Spring scouting is one of Stan Potts’ most effective strategies, one he has often used to take giant bucks on public land. The forest floor in early spring is literally an open book, and all the key ingredients of deer movement are there, exactly as they were in November and December, except that no one is reading it…. Nobody, that is, other than savvy hunters like Potts, a big buck mechanic who hosts Dominant Bucks on The Outdoor Channel, North American Whitetails on The Sportsman Channel and the soon-to-launch Legacy Trails on The Sportsman Channel.
“Many hunters fail to realize that after the season, everything from November and December is perfectly visible,” says Potts. “That means all the scrapes, rub lines, and trails.” His favorite tactic is to go afield immediately after a fresh snow or heavy rain. At first light he locates a big track, then follows it, noting exactly where it travels until the deer is jumped. Then he follows on to learn its escape routes. In this way, he can pinpoint the exact trees a deer will walk under, learn where it beds, what it eats, and where it will go if bumped by a coyote or another hunter… incredibly valuable information.
It Works on Monster Bucks
Bagging a buck that scores more than 200 Pope & Young points is nearly impossible, yet Potts made it happen, primarily through late-season scouting. Using his fresh-snowfall strategy, he located a huge track that passed through a shallow depression to escape public view. In subsequent visits, Potts noted that the tracks went in both directions, an indication of frequent use.
“You never would have picked this spot,” said Potts with a smile. Nothing about it seemed to attract attention, however, the slight change in elevation allowed the deer to move undetected, except for its tattle-tail hoof prints in the snow. Near the trail was a medium size Osage orange tree, not a tall structure, but with sufficient bows and branches to disguise a stand.
On November 27th, Potts was just ten feet above the ground, strategically placed among limbs that make the world’s best long bows. True to form, the giant non-typical buck followed its secret trail, providing a close range shot. “That deer had never encountered danger in the small depression and had its guard down,” says Potts. “That’s how I got him.”
Pick Stand Locations Now
Potts not only uses tracks and sign to locate productive stand sites but cuts shooting lanes, trims branches, and otherwise readies the site for next fall. January is too early to hang a stand, yet you can make sure you know the exact location of deer travel and ready the environment for arrow passage. Potts hunts on public land about 80% of the time and adheres to public-use regulations carefully. Even picking up sheds on some public land is forbidden, so check the rules to be sure.
Size Matters When Potts scouts, he’s on the lookout for specific signs of a trophy deer. “Big deer make big tracks,” says Potts, who tries to find a print that is at least four inches long. The size of a rub is unusually commensurate with the size of the buck that made it. Deer rub telephone poles in some parts of the country. When you find this kind of sign, you know you are onto a monster.
Scrapes Speak Volumes
“Scrapes are important, but I want a special kind of scrape,” Potts says. “I don’t pay attention to boundary scrapes, those made along fields and on transition routes. I want a primary scrape that’s often visited by more than one buck. These larger pool table size creations are usually near a bedding area and well into the woods. Since deer use these breeding sites year after year, finding one is a giant step. “When you find a big rub line that leads to a big scrape, salivate,” says Potts enthusiastically. “You’ve hit pay dirt.”