How to Scout Deer (Where to Begin and What to Look For)

Scouting deer has come a long way from the old bush trackers. Today we are lucky to have satellite maps, GPS devices, and trail cameras.

Still, if you don’t know what your looking for it seems like an insurmountable challenge.


The first thing I like to do in my scouting process is E-Scouting. E-Scouting means using online maps to look for areas.

Once you know the general area you are looking to hunt it’s time to turn to the maps to really figure out what you’re working with.

There are many types of map suppliers you can use, and they all mostly provide the same imagery. I like to use Google Maps, it appears to be one of the most up-to-date sources.

This brings me to another point, make sure the images you are seeing are up to date. You might be looking at a nice stand of timber only to find it’s been clear cut when you get out there.

Now that you have your maps open and are sure they are up to date it’s time to start looking for areas that may appear attractive to a deer.

For this, I use satellite mode on the maps. This will show you real-life imagery. Topo is great if you are looking to scout for elk, bears, or mule deer, but for whitetails all you need is satellite.

How to Scout Deer

With the satellite mode open on your maps, there are a few things you can start looking for.

  • Water

All creatures need to drink, however, deer are very adept at finding water, so you need to really look for anything that could be a water source. This could be a small trickle, spring, drainage or anything that can hold water.

Deer will find water wherever it may be and it may also be at night, so no water source should be written off.

  • Cover

Public land deer face a lot of pressure, so one of the most important factors to their survival is finding good cover. 

This usually comes well off the beaten path. We all know a lazy hunter who won’t hike more than a mile to get a deer. Well, there are many more where he came from.

If the access is easy the deer will be too pressured and pushed back into thick cover.

Find an area with more challenging access, this will remove over half of the hunters not willing to put in that effort.

  • Food

Try to identify areas on the map that have a large diversity of vegetation. This could be woody plants, grasses, deciduous forests, etc.

Acces – I mentioned earlier about finding somewhere that is difficult to access to remove half of the hunting pressure. However, it’s important to make sure that you can access the area yourself. 

For this, you will need to know how you are planning to get in and more importantly how you are planning to get your deer out.

Boots on the Ground

Now that you found the area you want to hunt through e-scouting it’s time to get boots on the ground.

  • Access

The first thing you want to check is your access. This means finding your waypoint, making sure it’s possible to take a harvested animal out, yet being more challenging for most people.

Look For Resources

  • Cover

When you get to your area you need to check if the cover you identified is still there. If not look for the next nearest area with cover.

Deer bedding areas are easy to recognize. The oval shapes of flattened vegetation may be difficult to spot at first but you will know what they are when you see them.

These are likely the daytime resting areas and are of great value to you, as they will tell you where the deer are during the day.

After you located a bedding area, mark it in your GPS and do not return until hunting season. Returning to the area risks pushing the deer out to another spot.

  • Water

Look for the water sources you have found on the map. Some of the water sources may be difficult to find. But knowing what water sources are around will help you map out the deer’s movement.

  • Food

After you have located what looks like feeding areas through e-scouting, it’s time to check them out on the ground.

Deer feeding areas will look like a lot of partially chewed food or jagged edges, This is because deer lack upper front teeth. Knowing this will allow you to decipher if it is an area of rabbits or deer.

Look For Signs

When you’re in a good area you will know about it. Deer leave plenty of signs and you won’t have to look too hard for them.

  • Droppings

One of the first and most obvious things to stand out in deer territory is deer scat.

This scat is a sure sign that deer have visited the area, but judging by the amount of scat it can also tell you how much time they like to spend in that area, and what they like to feed on.

  • Rubs

Rubs are a sign that there are bucks in the area. Mature bucks will start to rub the velvet from their antlers as the summer draws to an end.

These rubs may reveal a highway for that buck. This is what some like to call a rub line. A rub line will show you how bucks travel from their bedding area to feeding areas, and back.

Using your GPS device, mark every rub on your map and find the bucks’ movement patterns.

This will allow you to locate a strategic ambush point.

  • Scrapes
How to Scout Deer

Deer scrapes are easily identified by a small clearing in the foilage. Deer use their front feet to scrape back the foilage and the top layer of the soil to reveal a small patch where they can mark their scent.

Scrapes are usually found in areas where there is an overhanging branch. They use this branch as another area to mark their scent.

Similar to rubs, it’s also possible to track a deer’s movement by following his line of scrapes.

Especially for more mature bucks that can secrete more scent oils.


Glassing isn’t just for the hunting season. Successful hunters know that off-season isn’t time to get down that the hunting season is over, they know it’s time to start preparing for next season.

Glassing allows you the chance to learn the lay of the land. If the deer are active in that area, it allows you to try out the perfect glassing spot for when the season opens.

Trail Cameras

Now that you know where you want to hunt, have put boots on the ground, and found the travel corridors you can strategically set up your trail cameras.

This will help you to learn what deer are in the area, if the trail is still in use, and may even capture if other hunters are in the area.

Final Thoughts

Get your scouting done early. It’s a bit late heading out a week before the season starts. This will just risk bumping the deer and you won’t know what sort of bucks are in the area.

By getting out now you will be able to throw up a camera and see what’s in the area. It will also give you an idea if there are other hunters in the area.

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