When the rut is cranking, getting your eyes, and even your sights, on a big buck is comparatively easy. But at this phase of the season, when whitetails are in transition and the crazy action is sparse, you need to do as much scouting as hunting. And you need to pay very close attention to the details, especially changing food sources and new buck sign.

This week, South-central reporter Brandon Ray stressed the importance of natural food sources. After last year’s drought, rains have vastly improved conditions across much of Texas’ whitetail range, and food sources are so abundant, Ray says bucks are even avoiding feeders to dine on browse and other natural foods. This behavior speaks to something that I’ve always found fascinating about whitetails: they evolved to eat certain foods native to their area and their bodies tell them when they need those foods. I don’t care if you throw shelled corn or plant beans, clover, and brassicas–for they most part, they are going for the natural buffet. So if you don’t know the native foods in your area, learn them pronto or you will always be a step behind the deer.

This point was backed up in other reports this week. South reporter Eric Bruce wrote that acorns and soft mast were attracting whitetails in his region, and Mid-South correspondent Will Brantley also noted that red- and white-oak acorns were affecting deer movement in his territory. Brantley also pointed out that bucks are in transition mode; bachelor groups are breaking up, which means more bucks are dispersing to fall ranges and traveling solo. It can take some additional scouting to locate the haunts of these bucks if you plan on encountering them in the weeks ahead. Two tips for finding them: keep tabs on the very latest available food sourced, and look for rubs.

Speaking of rubs, Northeast reporter Mike Bleech noted that while rubs are being seen in his area, they are not occurring in large numbers. This is very typical for the time of year, especially when the acorn crop is spotty, which it is in many areas this fall. But remember, just because you aren’t seeing rubs in an area right now, doesn’t mean you should cross it off your list of potential hotspots in the weeks ahead. Just this evening, in fact, I was heading to a stand when I noticed a fresh rub in an area that held none earlier. I made a note to check for further rubs on my next scouting pass through that area. That trick has often put me on to a buck that suddenly takes up residence in a new spot, or simply decides to show himself off a little more. Keep scouting!