by Mark Kayser
Lawn care, honey-dos, baseball practice, sunscreen and sweat; it’s all part of the ritual we call summer. Add your personal favorites at will. You may also want to include one additional element to the list: summer whitetail chores for fall success. Regardless if you’re hunting whitetails in the arid Great Plains, intermountain West or Coues deer in the Southwest, summer provides a window of opportunity to help predict your future success.
SUMMERTIME SLOW DOWN
Summer is the period in a buck’s life when he’s finally found some relative stability in his life. Think about his life through the seasons. During the winter a buck tries to rebound after the rigors of the rut and modifies his travel, and bedding to be closer to prime food sources to conserve calories. In the spring a buck shifts around his home territory trying to pick the best area to spend summer, choosing between ample nutritional sources and the best security cover.
Finally, as summer blooms, a buck begins to relax. Hayfields and browse are at their peak, and he doesn’t have to travel far to find a smorgasbord of nourishment. Security cover is thicker than Cher’s afro wig, providing better concealment than at any other time of the year. Bucks feel so confident at this time of year that you might just catch a glimpse of them as they push the limits feeding voraciously enough to cause a Weight Watcher’s counselor to call for an intervention.
Without question, the calamity, chaos, and upheaval of the rut will distort some of this stability, along with the occasional intrusion of hunters, but bucks generally stick close to their summer home territories from here through the rut. Use this summer pattern to prepare now for your fall hunt. You’ll be ready when the season kicks off and your intrusion now won’t be as alarming as it will the week before season, when you could cause a buck to go underground and out of sight.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Before hitting the fields hit the computer to print a satellite image of your hunting area on which to record summer deer sightings, and to note ambush and stand locations. Laminating the map or even ordering a large, laminated format map so you can write on it with erasable marker is advisable. It also pays to print a map that includes neighboring properties since you’ll want to plot how deer go back and forth across fences utilizing next-door resources.
With your aerial photo in hand, start your summer scouting leisurely from the comfort of your truck or with some short hikes. By early July bucks will have enough antler growth for you to distinguish the “big boys.” Start scouting then. Dawn and dusk are the perfect time to catch fat, hungry bucks gorging themselves on the edge of fields and along succulent browse lines. By keeping your distance on county roads and trails, you can glass these edges looking for bucks at your hunting location.
If you want to be precise and pinpoint the best buck, you’ll have to invest in a spotting scope and a tripod, or window mount to stabilize the scope. In most cases you can get by with a 40-power scope, but when you have to look across a mile or two of terrain, 60-power models prevail like the Nikon EDG Fieldscope.
As you discover patterns from long-range surveillance, make sure to transfer your sightings to your aerial photograph. Pay particular attention to corners of fields where deer arrive and depart from, and don’t forget to mark consistent patterns of does. When the rut switch flips on you’ll want to know as much or more about the does than the bucks.
After getting an idea of area deer movement, it’s time to park your truck and switch gears with a little help from the greatest boon to whitetail hunters: the trail camera. By investing in one or more trail cameras, and using them non-stop through the summer, you should gather enough clues to pinpoint the perfect ambush site for fall.
Where you place these cameras depends on how far you want to risk trekking into a buck’s territory with the possibility of bumping an intended target. Personally, I always push a little further in the summer for the simple fact that even if you bump a buck now he will have months to forget about the fright. That’s one major reason you’re out in the summer anyway. Do the work now so you won’t alarm a buck later.
Even if you recognize a bedding area from aerial photographs and deer sign, stay just outside of its boundary and place your camera on the fringe to pinpoint the most used route. Tracks, droppings and well-worn trails will give you a good idea of the trails local deer like the most, but the photographic evidence is irrefutable. You can increase interest to a trail camera site by adding in mineral supplements like Hunter’s Specialties Vita-Rack or Buck Natural, a specially blended corn with added grains to sucker deer into revealing themselves. Check your state laws first.
To eliminate daily treks to check your trail camera, arm it with the best batteries, a solar charger if necessary and a memory card offering maximum storage capabilities to store a month’s worth or more of deer activity. The fewer times you need to check the camera the better to avoid having deer pattern you instead of vice versa.
When you leave the truck, don’t forget to take your GPS. These gems have a multitude of uses for summer scouting and if you’re hunting remote public lands for Coues or mountain whitetails, they can provide quick notes to mark a hotspot.
You can store topographical maps of the region, the location of your trail cameras, the location of hot whitetail sign and eventually the location of your stands or blinds, particularly those deep in the woods. Most of us run into situations where public and private lands join and downloads, like those from Hunting GPS Maps, provide detailed land ownership information right on the GPS readout.
Finally, when hunting season arrives and you want to slip in undetected, your GPS can lead you directly to your ambush site. It saves you travel time and unnecessary stumbling when it’s critical to be unnoticed.
SUMMER STAND GAMBLING
I’ll agree that not every setup I prepare in the summer pays off, but even those that don’t usually only require some slight alterations or movement to bring them back into the game.
Once your trail camera begins corroborating what’s been jotted on your aerial photograph, it’s time to establish a few treestands, ground blinds or vantage-point sites for the upcoming season. Why do the work now? It’s all about timing. Any intrusions into a buck’s domain now will hopefully be forgotten by the time deer season arrives. In many regions of the West, putting up a treestand or clearing a cedar-choked area for a blind requires laborious, sweat-generating work.
Summer allows you to view the landscape in its thickest wardrobe. With everything in full foliage you can clearly see the amount of trimming that needs to be undertaken for the cleanest shooting lanes and to leave the best stand cover. Besides cleaning out shooting lanes and adding, or subtracting backdrop to a treestand or ground blind location; take time to redirect deer right past your ambush site. Deer prefer to take the path of least resistance so give them what they want. Use a machete and whack out a winding path past your ambush site to provide deer a no-hassle, upwind travel route. I do this all the time in thick, cottonwood river bottoms.
A recent hunt proved that summer is indeed a time to skip a barbecue or two. In August, I set aside time to preview trail camera disks and clear a trail right below a steep bank that offered the perfect sniper perch. The trail clearing not only routed deer down the avenue, but provided clearer shooting lanes. The disk revealed several bucks were using the trail to visit a nearby hayfield from thick bedding cover along a riparian zone.
When season arrived it took me several days of surveillance to finally locate the mature buck I photographed in the summer and the preseason ambush site paid off shortly thereafter. The mature buck made a bad decision as he followed a hot doe through the exact shooting lane I had prepared months before. My Thompson Center, Nikon-topped rifle finished the hunt that started months before in the blazing heat of summer.