Just Beyond The Tree Line

Our stands have been stowed and the stories have all been told. The “what were’s and the what should have beens” lay fresh on our minds in the midst of the reflections of another season that has come and gone.

For some, the season brought success, but for others, some regrets. No matter what the case, our daily countdown has begun to the coming fall where we can get back to square one — just “mano y mano” with that trophy that eluded us for some three months last season. Some of us spend nine months of the year preparing, scouting, and getting ready for the upcoming season.

However, some of my greatest finds have come shortly AFTER the season has ended, during stints of small game hunting with my children. Some of my finds have been helpful, while others were a painful reminder of how I stubbornly stuck with a bad stand location. After a month or so, the “what could have been” woes are gone and preparation begins for next season.

Do A Lot Of Off-Season Scouting

At least for me, the single most important factor that keeps me from the Georgia woods in summer is the fact that we have 47 different types of poisonous snakes crawling around! There is nothing that spoils my day more than having to dodge a snake. I have a friend that was struck by a copperhead while scouting in mid-July. Luckily for him, he was wearing chaps and snake boots.

Of course, I know another fellow who was coon hunting and was struck in the forehead by a snake while walking along a trail at the base of a rock embankment. I haven’t found a snakeproof hat yet, but if someone makes it I am sure to have one!

Needless to say, I am a huge fan of clean trails going in and out of the areas I hunt, which in turn, allows me to visit several areas without leaving the ATV. I am far better at dodging snakes with 350cc under me. This is just another reason that I prefer to do my scouting in the colder weather.

Small game hunting is an excellent time to explore new terrain. Deer season in north Georgia ends on the first day of the year, which means the second day of the year, we can be found trailing behind packs of hounds chasing rabbits in and out of the briar thickets. Small game hunters are rarely denied a right of passage from anything that grows from the ground, which with a few Band-Aids can provide useful information for later.

Scour Your Hunting Areas

Last January 2 was no different. We planned a hunt over on the lease where I had been deer hunting for most of the fall. We started in at the head of the swamp and moved in to my proverbial “honeyhole” that I had been hunting. I told the crew that we would have to turn in shortly due to the fact that the scrubby trees were just too dense to pass through. Without giving too much attention to which tree I had perched from, a friend of mine walked over to the scrubby trees and attempted to plow his way through.

I had been answering the questions about the deer I had seen from this area, and I had to say that the numbers were rather modest from what I was expecting. Shortly through the conversation, our buddy had disappeared in the mangled madness and began to call back to us.

“Are you coming?” he asked.

“No, I think we will go around and meet you on the other side. I really don’t want to tromp into the middle of a brushpile.”

“What brushpile are you talking about? Once you step through those few trees, it opens back up into a meadow of green grass in the corner of this swamp bed for a couple of hundred yards,” he replied.

Lay Of The Land Can Be Deceiving

My heart sank. As I moved over and through the trees, I noticed it was just as he said. Tender green grass grew as lush as any food plot on the lease. The saw grass was about waist high with trails coming from every direction. Trails were on top of trails and tracks were inside of tracks. The edges opened up into a mature pine meadow with grasses growing like a pine wood pasture.

“Is this where you had your stand,” one asked?

I turned back and replied in true honesty as bad as it hurt.

“No, I was on the other side of the tree line,” I said.

He stood with a look of confusion as he sized up the area I told him where I was as it related to where we were standing.

“But how could you see this area from the other side of the tree line?”

I just let it go at that and chalked this one up to experience.

A common practice regarding scouting is finding a “highway” trail that looks really good and setting up camp immediately. Most of these types of trails are night trails and will be very unproductive. This is the type of area that looks really good, but doesn’t produce the numbers of deer that is expected. Bucks rarely travel these trails, but nine times out of 10, there will be other smaller trails crossing these night trails. These are the ones to set up on. Just as I found out, a little more searching could uncover several details that are useful in determining the patterns that will produce a mature buck.

Hunt The Travel Routes

Hunters get too hung up on the fact that the deer population will pick up and move daily as if to be nomads looking for their stay. Obviously, setting up under feed trees is seasonal at best, but a very productive way to take an approach at harvesting a deer. I prefer to distance myself from the feed trees and hunt the travel ways.

What I have found over the years is that deer very rarely change patterns in travel ways. Granted it is a little thicker in these spots, but it makes for a consistent stand location. It doesn’t matter what the food source is if you set up to intersect the deer on their way to it.

In order to find these types of areas, you have to get off the beaten path. Depending on the terrain and geographical location, it can be a little intimidating barreling off into the pine cutovers or dense hardwood forests.

There is nothing worse than being lost. I have been lost before, but had an idea of the general vicinity to my whereabouts. I have also been lost before, and after five hours of walking, finally came across civilization and had to ask someone to help me with my whereabouts.

With GPS: No Excuse For Getting Lost

Technology has come so far now that is pays not to stray too far without some sort of GPS device. Like everyone else, I suppose, it doesn’t bother me to get a little turned around in the daylight, but it is quite the contrary in the dark. On one occasion while hunting in southern Georgia, I made my way into the edge of a swampy bottom.

I never saw water on the way in, but was over my boots on the way out. Luckily a train passed by and gave me a sense of where I was. I was walking directly in the wrong direction. GPS units can also be incorporated into scouting as a tool used for marking those hidden sanctuaries that are stumbled across and never found again. Take advantage of the technology, especially when it makes your adventures safer.

Hunter and deer after hunting
The author and a buck he took after doing some thorough scouting.

Scouting can be a methodical endeavor to say the least. There is one key factor that has helped me more times than not. You have to get away from hunting pressure. It can be done, but it takes some legwork to do it.

We hunted an area during a management hunt when I was younger. We stopped in a few weeks prior to the hunt and a ranger gave us a tip on an unhunted tract of land. We inquired about a map and he turned and said, “Well, it’s the track behind the check-in station.”

That year, 2007, e track of land produced a really nice 8-pointer, and a missed opportunity on a massive 12-pointer.

The point is to look for the things that might turn other hunters away. Be smart, aggressive, and most importantly be safe with your scouting.

Editor’s Note: To find more of Braden’s work, visit his Hunting Blog at www.huntingcircle.com.

Be sure to visit Sportsman’s Guide for the latest collection of hunting gear.

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