By Steve Wall

scouting Whitetail deer tips from Wisconsin Outdoor Pursuits


You want to improve your odds of harvesting a deer this year, right?  One of the best things that you can do to improve your odds of harvesting a deer is to scout.  When should you start scouting?  A month before the season?  2 months before the season?  During the winter?  During the season?  While sitting on your couch?  My answer, all of the above!  Scouting whitetail deer should be a year-round process if you want to maximize your odds of harvesting an animal!

Phase 1: Digital Scouting

What is digital scouting?  Digital scouting is the work that you are able to do from the comfort of your home.  Digital scouting is using your GPS, computer and various programs to survey your hunting area.  Aerial photo’s can be found on websites like Google Maps and Bing Maps.  These maps are great tools for zooming in on your area and locating various food sources, logging trails and changes between forest types.  Digital scouting can help you find potential new hunting areas and give you a starting place when you actually get your boots on the ground!  A website that I would highly recommend is!  Once you create a free account on ScoutLook, you are then able to save various locations on the map.  Weather data is then available based upon these pinned locations.  Mobile apps are also available that will allow you to have all this information at your fingertips in the woods.  Some of the paid apps will allow you to log deer sightings and capture real-time weather data!  I have used these features the last few years and it has provided me with some very valuable data!  Just remember, digital scouting can be a useful tool all throughout the year!


Phase 2: Early off-season Scouting

This phase begins after your hunting seasons have ended for the year.  Your most intense on the ground scouting should be done during this phase.  This phase runs anywhere from the day the season closes to when all of the new foliage starts growing in the spring.  Phase 2 is a great time to locate all of last season’s trails, scrapes, rubs and bedding areas.  This is the only time of year that I would suggest scouting bedding areas.  The deer will have plenty of time to forget that you were in their bedroom!  I say that with a disclaimer, if you push deer out of an area to many times, they may start looking for a new bedding area that feels more secure.  I enjoy scouting in early winter with just a little bit of snow, it seems to make some of the more “hidden” trails stand out a little more.  These “hidden” trails are the trails that your more mature deer are most likely to use!  This can also be a good time to put the trail camera up and see which deer may have made it through the season.  When the snow starts to get to deep, I will do most of my “Phase 1” scouting.  Late February and early March are great times to get back into the woods and do more Phase 2 scouting.  A majority of the snow is gone and most of the bucks have shed their antlers.  Who doesn’t want to find a nice shed antler and hopefully harvest that same buck the next year!

scouting whitetail deer
A rub I found while scouting whitetails earlier this winter!


Phase 3: Late off-season Scouting

Phase 3 scouting should be very low pressure!  This phase is that last month or so before the season begins.  This is the time I like to get the trail camera back out and start seeing which deer are in the area and what trails they are using.  With the season approaching you need to be careful not to be to intrusive and scare deer out of the area.  You should definitely stay out of the bedding areas!  Also, try to do most of your activity during the middle of the day when there is less deer activity.  It is also best to take as many scent control precautions as possible!  If you hunt land that you are able to leave a treestand up, now is the time to get your stand hung.  When hanging your stand, the earlier in this phase the better.  This will give the deer more time to get used to any trimming you may have done for shooting lanes.

Phase 4: In-season Scouting

Just like the phase 3 scouting, you need to be very careful with any in-season scouting!  Any major disturbances can push deer right out of the area that you are hunting.  Any in-season scouting I do during archery season is based upon my sightings from the stand or sign I notice walking to my stand.  These sightings are the best information you can receive, especially if you notice a pattern over time.  Making small adjustments to your stand location, based on your observations, may pay off big in helping you harvest a deer!  If you are going to do any in-season scouting, I would again suggest that you do it after a morning hunt during the middle of the day.  Late rifle and muzzleloader season’s can be another great time to do a little more walking around.  If you are hunting public land, be cautious of other hunters!  If you hunt private land, you may want to wait until after the season to do more walking around if you fear pushing deer onto your neighbors property.

2014 public land archery
2014 Public Land Archery buck ( Same buck as in video above!)


If you put all 4 phases of scouting whitetail deer together, I am almost positive that your odds of killing a deer will be greatly improved!  So the next time you are sitting at home on the computer with nothing to do, pull up a map and take a look at your hunting area.  You may just see something you have never noticed before!  If the weather is nice in early spring, pull on your boots and head to the woods to look for some shed antlers and do some more intense scouting!  As the season nears, finalize your stand sites and watch for recent activity!  During the season, pay close attention to all deer activity and don’t be afraid to move your stand!  I hope these tips will help as you prepare for your next whitetail adventure!  Good luck hunting!

Read more scouting tips here!~Wisconsin Outdoor Pursuits

Read more about the hunt of the buck pictured above!~The Hunt Blog