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Fine-tuning your scouting

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A buck bed is worn to the ground with hair and large droppings all around, suggesting frequent use. This particular bed is positioned so the deer can smell any danger coming from the mainland behind him and looking over a river and onto a field that is often used by hunters to access these woods. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 2

I knew there were mature bucks that used this piece of woods on a regular basis. My cameras told me so, but why wasn’t I ever seeing them in the stand?

I ran that question through my head over and over again a handful of years ago when I started hunting a piece of river bottom property. The more I have put an emphasis on scouting -- particularly pinpointing exactly where bucks are bedding -- the more I am getting the answer to that question.

This past weekend, I set out to really learn this piece of woods. It has everything a big buck would want, starting with thick security cover that is mostly up against the river. It thins out in the middle with oaks and an ag field across the river provides another food source.

Just getting there means crossing the river, which the last couple years has required the use of a boat. It just does not get pressured like a lot of the surrounding area.

Rubs, scrapes and heavily-used trails are everywhere in there, and those used to be the only thing I really focused on when scouting. I would walk the woods in the spring, find the hottest sign from the prior rut and assume I could set up there and have success the next season.

The more that approach failed, the more I realized that all the typical buck sign in the world means nothing if you don’t have a good idea of where the deer are bedding in relation to it.

Finding these beds is not as hard as it might seem once you break down the property. Start by walking the transitions where some sort of habitat change creates an edge. It doesn’t have to be what is often referred to as a hard edge -- something like a corn field meeting timber. This particular piece I scouted on Saturday is flat land where the river creates a horizontal “U” shape with timber making up the inside of the “U.” The bottom of the “U” is to the west, with the mouth opening up into a higher grass field to the east.

The transition I followed was an edge where the thicker brush that lines the river bank meets up with the thinner, more open cover of the oak trees. That edge is generally where you will find some heavily-used trails.

What I’m looking for are the more subtle trails leading from the thick cover that run perpendicular to the main trail. Following those back into the thick cover almost always leads to the bedding you need to know about.

You will come across doe bedding this way too. I tend to find them on points of higher elevation, even if it’s subtle. You can generally see what looks like the bigger beds of the does, with smaller beds of the yearlings not far away.

Pretty much every buck bed I have come across screams loud and clear that it’s a buck bed. I look at it and think to myself, “Of course he’s bedding here. He has every advantage.” The biggest bucks on a property will use all of their senses -- sight, smell and sound -- to keep track of predators when bedding if possible.

I found the best buck beds on this particular property in the northwest corner of that horizontal “U.” There were three of them in a small area -- all huge in size, completely worn to mud with belly hair in them and littered in large droppings.

I anticipate a buck using these on a south-based wind where he looks out over the river as the wind blows over his back from the mainland. I used to wait for a south wind to hunt this area because I felt that was to my advantage.

As I sat in those beds on Saturday, I looked in front of me and saw the field across the river that I used to walk when I would enter these woods. He saw me before my hunts ever started.

When you see this firsthand, you realize that nothing about where these bucks bed on a regular basis is random. I don’t know if I will punch my tag on a buck here in the fall, but fine-tuning my scouting and pinpointing his beds has upped my odds.

I prepared a tree near that bedding area before I left. The next time I’m in there, it will be with a stand on my back and well before sunrise on a south wind in the fall.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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