With whitetail bow season underway in a few states and just around the corner here in Tennessee and other places, lots of deer hunters are hitting the woods to find that perfect hunting spot. I'm really thrilled that more and more of them are getting interested in finding and hunting dominant trees. In the past week I've gotten at least a dozen emails and messages on message boards either asking for help in finding dominant trees or talking about how the hunter had shots at deer every time they hunted a dominant tree.
One of the things I've heard many times in recent weeks is that there are acorns everywhere and the deer aren't focusing on any particular tree. There is a possibility that is correct, but I'd wager to say that there are dominant trees somewhere, the hunter just hasn't found them yet. Even when there are acorns everywhere, deer remain creatures of habit. As a result, they will follow short-term patterns that will take them through preferred feeding areas and past dominant trees on a regular basis.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time for a few advanced scouting tips. Before I jump into that, if you need to brush up on dominant tree basics, start with this article for an overview of Pursuit-style hunting, then this one for a definition of dominant trees, this one for an overview on identifying them, and finally this one for some basics on acorns and oak trees.
So here are a couple tips:
#1 Scout With a Plan
Don't just wander aimlessly looking under every tree you come across. Think like a deer. Where would I be at night? Where would I go during the day. How would terrain features, the prevailing wind, and cover (or the lack thereof) influence my travel routes between them.
Get out a topo map and aerial photo of your hunting area and study them with those questions in mind. Then develop a scouting plan that takes all those variables into account. Mark your best guesses for the deer's preferred travel routes on your topo map, or better yet, use some topo mapping software like this to create custom maps. I use one symbol to designate spots to be scouted and other symbols to record what I find.
#2 Look for Visual Clues About Deer Movement
As you are out working your plan, keep your eyes open for obvious things like slick trails, creek crossings, or places where deer are crossing under fences like this spot I found yesterday.
If you find fresh walk sign, there is a reason why deer are in the area at that particular time. Ask yourself, "why would a deer be here?" It may or may not be because they are feeding on a nearby dominant tree, but the odds that they are just went up. I found this fresh feeding sign literally twenty feet from the fence crossing.
Sometimes the walk sign you are looking for will be much more subtle than a slick trail. Unfortunately it's very hard to photograph, but often I've found dominant trees by noticing disturbed and broken leaves where numerous deer have walked through an area and followed the "trail" right to a dominant tree.
Also, in the early season, look for small rubs like these, which I call feeding rubs. They are often located either directly under or very near a dominant tree. I believe that bucks tend to make them soon after they have shed their velvet. They are not so much about communication like the larger rubs you will see later in the year, but rather, they seem to be more a case of boys being boys and just trying out the new hardware. For whatever reason, they tend to do it near feeding areas.
#3 Use Your Ears
Deer seem to prefer the freshest acorns available. As you are walking through the woods, stop frequently to listen for dropping nuts just like deer do. I've probably found more dominant trees just by following the sound than any other way.
I hope these little tips help you improve your scouting skills. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.
Good luck this season!