Deer hunting is over; now what? If you're like many hunters, you're dreaming of that big buck that you will (hopefully) get an opportunity at the upcoming season. Something I like to do in the later winter months is scout. I usually wait until late February or early March, depending on the snow accumulations we've gotten that year and when I can easily get out and hike.
This time of year allows you to hike into places that you may not have been before. Maybe due to too much snow or heavy cover, or you just didn't want to spook deer out of the area. Because most leaves and grasses have died off, scrapes and rubs are easier to spot.
Plus, just a small amount of snow can reveal beds and travel paths of whitetail. Right behind a good food source, bedding areas are crucial to identify. You don't want to setup too close to bedding areas, so you use the wind to your advantage as not to spook them out. Deer spend a lot of their time in/around those areas and when you're looking for just the right setup to sit, knowing their travel highways are crucial.
If you’re scouting public land, don't be afraid to go deeper into the woods. Try to get away from the road and where there is less human sign (boot tracks, reflective tape, etc). Go online to sites like Google Earth, mytopo.com, etc to get a better view of the land you scouting, as well as the land surrounding the area.
Sometimes those views will allow you to spot food sources or possible bedding areas next door. Even a county plot map, available at most courthouses, will help you identity surrounding landowners and you could even possibly ask hunting permission and gain new access.
Another great thing about getting out and scouting this time of year, is the possibility of finding shed antlers. Many bucks will have dropped their antlers during this time and finding them will be a bonus on your outing.
Grab your binoculars, put on your hiking boots, and get out there! Maybe you'll find just the perfect spot for the upcoming season.