Hunting Midwest Whitetails - January thru December
January: Last years Season has ended.
Time to start focusing on next year's season. You will need to find out what bucks might still be alive that made it through the last years hunting season. After the hunting season sometimes bucks and does might leave your area and go to another traditional winter yarding area. But they will return to the area around late February early march to spend the rest of their summer there. At this time of year, the use of scouting cameras will be the tool in maybe finding out what bucks are still alive and still in the area. Now,,,Just because you might not get allot of pics on your camera. DON’T PULL IT OUT!! You gotta give the camera time to do its job. The information that you get off of the camera will teach you about the specific deer activities that take place each month of the year on that property. Even if there are no deer there for one month. It will teach you when deer traditionally return to the area. With using scouting cameras during the winter months, this will allow you to find out when bucks start dropping shed antlers or if you should even waste precious hours walking in search of shed antlers that wont be there. It will also help you to understand when the proper time is to start stomping around the property scouting and looking for shed antlers. Invasion of an area to soon could drive a buck ( that was once comfortable with his surroundings) onto a neighboring property or even out of the area. Thus finding his sheds now have become impossible.
February and March, Shed hunting, preseason scouting.
From the beginning of February through March is the key time to start doing your scouting for next year. The information you get from the trail cams will tell you when it is time to start intruding deeper into your hunting area, other than just to the area where you scouting camera is placed. During these two months the trails really open up for a great view from the deer travel on the constantly freezing and thawing ground. With no vegetation on the trees, bushes or plants. You have a wide open view of what you cannot see while trying to scout during the months of August and September. If you do your scouting in the spring and with the use of trail cams through the summer? You will not need to do allot of scouting (if any) during the late summer months. So this time that you really need to be taking advantage of and getting into the bedding areas, travel corridors and feeding areas. Leave no stone unturned on each visit. and scout all aspects of the property that you are hunting. Do it right and you wont have to spend allot of time educating deer even during the preseason.
1. You can use the information gained on your scouting trips and apply the locations of Bedding areas and the deers point of view and smell from the bedding area..... to figure out best stand placements, entrance and exit routes to your stand. You might find that they have been smelling you or watching you walk in and out the whole time from where they are bedding.
2. You can now know the exact locations where deer trails all come together, where deer are traveling in and out of the property as well as how they get to and from bedding and feeding areas. That is an important key factor of knowledge for best stand placement when the PEAK seek and chase phase hits.
3. You can find the traditional Rub and scrape lines that show where the majority of BUCK travel during the rutting period.
4. You will sheds antlers that can reveal where specific bucks are bedding. That is nice to know when you got your eye on a fancy set of horns.
5. This is the time to prepare your stand site for the upcoming season. Spend time selecting all possible trees for stands site. This will save time stumbling around the timber should you need to make a quick move during the rut. Setting tree stands, trimming shooting lanes for all stand sites and potential stand sites, trimming areas for scouting camera placement during the summer months should ALL be done at this time. Do it now and you wont be pressuring the deer closer to the hunting season when no hunting pressure is most important.
Just a few bucks start shedding antlers during the month of January. But hunting sheds is just like hunting deer through out the hunting season. Though it is the season.....there are ok times to kill just a deer and there are best times to kill a buck. Well,,, shed hunting is the same with shed hunting. You might find a few sheds in January,,, but the PEAK shedding time usually starts around the end of February and peaks out in March. Waiting until the best time to go can and will depend upon your success as an antler hunter. Oh,,, and plan on putting in allot of time. Go back, go back again, go back again, and then......... go back again. Depending upon the available food., body condition after the rut and the stress and severity of the winter can sometimes dictate whether or not some bucks drop their horns early or late. That is where the trail cams can let you know if a buck or bucks that you have been seeing are starting to drop their antlers or not.
April, May and June: Food plots
This is the best time to stay out of the woods and allow the deer to relax in their home areas. Start laying out and planting your food plots during theses months. I don’t personally run trail cams during these months. Turkey season is open at this time and kind of takes the place of time spent in search of whitetail’s. I always wait until the end of June first of July to start placing scouting cameras in the woods.
July through September: Scouting cameras. Scouting cameras, scouting cameras!!!
July is the month we start putting out trail cams. Doe should of had their fawns by now and the bucks racks are about 3/4 grown showing definition and detail allowing you to distinguish between different bucks. Trail cams are KEY and the only activity that you should be doing in the woods at this time. This time of year the weather is extremely hot. Deer movement is minimal and they wont travel far. So key camera placements for buck are on trails in draws where the temps will be a few degree cooler than out in the open. Concentrate cameras on trails leading to and from water sources. Find a spot where there is a water source in a low lying area and you are sure to get allot of pictures of bucks. Other points of interest are trails leading to and from green fields. Also consider spots where deer may be leaving and entering the property inside a travel corridors. Try to run you cameras mid day while deer are bedded up. Don’t mess around in the timber moving cameras too much. If you did your scouting during February and March? Then, you should of already scouted out and prepared alternative spots that are prime for scouting cameras and tree stand placements.
Remember that regardless of the phase of the rut. Always enter and leave your stand sites without being seen, heard or smelled by any deer. Only go when the time and the wind is right.
October: Pre Rut hunting begins.
Because we are all focused on harvesting a nice buck. I will just cover the procedures we use for harvesting buck. But during early October, the buck are still in groups. Weather is still extremely warm and deer movement is still minimal. Mid-day movement happens but is very minimal and deer move within their core areas withing their home range area. This is what we refer to as hunting the local bucks. Local bucks are the ones that we have had on camera through out the summer months. They are still in the area at this time and are able to be somewhat patterned. The bucks (though not yet interested) are well aware of the doe that are in the area and what they are doing. If you got a big boy hanging around that you want to kill. DON’T SHOOT ANYTHING UNTIL YOU GET HIM FIRST!!! Bucks will start laying down scrapes and rubs to stretch their necks for the upcoming peak Rut. These scrapes are usually a one time thing at this time of year. Usually the buck makes scrapes along field edges to never visit the scrape again but only to make another one in the same area or a little further down. Finding an area where a buck makes a new scrape every other day, combined with concentrated rubs or a rub line is an indication that you are in a bucks home range and that he is using the area allot. You got a small window to harvest this buck before he goes into the nocturnal phase two weeks prior to the Peak Rut.
This is the time when the peak rut is in the extreme sign phase and progresses into the seek and chase phase. Local bucks are starting to travel outside their home ranges in search for doe. Because they already are familiar with the doe in their home range. If none of the doe are in heat or there are not enough doe to keep them in the area.. They will take off in search for a hot doe elsewhere. Best stand placement this time of year is in travel corridors next to green fields and water sources. Hunting fresh scrapes and rubs are key for success on local but looking to soon take off bucks. If the scrapes and rubs are there, so are the buck. Ok Guys... I cannot express enough that the bucks are already coming to these scrapes naturally. DON’T MESS IT UP with over the counter bottle deer scents/attractants. Leave the area like you were never there. I don’t even recommend the use of cover scents. Wear scent lock, stay clean and spray down. Don’t use those scent wafers or sprays that have the smell of dead leaves and dirt in them. If you can smell it, then the deer can smell it. These bucks lay their scrapes in areas where they feel they are safe and can run them during daylight hours. They will be coming there to check the scrapes already. If you go putting something in the scrape or hang other new or unfamiliar scents in the area. This could be enough to alert the buck to either visit the scrape after shooting hours or abandon the scrape and the area all together. Definitely not worth risking all the time and effort you put in during the previous months.
First two weeks of November is traditionally when the bucks are going to transition into the seek and chase phase. If the scrapes are still being hit, then hunt that area until they dry up. When they dry up? One of two things are happening. Either they are with a doe coming into heat or they have left their home area in search of hot doe in other areas. That means other bucks from other areas are on the move as well. Start hunting travel corridors between bedding areas and travel corridors where deer enter and leave the property. Bucks are traveling hard and bucks are what we are after. So hunt the big buck highways and don’t worry so much about what the doe are doing.
Third week of November is when the bucks are still in the seek and chase phase. But the doe have had a buck pestering their back side for the last couple weeks now. This is the beginning of the lock down period. At times the deer movement even seems to come to a stand still. What is going on? The doe are tired and worn out from being harassed by all the strange bucks. So the doe will spend allot of time on their bellies in bedding areas or out in the wide open and wont move until its time to eat or drink. They will let a more mature buck fend off other bucks wanting in on her action. So hunt travel corridors next to bedding areas or funnels where deer travel out of the wide open into the timber. If you observe the need to get closer into the bedding area to succeed? Then do so with extreme caution. Hunt only a properly placed stand and when the wind is perfect.
Fourth week of November brings the first firearm season. Bottom line here is the guns are going off every where and the hunting pressure is at its highest. Hunt long and hard in travel corridors along with escape routes next to bedding areas and between properties. Don’t ever quit till the sun goes down. Anything can happen anytime.
After the first gun season there will be a two week period until the second firearm season. The deer have had an over abundance of hunting pressure and allot of buck and doe have been harvested. This is a time to give it a quick break.....take a step back and regroup. Gotta find where the remaining spooked deer are at and give them a chance to calm back down. Scouting cameras and glassing fields are key in finding out what is left over after the first gun season.
Second gun season is usually when the pressured deer start to go into an early winter yarding pattern. From this time on the deer will increasingly yard up into larger groups and are usually concentrated in specific areas. Where there are doe..... there will be buck and usually allot of buck. You will even see scrapes starting to open back up. Food sources are key for finding deer through out the end of the season. You already know where they sleep from your preseason scouting during the previous January to March. So find where they are eating.....combine it with a travel corridor that has an active scrap or rub line. Then.......set up in the middle and let him have it when he comes by your stand.
December into January:
As the rut dies down to a stand still the most bucks will return to their summer home ranges. If you have found allot of shed antlers in a specific area in that past. Then back off, do some glassing of the fields, run some scouting cameras and pattern the bucks on food sources. If there was a specific deer that you were hunting in early October and he survived the rut. There is a good chance that he will return to where you watched him all summer. You should already know from pre season scouting where he is more than likely bedding on a north hill side to catch that mid day sun. So find the travel route from his bedding to feeding and set up a stand.