Tuesday, January 29, 2013
No offseason on seeking sign
- Virginia deer hunting numbers tail off
- Electric ski suit fails to create big buzz on the slopes
- Beech: A unique mountain resort (with photo gallery)
- Visit our Outdoors page
The Wild Life blog
Sliding my Browning 12 gauge into its soft case early Saturday evening was bittersweet.
Another fall turkey season was in the books.
I'd just spent the final hours of the final day of the season covering a few miles of rolling terrain at my favorite turkey hunting spot, a beautiful farm in Bedford County.
I hadn't heard or even seen any turkeys, but the hunt was still a rousing success.
My January hunts - most of which are for squirrels, actually - always are.
That's because they double as deer scouting missions.
Why think about deer when this fall's season is barely over?
Because it's the best time to get started preparing for next year, at least in terms of next year's rut season.
Sign left behind by bucks during this fall's rut is still fairly fresh.
The weather is cool enough that we can comfortably put lots of miles on our boots.
And while we would be foolish to tromp around too much in key big buck haunts during the season proper, it doesn't matter now. We can put as much scent on the ground and in the air as we want to.
Because the trees are barren, it's much easier to pick out potential stand trees.
Antler-rubbed trees are the easiest type of sign to find during winter scouting.
Finding huge trees that have been attacked by big bucks is exciting, but rubbed saplings are better than nothing. Ground scrapes can be harder to find in the winter because leaves can quickly hide a scrape that is no longer being tended. Instead of looking only for the sign on the ground, it pays to look for chewed branches above likely scrape areas.
If you are an avid deer hunter you know that an area that features a lot of rubs and scrapes tends to feature that kind of sign year after year.
It's hard to stay away because it's always good to be reassured that the area is still hot, but the reality is that we don't have to go back every winter.
If you have limited scouting time, that time is best served by checking out new areas. Saturday afternoon provided a prime example.
The Bedford farm is mostly open pasture land, with multiple strips of woods along hillsides and in hollows.
Massive oaks dominate most of the woodlots, which can be a mixed blessing. A good acorn year means those spots will hold deer. But there are so many white oaks it can be tough to figure out the best place to put a treestand for bowhunting.
There is one hollow that is mostly pines.
Because there is no food I have never paid much attention to the area.
Saturday, because it was there and I had time, I walked through the hollow and found that a good number of trees had blown over, likely during the summer's derecho.
The fallen trees had created great bedding cover, and the tangle of fallen trunks had even created several obvious deer travel funnels.
I marked a couple of potential stand trees with reflective trail tacks and moved on.
Another step of winter scouting is to use trail cameras to see what bucks made it through the season.
Now that prohibition on deer feeding has ended, we can use attractants to help get photos. (If you're still planning to urban archery hunt, obviously you can't use bait or artificial attractants near where you plan to hunt.)
A lot of hunters use corn to attract game to cameras. Corn works great, and will also attract lots of other game. However it's labor intensive and can be costly, so I prefer putting my cameras over mineral licks, such as the Trophy Rock.
If your cameras aren't up already, get them up so you can get buck pictures before they shed their antlers.
And, speaking of shed antlers, looking for them is another great excuse to stay in the woods in February and March, with that time spent ever increasing the odds of your connecting with a trophy whitetail in November.
Eat and drink your yard
Virginia Tech's Hahn Horticulture Garden will host a workshop on local - really, really local - food this Thursday.
Asheville, N.C., author Nan K. Chase, author of "Eat Your Yard," will be in town to offer a presentation on creating an edible landscape at your own home.
The program runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a cost of $20 for the general public or $15 for members of the Friends of the Garden Club.
The club has not yet announced the minimum attendance required to cover costs for the program, so contact education and outreach coordinator Stephanie Huckestein as soon as possible to book a spot to ensure the program will go on.
Huckestein can be reached at 231-5970 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.hort.vt.edu/hhg for more information.