For much of the United States, turkey season will be kicking off in a few weeks and while we love getting after some longbeards, we almost always have deer on our minds. Because of the many hours spent in the woods during turkey season and the amount of acreage many people cover during a hunt, turkey season is a great opportunity to scout for whitetails. Whether it is on property you are already familiar with or a new piece of public land you have never hunted, taking the time to observe deer sign during your turkey hunts can help ensure success in the coming whitetail season.
In this post, we will briefly discuss the deer sign we like to look for during turkey season. These types of sign are not unique to turkey season by any means. However, since you are already in the woods chasing turkeys, why not make some mental notes (or drop a pin on a map). Taking advantage of these opportunities to capture information about deer habits and movements in your area is invaluable.
Look for Trails
Game trails can be shared by many types of animals, but you can easily identify those used by whitetails by looking for fresh tracks. Understanding how whitetails use game trails, often to travel to and from food and water sources or bedding areas, can help you understand how to use game trails to scout for the hunting season. If the property is one you are familiar with you may be able to surmise based on your location where deer using that track may be headed. Is there a thicket nearby that they may be using as a safe place to bed down? Does the path lead to a food plot, water source or other feeding opportunity like oak trees dropping acorns? If the game trail is active enough with resources like these close by, then it could be worth hunting over by itself. However, better luck may be had figuring out the best way to hunt those resources the trails lead to.
Rubs & Scrapes
A list of good deer sign would not be complete without mentioning rubs and scrapes. Unless you do not hunt whitetails at all, the chances that you are not familiar with these byproducts of common deer activity and communication are slim. Rubs are created by bucks by rubbing the base of their antlers on trees, resulting in rubbing the bark off the tree and leaving scent from the glands on their foreheads. Rubs are used by bucks to mark territory and communicate their presence to other deer in the area, especially during the rut. Scrapes are another way whitetail deer communicate with other deer. These are created by the buck pawing the ground which transfers scent the ground from
the interdigital gland between the deer’s front hoofs. Whitetails will also urinate over their tarsal glands to transfer even more sent to the ground. These signs are excellent indications of active deer in that area and while rub lines will stop being actively used after the rut, scrapes are known to be used all year by both bucks and does. As a result, both rubs and scrapes should be noted for potential hunting locations while hunting turkeys this spring.
We mentioned taking note of game trails that may lead to or from thick areas for bedding. If you have done any significant amount of turkey hunting, then you have no doubt found yourself standing in a bedding area. It is generally in thick, nasty brush or undergrowth in thick timber and can be identified by the large 3-6 foot oval areas that are depressed and beaten down from whitetails laying in that area. I would not generally encourage actively hunting deer in a bedding area, as they feel safe in these areas and having deer that feel safe keeps them around and not searching safety elsewhere (assuming food and water are also close by). There is the rare occasion of targeting a specific mature buck during the rut when hunting a bedding area can pay off. Otherwise, making a mental note or dropping a pin on your GPS to review later can pay huge dividends in as you game plan for your whitetail season.
It is an essential part of hunting turkey and about the most accurate scouting activity you can take execute for locating turkey. Roosting birds requires sneaking into the turkey woods to areas you suspect turkeys to be roosting in the evenings and calling to elicit a gobble and ultimately give away their location. Time it right during the evening and you can get them gobbling in the tree they will be in the next morning. This obviously makes locating them in the morning much easier. The hard part is getting them to pitch down and come into your call and decoy! This evening activity, however, is also great for identify deer location during these low light hours. This is the time of the day when deer are often most active. As crepuscular animals, they prefer to graze during dawn and dusk so while roosting turkeys, you can make note of favorite food sources, staging and entry points to fields or water sources. In general, dusk is a great time to observe animal movement, not the least of which is that of whitetail deer.
Bringing It All Together
We mentioned dropping a pin or saving the location of various deer sign in your favorite GPS application. Over the course of a turkey season, you can easily save dozens of good deer sign pins to review. When you combine locations of food and water sources, terrain edges and transitions along with the trails, rubs, scrapes and bedding areas you saved during turkey season, you begin to unpack an incredibly detailed blueprint of the whitetail habitat in that area. From this blueprint you can help make decisions for your whitetails season such as stand location, entry and exit routes and ideal stand location based on wind direction.
We rarely hunt for one quarry while not also thinking and talking about another. There are so many overlaps and opportunities to use one season’s activities to plan or better understand another. Think about these as you run and gun this turkey season and we guarantee you will finish turkey season with a refreshing understanding of whitetail movement where you hunt.