Preseason scouting is a tightrope walk. “You’re always teetering between knowing enough about a big whitetail to kill him and pressing so hard that you alert the deer,” says Scott Kirkpatrick (right) of Wisconsin’s Buffalo County Outfitters (715-287-3344; buffalo county outfitters.com). “Mature bucks are incredibly sensitive to human pressure. So while I’m serious about preseason scouting, I’m also very careful about how I do it. The opening week can be a great time to kill a big buck, and I don’t want to blow it.” It’s a balancing act you can pull off, he says. But you have to do your homework. Here it is:
#1: Monitor Food Sources
“The timing of when deer focus on certain foods is critical,” Kirkpatrick says. “Soybeans, for example, are a huge draw until the leaves start to yellow. Then the bucks abandon them for alfalfa. With alfalfa, there are certain stages of growth deer prefer. And when white oak acorns drop early, bucks hardly come to fields at all.” It’s your job to keep track of it all.
“If you don’t work the land yourself, the farmers who do are an invaluable source of information. Ask them where and when they see big bucks.” Meanwhile, start your own routine of checking food sources, even if it’s just for an hour after work every few days.
#2: Glass, Glass, and Glass
“I live with a pair of Swarovski 10×42s in my hand,” Kirkpatrick says. Feeding deer are never more visible than they are now, and he takes advantage by glassing mornings and evenings. “I glass from my truck or stay out of sight by using a barn, silo, wagon, or woodpile to spy on a good buck entering a field, or hitting white oaks on an open-wooded hillside.” Your goal here is to single out a shooter buck and learn the spot where he typically enters the chow zone.
YOUR LAST STEP is to sneak in and out of a big buck’s kitchen to get the hard info you need to set up on him. “Just knowing he feeds in an alfalfa field isn’t enough,” says Kirkpatrick. “You need to know roughly where he beds, which trail he uses to get to the field, and exactly where he’s vulnerable.”
Don’t overuse cameras. Kirkpatrick uses trail cameras for his recon, but he uses them differently from most guys. “The majority of hunters spend way too much time monkeying with these things,” he says. “They want a whole roll of pictures of a single buck. In my area, a mature deer isn’t going to tolerate that.”
Find the hot trail. At midday, wearing gloves and rubber boots, Kirkpatrick goes to the buck’s entrance to the feeding area. He narrows the most likely approach routes to two and sets a camera on each. “Leave them for a few days, and then go back,” he advises. Usually one of the cameras will reveal which trail your boy is using—and where to hang your stand.
Place your stand. “Put it near the field edge if you’ve seen the buck enter during daylight (stand A). If he tends to wait until dusk, though, hang it a little farther (stand B)—but no more than 75 to 100 yards—into the timber.” Your final exam is to be in that stand with a good wind once the season opens—and make a good shot.