7 Reasons to Spend Time Now Post-Season Scouting

February 28, 2024 By: Brian Grossman

The older I get, the more I enjoy the entire deer hunting process. It’s become a year-round passion, from scouting and preparing gear, to the excitement of the actual hunt and processing the meat. And one of my favorite things to do this time of year is visit local tracts of public land for post-season scouting. 

I’ll admit, part of the allure is just getting out of the house and spending time outdoors. But I also believe it makes me a better hunter, woodsman, and improves my odds of success when deer season rolls back around.

With that in mind, here are seven reasons you should carve out some time soon to get in the woods for post-season scouting.

1. You Can Reflect on the Past Season

One often overlooked reason to scout post-season is to take advantage of being able to remember what you saw and the lessons learned during the recent season. 

If you wait too long, all those hunts start to run together, and it’s easy to forget when and where you saw deer movement. That’s one of the reasons I started (or re-started actually) keeping a deer hunting journal a few years back. It makes the process of analyzing past hunts much easier, and I don’t have to rely on my failing memory!

If you don’t keep a hunting journal, I would encourage you to start. But for now, simply take time to think back on last season and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Did I see the number and quality of deer I hoped to this past season? If not, is there something I could or should have done differently?
  2. Did I pinpoint key bedding and feeding areas, and did the deer move between the two as expected? If not, what was different about the deer movement?
  3. How did deer sightings and movement change as the season progressed? Did I take the necessary actions needed to stay on the deer?
  4. Were my stand setups effective? Is there anything that would have made them better?
  5. Did I overlook any areas that may be worth checking out for next season?
  6. Did I see any bucks that will be potential shooters in the upcoming season, and what do I know about their habits and movement?

These are just a handful of questions you can mull over, but what it all boils down to is this – how did this past season work for you, and what can you do in the coming season to improve your odds for success? 

Part of that improvement can come from spending a little time in the field post-season to get a better idea of what the deer are doing in your area, and what caliber of bucks you have to look forward to in the fall.

In the South, where prescribed fire is prevalent, deer sign can become very obvious following a burn.

2. The Deer Sign is Evident

One reason post-season scouting is so effective is because deer sign is so visible this time of year. Trails that were somewhat hidden when the leaves were on the trees now stand out like four-lane highways, and rubs can be spotted from a long ways away. Scrapes from the previous season can still be evident this time of year as well. 

I especially like how easy it is to see the ways deer are using the thick cutovers that are so prevalent here in the South. 

3. You Can Explore New Areas

As a public land hunter, one of my favorite things to do in the off season is explore new areas. I’m fortunate to have a large 7,400-acre WMA a short drive from my house, and I’m slowly working to learn the entire area. 

That’s not something you can knock out in a single season. It takes years to fully learn an area that size, and with timber harvests and frequent prescribed fires, the habitat — and how deer use it — is always in flux.

I focus most of my efforts on a 1,000-acre block within the WMA, but every year I try to explore new areas. I may not end up hunting those areas right away, but it gives me a better understanding of the property as a whole, and sometimes I find a great spot to add to my “must hunt” list for the upcoming season.

These excursions outside my main hunting block are what led me to harvesting a mature buck last season. I had hunted a nearby food plot a few seasons earlier, and decided then that once the season wrapped up, I was going to scout the thick cover that surrounded it. 

The author with a mature buck taken on Georgia public lands.
The author with a 5.5-year-old Georgia buck taken during the 2023 deer season in an area he had post-season scouted a few years earlier.

During my post-season scouting that year, I found a small hardwood drainage running through a large, thick clearcut that looked promising. Deer were obviously bedding all around, and filtering into the drainage to feed on acorns before making their way into the more open creek bottoms at night. I excitedly dropped a “must hunt” pin on my onX Hunt app and headed to the next location. 

It took me two years to finally hunt that spot, and over the next two seasons, I’ve taken a mature doe, a wild hog, and a 5.5-year-old buck. 

Needless to say, that is a spot I will continue to monitor for future seasons, while still exploring new sections of the WMA.

Abundant buck sign near bedding cover lets you know that bucks were using those areas regularly leading up to the rut.

4. You Can Explore Bedding Areas

Another thing I love about post-season scouting is finally getting to dive into those thickets and bedding areas that I was so protective of during the season. If I bump deer out this time of year, they’ll have plenty of time to settle down prior to opening day.

But getting in those areas allows me to get a feel for how much they were used and how deer were entering and exiting their bedding areas. By looking at rut sign like rubs and scrapes, I can also get a feel for how much buck activity was in the area during deer season. 

And while deer season may be months away, don’t overlook the opportunity now to look for potential stand sites, strategize about how you would enter and exit those stands, and then make sure you mark all of this on your mapping app.

5. You Can Learn Where the Deer Go Late Season

One thing to note about scouting this time of year is you have to be careful with how you interpret fresh sign. Fresh sign only tells you were the deer are now. Not where they were early season or during the rut. 

That doesn’t mean you should write off fresh sign altogether. It does give you an idea of where the deer were late season after weeks, if not months of hunting pressure. It’s great information for your late-season tactics next year, and it may even clue you in to where the deer go when the pressure is on, but you’ll want to confirm that with some in-season scouting.

6. You May Find Some Shed Antlers

A great bonus to post-season scouting is the opportunity to pick up a few shed antlers along the way. Not only is it fun and exciting to find those sheds, but there’s something to be learned from them. 

First, a fresh shed antler gives you an idea of which buck made it through the season, and at least a general area where they call home. You can also get some clues about the buck’s overall health from those sheds

In the end, shed antlers may not help you much with creating a fall hunting strategy, but they do provide intel, and they look really cool on the mantle, coffee table, or sitting on your desk in your office. 

7. It’s a Great Way to Get Outdoors and Excercise

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the biggest perks to post-season scouting is just the opportunity to get outside during a somewhat slow and bleak time of year to get some fresh air and exercise. I often find I get tied up in a lot of honey-do projects this time of year, catching up on all the things I let go during deer season. And it’s important to get those things done!

But if I go very long without some time in the woods, it starts to wear on me. It’s amazing how just a couple hours of walking on a local WMA can help me clear my mind and put me in better spirits. 

Fortunately, that rejuvenation comes with the added benefit of increasing my odds of deer hunting success this fall.

So if you’ve been cooped up in the house for weeks waiting for fishing weather or turkey season, set aside a few hours to visit your favorite hunting property for some post-season scouting. You’ll be glad you did now, and when you put your tag on your target buck this fall, you’ll definitely be glad you put forth that post-season effort.

About Brian Grossman:

Brian Grossman joined the NDA staff in 2015 as its Communications Manager and now serves as the Director of Communications. Brian is responsible for amplifying NDA’s educational message for hunters through social media, e-mail, podcasts, and the NDA website. He has been a freelance writer, photographer, videographer and web designer since 2003. A trained wildlife biologist, Brian came to NDA from the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, where he was a field operations supervisor, overseeing management of 15 Wildlife Management Areas. Brian currently lives in Thomaston, Georgia with his wife, Tina.