Bimber while we were sitting in front of a pot-bellied wood stove in a hunting camp. This was in the 1950s.
It took a while for things to sink in, but eventually they did. Here are 10 of the most important deer scouting skills I've learned in all my seasons of deer hunting, including some you might not anticipate.
1. Make a Plan
Think about what you are doing: your goals, your purpose, a schedule. Decisions made now are subject to change. This will provide a starting point and direction. Information you gather while scouting will become much clearer laid out in an orderly manner.
2. Know How to Read a Map
Knowing what every symbol on a map means will help you in every phase of scouting deer, from planning your scouting forays to marking your discoveries.
3. Think Ahead
You should be alert while scouting for anything that can make a hunt more effective, enjoyable, or more convenient. For instance, take note of any potential stand site that has a natural feature that would makes it likely for a deer to pause, or to be in a broadside position when it is in your shooting lane.
4. Know How to Read Sign
Deer tracks are obvious signs, but you should find out where deer has been, where it is going, and why. Learn to distinguish old sign from new. Look closely at buck rubs--gouges made by tines are great clues to the size of the rack.
5. Separate Fact from Fiction
Many state game agencies have research information available at their web sites. Read and study it. You may be very surprised by what you learn, as opposed to what hunters might have told you.
6. Be Stealthy
Stealth is nearly as important while scouting as while hunting, though in different ways. Leave as little sign as possible. Use scent-eliminating products. Wear rubber boots that have soles without deep tread. Wash them every time you scout using no-scent soap. Remember that you are not concerned about getting close to deer. If you see deer, patiently wait until they leave before moving.
7. Scout, Scout, and Scout Some More
There is no substitute for old-fashioned effort. While other hunters are playing cards or socializing, you should be scouting.
8. Don't Blab
Never give what you learned by scouting to others who were lazy and wipe out your well deserved advantage. Only my wife gets my information.
9. Know What to Avoid
Stay away from bedding or refuge areas. If deer do not feel secure they will go somewhere else, eliminating what may be the most important information for placing stands.
10. Know When to Quit
If you are comfortable with what you have learned, stay away from your hunting area during the last week or so before hunting season. You don't want to risk making a deer change patterns -- even if it's just temporary -- so close to hunting season.