Do you hunt in a state like Nebraska or Iowa? Well you can probably stop reading now. But if you hunt in one of those states where you might see more hunters in a day than deer, like Michigan or Pennsylvania, read on.
Hunting in an unpressured area is like trying to get a girl when your the only guy in the “Great Women of History” class in high school. It might work really well, but it’s just not as satisfying and it’s a pretty rare situation. On the other hand, if you can get the girl in your algebra class and you also have to deal with all your buddies, then that’s something you can really be proud of. Tagging a buck on pressured ground is just like getting that girl that all your buddies are scoping out. You’ve got to know your competition and what their strategies are and then think about how your “prey” might react! It might be more work and much more difficult, but when everything comes together you may just be the luckiest guy in class.
If you’re hunting in an area that recieves a lot of hunting pressure, your spring scouting routine is going to need to be a little different than what you typically hear about. Now, yes, you do want to scout out rub lines, scrapes, bedding and feeding areas. And yes, you do want to find those great travel corridors and funnels. But when hunters start filing into the woods in the fall, everything can change very quickly if you haven’t considered scouting for hunting pressure.
When hunting pressure picks up, deer behavior changes, so it’s important to have a good idea of where that pressure is coming from and how deer might be reacting to it. Scouting out other hunters can begin right now, early in the spring. While you’re out scouting, keep an eye out for other tree stands, blinds and marked trails. Many hunters mark their trails into their stands with reflective tacks, orange tape or paint, so keep an eye out for these and follow them to determine where stand sites may be. You can also key in on stand locations by looking for cut trees or branches that have been removed for shooting lanes, scarred/bare land from bait piles or tree steps screwed into the base of a tree. Once you find another stand, take a mental note or record it in your hunting journal. If you have shared access to private land or are hunting public land, this will be very important to developing your plan of action come fall. Even if you’re hunting your own private land, this is still an important strategy. Although you may not be able to get to and locate all the other stands on neighboring properties, you may be able to see or guess where some may be next door, pressure from neighboring properties will certainly have an effect on your land too.
Now that you know where the hunting pressure will be coming from, you want to try and think about how the deer may react to it. Keep an eye out for alternative travel routes and areas of thick cover that deer will turn to when the pressure ramps up. Knowing where these safe alternatives are will allow you to set up in an area where you can take advantage of the deer’s behavior post-pressure. For instance, if you hunt public land, you will probably find that once the season begins most hunters will be streaming in and hunting within a mile from the parking area or road. This will obviously push most of the deer movement back, deeper into the woods. So now is the time to find those lesser used travel routes several miles back, where the real action will be come hunting season. Or if you’re hunting private land and all year you see deer hitting your soybean field in daylight until the opening week of the season. Suddenly nothing is showing up, but if you know that there is another hunter on the other side of your field, you’ll be able to proactively change your strategy and hunt a staging area further back away from his location.
Being able to spot where hunting pressure may be coming from and then developing a strategy to work around it can be one of the most important parts of your hunting prep this spring. Never underestimate the effect of other hunters in your area. Very few of us have the luxury of owning massive tracts of unpressured land to hunt on, so it is crucial for us to learn how to deal with it.
Scout your land this spring, keep an eye out for signs of past hunters and develop strategies based on how deer might react to this pressure. You do this and you will be light years ahead of the competition. So while your buddy down the street can’t seem to see a thing, you’ll be comfortably tucked into that thicket watching deer after deer sneak right on by his field edge stand and right into your lap. If you’ve really got it all figured out, you ought to be able to really make your buddies jealous as you bag your buck and maybe even a good girl this year too!