Mossy Oak ProStaffer Mike Moneleone offers his answers to the deer hunting questions….
Q: What time of the year do you do your scouting?
A: My scouting is done 365, 24-7. I divide my yearly scouting into thirds. The first trimester starts in the beginning of April and last through August. The first four months of this third, April, May, June and July, my scouting efforts are almost exclusively through the eyes of trail cameras strategically positioned over mineral licks. The bucks’ antlers are starting to show promise at this time but not to the extent that you can tell which buck is which from the previous hunting seasons. As August approaches and the deer are hitting natural food sources like corn, soy and alfalfa, I add a few cameras to the arsenal in the travel corridors heading toward those areas.
The second trimester is September, October, and November. At this time the deer have sprouted their antlers to full potential and have distinguished characteristics. Trail Cameras are still used but moved from mineral licks to travel routes, food plots, crop fields, acorn flats and bait stations (dependent upon game laws in each state). By this time each deer can be recognized from prior years or you’ll see new deer that moved in from other areas. Each deer is cataloged and noted. As the trail cams are taking photos 24-7 in dense cover, long range scouting where possible is done at dusk with spotting scopes and binoculars. When late September and early October arrives and the acorns are littering the ground, 50 percent of 30 trail cameras are then moved and strategically positioned to take photos of oaks that are about 12-15 inches in diameter. My experience has taught me that these trees attract more deer than the smaller or larger trees. Archery seasons in the East, specifically Maryland and Delaware, starts in September, so while the trail cameras are scouting these oak flats I’m normally in a tree hunting. But more importantly, I’m observing for hunting the month of November.
November – Need I say more! Obviously hunting is the priority during this month. November is in my second trimester of scouting but not the current November – it is November from the previous hunting season that is so important here. Ninety percent of my November scouting is done from an elevated hunting position or from low-impact scouting as I walked to and from my treestand the year before. In general, bucks of all ages will have the same habits the current year as their predecessors the years before. And if you’re lucky, and a “hit-list” buck you spotted the prior year may return and give you a chance that you didn’t get before.
The third trimester begins in December and lasts through March. Some older bucks are still searching for receptive does in December but for the most part they have returned to their wintering grounds. Bucks are trying to replenish the fat and muscle loss from the strenuous rut so scouting is done at a distance with binoculars when possible and hunting over late season food sources in states where hunting seasons are still active.
When the cold weather hits in January and the hunting pressure is minimal due to most hunters taking refuge in front of the fireplace, you can bet the bucks will be hitting the food wherever they can find it. I set up cameras on the edges of the thickest cover bordering natural food sources, crop fields and food plots.
My February, March and the beginning of April scouting is done via foot in all areas of my hunting grounds, including bedding areas and designated sanctuaries. Shed hunting is the key to locating the core areas of bucks you have been hunting and will be hunting in the coming year. You will lay a lot of shoe leather but it is necessary in determining which bucks survived the hunting season and brutal winter.
Q: Do you use trail cameras to help you scout?
A: Yes, they are important in my scouting techniques as mentioned above.
Q: Do you use food plots or other food type attractants?
A: Yes, food plots, mineral licks, crop fields and oaks.
Q: How do you hunt big bucks before the rut and early in the bow season?
A: September and October hunting strategies are based on prior scouting methods, usually by hunting over food sources or on travel corridors to and from food sources. Bucks are still in bachelor groups and still somewhat calm. Contrary to popular belief, big bucks can be patterned for a brief period of time in early September. If you are lucky enough to hunt a state that allows bowhunitng in September; this is the time to ambush a big buck before he sheds his velvet. After their velvet is shed, mature bucks normally go underground and can be found at food sources in thick cover before dark. Mature bucks wait for the cover of darkness before entering open crop fields so hunting a travel route in between a staging area and a crop field is the way to go when hunting afternoons and evenings. Morning hunting setups should be similar – ambush a buck as he leaves a crop field or before he goes to bed by hunting a travel route in between the two. As Late October approaches start hunting the downwind side of doe bedding areas. The last week of October is when the larger bucks appear in daylight, so think about hunting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the next two weeks.
Q: How do you hunt scrapes during the pre-rut?
A: I don’t hunt scrapes just to hunt a scrapes. I feel the chances of a big buck showing himself before dark at a scrape are slim to none. And Slim just left town. So that being said, I hunt downwind of a known food source and make my own mock scrapes about 40 yards upwind of my stand location. Normally, I hunt these areas only in the afternoons and evenings. During this phase of the rut, a buck’s priority is to feed first then mate so morning hunting is not a priority of mine. Until the chase phase kicks in, I believe that most big bucks are in bed before we get out of bed so I’m sleeping in!
Q: Do you use scent control products?
A: Definitively! Scent control products, whether carbon or anti-microbial clothing or scent reducing sprays or the like will never eliminate all of your human odor, but they do minimize a human’s scent tremendously. So much so, that if a buck decides to appear unexpectedly downwind of your location, he may feel that his enemy is further away than he thinks and it may give you that extra second that you need to pull off the shot. Or, if an unexpected wind shift or thermal sends your scent in a forbidden direction, you may go undetected by the skittish doe that has a buck in tow. Scent control products will give you that extra edge.
Q: How important is wind direction when deciding where to hunt?
A: You should always have wind direction in your favor. A deer’s first defense is through its sense of smell, especially if it is a mature deer. I’m sure I’ve been busted by a buck and didn’t even know it. On many occasions I’ve watched a buck cross my track hours after I walked on a trail, jump out of his skin and bolt in the opposite direction. I’ve also watched younger bucks walk the same trail I walked smelling every step I took, eventually to learn that the trail was getting stronger the closer he got and move in the opposite direction.If a mature buck catches your scent in any form, be assured you won’t see him walking in your direction. He’ll be heading south in most cases.
Q: What is your favorite time of the hunting season to hunt?
A:I love to hunt whitetails no matter the time of year. The key is to change strategies as the year progresses to maximize your success and your enjoyment. An individual’s hunting season is full of ups and downs and if you keep at it the entire season, you’ll maximize your chance of success.
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