Illinois Department of Natural Resources
February 2021
February 1, 2021

Post-season Deer Scouting is a Great Mid-winter Activity

By Dan Stephens

Photos courtesy of the author.

As the Illinois 2020-2021 deer season comes to an end, it is not too early to begin preparations and planning for next fall. While the most valuable information a hunter can rely on is their observations collected during the season, post-season scouting can provide useful information. It is important to highlight that observations made during post-season scouting efforts may not directly translate to activity during early season and rut, but it can provide you an excellent starting point for your pre-season scouting efforts during the summer. Additionally, post-season scouting can be a great time to look for shed antlers or even a small game hunt simultaneously.  

A space or depression has been created in green grass and vegetation where a deer laid down to rest.

Arguably, the most important information any deer hunter can discover while scouting is where deer are actively bedding. Knowing where bedding areas are not only allows a hunter to set up along a bed-to-feeding pattern, but it also can ensure that you don’t spook bedded deer as you enter your setup, ultimately reducing their daytime activities. During the season, I often spend time looking at satellite imagery and topographic maps to identify potential bedding areas, however, I typically avoid further investigating these potential bedding areas to reduce the chances of jumping deer and disturbing prominent bedding locations. While it is not impossible to observe a bedding area without alerting deer during the season, post-season can be a terrific time to walk these areas and confirm bedding is occurring, rather than just assuming they’re bedding there. In addition to thick cover, try to locate south-facing slopes, ridge-points, and leeward slopes and check for beds. Deer beds will be easily identifiable by the matted down vegetation from its bodyweight. Recently used beds may have visible deer hair inside the bed. 

South-facing Slope Bedding

Bedding on south-facing slopes is a common occurrence, particularly during colder weather. South-facing slopes receive more solar radiation for longer periods of the day; thus, they are generally warmer. These areas are extremely productive during cold temperatures.  

Ridge Point Bedding

A point that extends off a ridge provides ample security and exit routes for deer. When using these areas, deer will be facing into the lowland with the prominent wind direction coming down the ridge behind them. This allows deer to watch for danger in front of them, while scent-checking to ensure there is nothing approaching from the rear.

Leeward Bedding

Leeward bedding is when deer bed on the leeward (downwind) side of a slope, protecting themselves from prevailing winds. These areas provide deer a unique advantage to scent-check both sides of the slope, resulting in a very secure bedding location. The wind pulls scent from the prominent wind direction to the deer, while thermals, which are rising columns of warm air, pull scent up the slope from the down-wind side.

Travel Routes

A gray and brown white-tailed deer stands in a snowy landscape and licks its nose.

In addition to bedding, late winter and early spring provide a unique advantage at identifying travel routes, an important step for any scouting trip. Snow and mud tend to highlight deer tracks and trails that may not be noticeable during the fall. When scouting an area with multiple trails and travel routes, follow each trail and see where it begins and ends to understand how deer traverse the landscape. Not only will this lead you to bedding areas and/or feeding locations, but it can also highlight potential high-traffic areas where multiple trails converge. 

While it may seem like deer season is a lifetime away, starting your preparations now can ensure that you have the greatest chance for success next fall. Get started now because deer season will be here before you know it!

Dan Stephens is a Hunter Recruitment Specialist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. The Illinois Learn to Hunt program is a statewide program designed to teach adults (18+) why, where and how to hunt a variety of species in Illinois. Visit Illinois Learn to Hunt for more information or to sign-up for an event near you.