Have you ever asked yourself: “Why does (the other guy) get a nice buck every year when I do all the right things and hunt where good bucks are known to be but still come up short?” It is a tough question. However, I will help you find the answer. First, do not compare yourself to others. Hunting should never be a competition. Deer hunting has a big luck factor involved, and more often than not, success is a matter of probability. If you are serious about changing that probability to your advantage, you need to be out in the woods—now—gathering information and continuing to do so when possible during the next several months.
Start with some basic questions about your area. Why do you think bucks make scrapes in some areas and not others? Why do bucks seem to prefer some sapling species and not others? Why do some bucks prefer certain trails one year,and change their travel pattern 180 degrees the next? I cannot answer those questions for every reader because your hunting habitat is different from mine. At times, my hunting habitat is different from what it was when I hunted there in previous years. Follow these tips, and you will be well on your way to answering those questions for yourself.
First, get a good topographical map software program that is compatible with your GPS. I like the USGS topo because it is precise and fairly easy to use. This is the point where boots on the ground and real work begin. You are going to build—for yourself—the most important tool you will continue to use year after year, By doing so, you continually will build the database for as long as you hunt that location.
Every hand-held GPS radio has a menu of tools to label tracks or specific locations with different icons. Choose one icon to represent buck rubs and another for scrapes, and use the “tracking tool” to mark trails, scrapes and rubs immediately following your last open season. Then, every spring, take the GPS to your hunting area and begin to collect other data. You may find additional sightings that you missed the first time or were added after you left.
Mark all buck rubs you find with the buck rub icon. Locations where there are clusters of rubs, old and new, should receive special attention; mark them differently. Mark all trails, even if they only go on for 20 yards. There are many trails that come and go or cross paths with other trails. Do your best to stay on one trail at a time—from start to finish. This will take some time. Do the same with the scrapes. Mark even the oldest scrapes and save the data.
The important part comes after you return. Do not go home and leave the information on your GPS. Download it on the “home map” on your computer so you have a fresh GPS for the next trip. After several data-gathering trips to your area, you will begin to see what I mean. Travel patterns that were previously not realized suddenly will appear. Locations of rubs and scrapes, when viewed on the “mother map,” will make so much more sense. Most likely, you will wonder how you did not see the pattern before.
What does all this hard work get you? Certainly, you get a lot of exercise and some additional time in the woods. More importantly, it puts you in position to take advantage of probability. Information is power, and you will now have a ton. With this method of analyzing hunting land, you will have actual data to analyze. That is a significant advantage over a best-guess scenario.
I often revisit an area of public land I previously may have thought was just too pressured to waste time, and by doing so, have discovered through data analysis where I can set up for success. In one heavily pressured area we hunt, we are 100 percent on deer because we set up on our analyzed points. Deer hunting is all about being in the right place at the right time. This method will help you determine the right place. As for the time, well, that is up to trail cams, and of course, a bit of luck. As Mike Tyson famously once said, “Everyone has a plan for a fight until they get punched in the mouth.” This method of analyzing my hunting land has paid handsome dividends for me, and it will for you, too.
Do you put in time in the off-season for success later in the year? Let us know in the comment section.