Year-round deer scouting increases harvest rates later, but in spring and summer many whitetail enthusiasts prefer fishing and in winter choose snow sports, so their serious scouting occurs in September. This plan proves less effective albeit adequate for increasing odds of tagging a deer – partly because deer establish fall feeding and bedding routines before month’s end.

When I grew up in Windsor east of Augusta, my father and I hunted vast woodland tracts that had the three essentials to hold deer: food, bedding habitat and water. He taught me scouting basics for this whitetail terrain, and our deer-reconnoitering jaunts took place in September.

Choosing a deer-hunting area began like this: We looked for oak and beech ridges that produced abundant mast. These foraging hot spots were adjacent to lowland conifer thickets or swale meadows with dense patches of alders and leatherleaf for deer bedding spots. If the wetlands had conifer-covered islands or peninsulas for more bedding choices, so much the better.

Naturally, mast flourish on oak and beech ridges in most years, but this habitat also produces mushrooms and herbaceous forage – the latter plenty nutritious in poor mast years. Red maple also grew in the oak and beech, offering maple buds, twigs and samara, creating a three-season attraction for foraging whitetails. The latter, indehiscent seeds, often fall abundantly.

In fall, deer flock to hardwood ridges to eat hard and soft mast to store fat for winter, and thick, nearby cover provides shelter for safe bedding. A brook meandering for miles through my home deer woods provides abundant water, so what more could whitetails want?

(In my home woods, hardwood grows in drier lowlands and mast trees prove more common on elevated land. Conifers prefer wet lowlands.)

If still hunters have skills to sneak in woods a step or two at a time to get close to game and spot deer in underbrush, then it’s possible to kill deer any hour of the day in woods with light hunting pressure.

When hunters pound an area, it creates two huge problems:

n Heavily hunted deer avoid visiting foraging spots except in the safety of full darkness, so it’s often useless to sit in a forage-laden area in daylight, even if feeding signs litter the ground. Chow time is after dark.

n Heavily pounded deer bed down in daylight in hidden spots that allow them to smell or see approaching predators, so it’s difficult to sneak undetected into a deer’s bedroom to get a shot.

Skilled hunters have developed a solution to the above two problems. They find a well-worn path between bedding and forage, and take a stand downwind of the trail to evade a whitetail’s nose. If hunters use a tree stand to get their scent 10 to 20 feet off the ground (or higher) – even better.

The advantages of a stand overlooking a trail between forage and bedding is this: Before shooting time ends, deer often move down these byways to arrive in feeding areas after dark, offering hunters shots on the trail before shooting time ends. Or after shooting time begins in morning, deer have left the forage and are sneaking down these trails after feeding at night. Hunters should never forget that heavy local hunting pressure makes whitetails nocturnal, so these connecting trails between bedding and forage become ultra-important.

Clothing and footwear prove crucial to hunting success. Folks must stay warm all day, so they won’t quit at midday to go home and sit by the fire. Also, wearing soft-material clothing such as wool, fleece, flannel, space-age material, etc. makes little to no noise when hunters brush against limbs or saplings, move an arm against the torso or slide a leg against a stump. Soft material for day packs or fanny packs, gloves, hats and more also help. In comparison, nylon, cotton duck, etc. is loud and frightens deer.

Rubber-bottomed hunting boots provide a plus. Rubber holds foot odors inside the boot, as do waterproof footwear from space-age materials. Old-fashion leather footwear allows smells to escape through seams and spill onto trails, which deer can smell.

Many experienced hunters put Moleskin on metal rifle parts to stop the hard surfaces from clicking together. For example, shoulder straps on firearms should have Moleskin on metal fasteners to eliminate them clicking against the stock. One of my rifles has a slightly loose ammo clip that rattles a little and the Moleskin ends that noise problem.

After finding a deer honey hole, paying attention to such details as reading the hunting terrain right and dressing properly from head to foot help hunters put venison in the freezer. So besides getting exercise and fresh air under a wide sky, hunters can dine on nutritious food low in fat and free of antibiotics. What more can hunters ask from a sport?

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be contacted at:

[email protected]

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