By Aaron Hepler
For some people, hunting season ends after the whitetail gun season closes. Until next September, many hunters won't give a thought of stepping foot in the woods.
Don’t miss out on the privilege of exploring PA’s 4-plus million acres of publicly owned land. Late winter and early spring are the absolute best time to be in the woods scouting, and purely enjoying time outside.
More importantly, no matter what you’re hunting, this is when almost anything we can hunt begins its journey into the freezer.
Hike to Hunt
Even though Hike To Hunt doesn’t begin until June, winter is a great time to get in top shape for this fundraising event.
This fundraiser helps raise awareness for the issues that surround our public lands and waters. Plus, you’ll be able to check out places that maybe you wouldn’t have without an excuse.
As far as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is concerned, this event is one of the favorites. Start early, you might be glad you did!
Sheds are a big focus of spring scouting efforts. While sheds are cool, a buck in the back of a pickup is better.
Choose days to strictly shed hunt. Also, choose days to focus harder on scouting. You won't find as many shed when searching for deer sign, but if a few per year make you happy then scout more than shed hunt.
On a personal note, I lean more towards the scouting side of things. Usually, I'm able to turn up about ten sheds but every year it gets a little better. Yours will too!
When embarking on a strict shed hunting adventure, don’t take your eyes off the ground. Be intentional about where you’re looking and don’t waste time in unproductive areas. And be patient with yourself! Experience will help you learn what an unproductive area looks like.
Use history, or if choosing a new spot, e-scout with OnX. Circle a few predictable areas and cross everything else off the map. Eliminating ground will make for more effective scouting and may be more likely to hold antlers.
A few of my favorite places to find sheds are:
- Ditch crossings: They’re awesome! The rough terrain that a buck uses to cross a ditch is sure to loosen an antler or two.
- Buck beds: The kind of bed that everyone rages about lately. Points on a ridge, or the military crest, where a ridge drops over into steeper terrain, are both great places to find bed sheds.
- Creek bottoms: Get on a trail that parallels a creek edge and follow it. This tactic is great during really cold winters, as well as years with a lot of snow.
- Night bedding: These beds aren’t the same as classic buck bedding. Night beds can be found on the edges of fields tucked into the brush and grass of the woods line.
- Wooded points: Any wooded point that juts into a field is a preferred spot for entry into that field.
Not every one of these places will have sheds every time. But they are a good bet, and will increase productive shed hunting time!
Fall has come and gone, so some of us are looking forward to chasing spring turkeys. But you’re missing out if you aren’t in the woods before spring green up.
Deer sign is exposed and so easy to find. Light patchy snow days are helpful for giving away deer densities. Trails, scrapes, and rubs will never be more visible than they are at this time of year. On top of all that, the vegetation will appear similar to what it will look like in November. This is perfect, you will be able to plan your setup based on knowledge of available cover.
Spring scouting will help keep human pressure down in a targeted area. If you’ve determined the area you’ve found isn’t frequented by people often this could make a pretty relaxed environment for any kind of wildlife.
Spring Green Up and Turkeys
When the first buds appear on trees, bushes, and shrubs, it’s time to go listen for gobblers!
Some years, gobbling may begin as early as the last week in March. But it will be relative to the area where you live.
Go to the properties you want to hunt, and hike to a high spot in the terrain. Bring a thermos of coffee. Then just sit back and listen to the woods waking up.
What can be learned at this time is how turkeys travel a particular piece of ground, their food preferences, areas they like to strut, gobbler roosting sites, and hen roosting sites.
Listening early in the spring probably won’t reveal much about where to set up on opening morning, but it might give away a starting point to scout before the opener.
Pinpoint scouting should occur a few days before the opening day of the season. Turkeys are mobile birds and don’t always stay in the same area for more than a few days. So don’t count on roost trees as being the spot on the spot. Use the information you have and break it down.
There are plenty of ways to connect one hunting season to the next. But, having an edge, and understanding vast expanses of public land will always benefit health, lifestyle, and hopefully your freezer!