photo of mourning doves

FOR TROPHY WHITETAIL GUIDE RICK KREUTER, scouting isn’t just a good idea–it’s a full-time job. Kreuter leases 100,000 acres in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska, and puts between 70 and 90 percent of his clients within bow range of individual record-class bucks, year after year. He does it by spending more time scouting in one year than most guys do in 10. Plus, he’s pretty darn good at it. So we asked Kreuter to share some of his deer-finding skills. On the next page are three advanced lessons, each accompanied by a field assignment, from the master of scouting. Do your homework, and your reward may be a big, fat, hat-rack buck.

Instructor: Rick Kreuter
Occupation: Operates RK Outfitters (308-889-3782)
Credentials: 13-year trophy whitetail guide

LESSON ONE: Know Your Area Inside and Out
That’s advice from a man who has to get intimate with 100,000 acres. Still, Kreuter says that having detailed information on water, food, and topography is a key step.

“Water sources are tops in my areas,” he says. “From the early season throughout the rut, bucks will visit them regularly. I locate every drop. You also need to know which food sources are most attractive when. Keep track of any that can alter deer movement when they’re abundant and in season, like acorns. Finally, study the topography to learn bedding areas and travel routes.”

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Get a topo map, go to your hunting area, and mark: [1] Every significant water source, including springs, stock tanks, and beaver dams. [2] All significant terrain and cover features. “I especially like benches, saddles, and brushy transition areas,” Kreuter says. “And seasonal bedding sites. In early fall, bucks bed on north- or northeast-facing slopes. When it’s cold, they lie on south-facing hillsides.” [3] Every major food source: alfalfa, corn, or oak stands, plus isolated oaks, soft mast, and browse. Everything you learn about your area’s bucks should be applied to this map to determine top stand locations.

LESSON TWO: A Picture’s Worth…a Lot
The only way to be sure you’re hunting a big buck is to see him first. And one sure way to do that is to take his picture in the preseason. “I hire only a couple of guides, but my scouting cameras are working for me all the time to determine buck quality,” Kreuter says. “I put them in funnels, like a saddle in a ridge, or at the main access to a food source. Whitetails will always take the easiest path. With the landowner’s permission, you can create a fence jump by tying the top strand of a barb-wire fence to the one below it. Or you can just leave a gate open.”

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Place a scouting camera in at least one of the locations. But don’t make the mistake of trying to get the classic full-frontal shot of a deer. “I like to mount the camera 12 to 15 yards off the trail and aimed slightly toward where the deer is headed, so I’m snapping a quartering-away picture,” Kreuter explains. “Direct camera flash can spook bucks–especially big ones–and creates what I call ‘one-shot deer’ that you never see again. If you use this setup, you’ll avoid that, but it still allows you to figure out if it’s a buck you want to hunt.”

LESSON THREE: Study Individual Bucks
Reading sign and interpreting terrain is helpful, but for Kreuter, nothing trumps observation of specific bucks. “Whenever possible, I watch deer from a distance with binoculars. The best bucks often won’t reach a primary food source until last light, so I begin glassing hillsides or transition areas just off the feeding field, where bucks are visible long before dark. I study their route and pick out potential stand sites.”

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: In open terrain, glass from at least half a mile away. In denser habitat, get closer if necessary and sit in a brushy fencerow, an abandoned building, or a high tree stand. As you glass, use a notebook to jot down the wind direction, time of day, weather, and details about every buck you see. This can reveal not just the best ambush but when to be there. “Last year, we watched a huge 8-point that we nicknamed Chimney,” Kreuter recalls. “In a northwest wind, he’d leave his bedding area and reach the field well before dark, moving with the wind at his back. In any other wind, he’d wait until near dark and keep the breeze in his face. When you can observe a quirk like that, you’re halfway to putting that buck on the wall.”