How to Scout for Deer Signs and Understand Your Hunting Grounds

Matt Johnson
Matt JohnsonPublished: October 27, 2023
How to Scout for Deer Signs and Understand Your Hunting Grounds

As a deer hunter, scouting is an essential skill that one needs to have. With the deer hunting season upon us, it's time to get in the field.

Sure, you can try your hand at hunting game wherever you want, but if the deer and other game don't come into the area, you'll be waiting a really long time.

Knowing how to scout for deer signs and understand your hunting grounds can significantly improve your chances of success, not just by a little bit but by a lot.

Scouting helps you understand the deer's habits, locations, and movement patterns, which helps you determine where you should set up your hunting stand or blind.

There are various ways to scout for deer signs, and we're going to give you all the insights.

Use trail cameras.

Trail Camera in Kentucky Forest
This is one of my trail cameras set up with straps on a tree. This one takes an SD card so it has to be manually checked reguarly.

The first thing you want to do is set up trail cameras. You can't possibly be set up in your blind 24/7, so that's where these handy and inexpensive cameras come into play.

Trail cameras are one of the most effective ways of scouting for deer signs. They allow you to capture images of deer that have passed through the area, giving you an idea of the number and size of deer on your hunting grounds. 

With trail cameras, you can also track the deer's movement patterns, which helps you know where to set up your stand. 

You won't want to place your cameras just anywhere; no, you want to strategically place them in high-traffic areas—

  • Food Sources. Place your game camera near food plots, agricultural fields, or other natural foraging areas, such as oak trees that drop acorns. Deer often visit these areas, especially during early morning and late evening hours.
  • Deer Trails and Rubs. Setting up your camera on well-used deer trails or near rubs can be effective. Deer use the same paths repeatedly, and rubs indicate the presence of bucks during the rut.
  • Watering Holes. Deer need to drink water daily, so placing a camera near a water source like a pond or stream can capture deer activity. This location can be especially productive during dry periods when deer are more likely to frequent water sources.

Look for deer tracks and scat.

Just like the cameras help find deer, you also have to keep your eyes peeled for other indicators. Deer tracks and scat are also great indicators that deer have been in the area. 

Follow the tracks and game trailers to find out where the deer are going, and then look for areas where they are feeding or bedding. 

If you find scat, examine it to determine how fresh it is. Fresh scat means the deer are in the area. If the scat is old, it means the deer have moved on, and you need to find a new location to scout.

Check out tree rubs and scrapes.

Deer Rutting in Southern Montana
This is a buck I seen when scouting in Montana. It was a few weeks before hunting season opened up.

Deer rub their antlers on trees to shed their velvet and mark their territory. These tree rubs are often located on the edges of travel lanes, near food sources, or in areas where deer tend to bed down.

Tree scrapes, on the other hand, are areas where bucks scrape the ground with their hooves to mark their territory and attract does. Look for scrapes near tree rubs, indicating a buck is in the area.

Where there are bucks, there are also does, so these areas are great spots to set up your hunting stand.

Glass the Area

Another effective way to scout for deer signs is by using binoculars or a spotting scope to "glass" the area. 

This is more of an active approach that involves scanning the terrain and looking for any movement that indicates the presence of deer. Not everyone has time for this, but a little reconnaissance will go a long way.

You can do this from a distance or while quietly sitting in an elevated position with a clear view of the area. It might take some time and patience, but glassing can reveal valuable information about where deer are located and their behavior.

We recommend doing this in early October. If you wait too long, you can't set your stand up early enough and risk spooking the deer. But you don't want to go too early because you'll be well out of rutting season.

It's a fine balance.

Be mindful of wind direction.

When scouting for deer signs, it's essential to pay attention to wind direction. Deer have keen senses, especially their sense of smell, which they use as an early warning system.

Be mindful of the wind direction as you scout for deer signs, and try to position yourself downwind of any potential blind or stand locations. This will help prevent your scent from being carried towards the deer, alerting them to your presence.

Identify signs from other animals.

While you're looking for deer, keep your eyes peeled for other animals, such as squirrels, rabbits, and turkeys. These animals also rely on the same food sources as deer, and their presence can indicate that deer are in the area. 

Pay attention to areas where these animals are feeding, and look for tracks and other signs that indicate deer have also been there.

We usually don't specifically look for other animals, but it could indicate that you're on the right track.

Head out and scout those deer!

Scouting is an essential skill for all deer hunters. 

By using trail cameras, looking for deer tracks and scat, checking out tree rubs and scrapes, studying the terrain, and identifying signs from other animals, you can effectively scout your hunting grounds and tear it up this deer season.

You have to put in the work to reap the rewards, so get out there and start scouting. 

Have some tips for scouting potential deer sites? We'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.

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