Central Pennsylvania Spring Scouting for Whitetails

March 3, 2023

J. Fick

J. Fick

Last week we had a gorgeous early spring day here in Central Pennsylvania. Not one of those almost too-warm afternoons that brings everyone into frenzy, but a pleasantly mild 50-some degrees, truly my favorite weather. I took the opportunity to head straight from work to do some spring scouting for deer in the mountains.

What to Look For When Spring Scouting for Whitetails

Many folks shed hunt this time of year, which I somewhat do, but what I am really searching for is buck sign leftover from last fall’s rut. During winter, the deer in this area herd up in thermal hemlock valleys which they don’t frequent nearly as much during hunting season, so shed hunting does not benefit me substantially.

Early spring prior to green-up is a tremendous time to be searching for new spots. I am looking for general areas with good deer concentrations, and next fall I will do stealth recon missions to verify there are bucks using the area and pinpoint stand locations. The combination of signs I look for are quite simple, yet require tuned-in observation to locate: convergence of deer trails, typically on benches, saddles, and other map features; with scrapes and rubs (preferably big) in the vicinity; and, food (acorns) and bedding within easy reach.

Seeking more of these places to add to my maps during spring scouting, I climbed the ridge into a large clear-cut from which the PA DCNR had recently removed a deer enclosure fence (these fences are a sore subject, but I will save that for another day), in theory opening up a wealth of fresh browse in which I expected to find deer. I was disappointed to find very little deer sign after scoping out a few square miles, so I cut my losses and headed back down the mountain.

Get Ready to Burn Boot Rubber

Not having a plan, but with a couple hours of daylight on my side, I took off down the forest road and went for a drive, laying eyes on new ground and finding places to scout another day with more time. To be successful in the big woods public land that I bow hunt, scouting is essential because there is so much country, but much of it contains very few deer. You really have to know what to look for and burn a lot of boot rubber to find concentrations of deer. I was able to find a great new spot for a rut tree stand not 100 yards off a road meeting my criteria and with heavy deer sign. Normally I like to get back in way farther, but there are a few great spots close to roads, usually in overlooked areas. These are my go-to spots for quick evening hunts, so I keep a few in the hopper.

After driving over an hour, I made it back to the main road and decided to check out a small reservoir that the Commonwealth drained to make dam repairs. I had been thinking how valuable it would be to scout the natural structure and pinpoint where to target fish when they repopulated the lake. Happening to be in the area with daylight left, I took the opportunity to walk the exposed lakebed, camera and GPS in hand.

What a good decision that turned out to be. Visualizing these structures underwater will place great context into the sonar images I will see while floating above those structures in my kayak. Besides the natural contours of the lakebed, there were a half dozen manmade rock piles combined with a lattice of mature tree trunks. There was a quarter-mile long pile of shale creating a perfect ridge for fish to one day congregate. Cribs of phone poles, assorted tires, Christmas trees, rock humps, stumps, and creek channels rounded out the rest of the structures that I marked.

When Spring Scouting, Take Good Notes for Next Fall

At significant points during spring scouting I noted visual landmarks, marked GPS coordinates, and took pictures of pathways I will take to fish the edges of these structures.

Having completed my work at the lake, I sat on one of the rocks with my binoculars and enjoyed the sunset while watching graceful trumpeter swans in the remaining portion of lake by the dam, and flocks of redheads, mallards, and wood ducks fly past. In this moment I was just soaking in the wild with nothing else on my mind. If more people could experience moments like that, we would have fewer problems in this world.

I returned home without harvesting anything to eat, but with a mixed bag of knowledge I will put to good use. In seeking dinner with our own hands in the great outdoors, the knowledge that scouting provides is invaluable. Remember that it is a journey, and the answers to the questions we seek about where to find the best hunting or fishing spots lie not on the internet, but through exploration and good old sweat equity.

Article courtesy of Harvesting Nature. Click here to subscribe to the quarterly Harvesting Nature magazine, And Click here to enjoy the latest episode of the wild fish and game podcast.

Find more spring scouting stories on iSportsmanUSA.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.


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