By Pat Lefemine
It was the rut and I was just now getting to hunt my little honey-hole. This spot had been good to me in the past. During the '99 season I shot a buck here and saw deer every day. Unfortunately, on this day - I saw nothing. No problem, there's always tomorrow.
But the next day, and the rest of that week I saw nothing. What's going on?
I had hunted this area for 3 years and knew all the bedding areas, escape routes and feeding areas by heart. I knew when the deer left their beds, what conditions caused them to move, and what wind patterns to avoid. But despite all of that knowledge, I never saw a deer.
An out-of-state hunting trip pulled me away from this area and by the time I returned, gun season was in full force. I knew my hunting here was finished for this season but that didn't mean I was done here.. I still had work to do here and it required one major component: Snow.
I have been snow scouting since I was a kid. To me there's no better way to learn an area. I waited for the right storm, suited up the kids, and proceeded to dissect deer movement at my honey-hole.
When I'm scouting I look for tracks first, but also rubs, potential licking branches (you can't see the scrape), and sheds. These other clues are important in determining if the major travel route that you are following was active 60 days ago - before the snow, and changes to the food source. I look for heavily used trails, then I follow them until they intersect with other heavily used trails. When that happens I find a good treestand location, set a GPS waypoint, and record a small narration on my tape recorder.
After following the tracks back from the food source, to the travel corridors I look for funnels and ambush spots. I look for bedding areas, usage within heavy cover, and I also note how far the deer go during a normal cycle, if possible. When I get in the thick/bedding type areas keep your eyes open. You will see a lot of deer when you are snow scouting and when they jump - the chase is on. Follow their movements after being frightened to learn their security cover, how far they went before slowing back to a walk, etc.
Now back to my little honey-hole in CT. Along with my kids we started out in the bedding area and found numerous beds. We then followed the tracks out of the bedding area and surprisingly, the deer were moving down between the swamp and a small pond. Ah ha! This was the first clue why I wasn't seeing them. They would travel along the narrow strip of woods then a brief feast in the thickets before heading to an overgrown hay field across the road. They would meander around the hay field then come back around the opposite side of the swamp then through the swamp. This is something they never did before. But why? Eventually they made their way back to the bedding area - the only constant after 4 years of hunting this area. Deer movement animation
So why the change?
One of the homes down the street was vacant for the last several years. However this summer a new family complete with dogs, a horse, roosters and various other deer unpleasanties moved in. This forced the deer away from their normal routes through the oak ridges and down along the swamp. Snow scouting helped determine this and now I know where to focus my summer and fall scouting next year.