Picture a large field full of lush green clover. No other crop is in the area for miles. You walk into the field for some pre season scouting and you find fresh sign everywhere! All the fresh tracks have turned the field edges into mud. Fresh earth is scattered under every low hanging branch making a picture perfect scrape line. You find large trees stripped of their bark and deep grooves dug into the trunks from a mature buck marking his territory. You immediately grab a treestand from your truck and set up on the scrape line. As opening day comes, you hurry to your stand anticipating tons of action for an evening hunt. As darkness arrives, you find yourself wondering what happened. No deer showed up at the clover field. How can this be? How did all this fresh sign get here?
During a typical scouting trip, one may consider many factors. Tracks, droppings, rub lines, scrape lines, and mineral licks all give away spots that deer encounter. However, this is only one part of the equation. From this information one needs to find out what time these deer are in this area to leave sign. Most importantly, we need to know what sign is being left during legal shooting hours. An impressive scrape line is no good to a hunter if the deer don’t show up until the late hours of the night. One of the main factors that determines this is the location of the deers safe zone.
Safe zones involve danger, location, and timing. Danger involves how dangerous the location is. Whitetail deer have an incredible ability to adapt to their surroundings and this is why no two deer herds are exactly the same. There are public parks out there where the deer walk among people with no fear. The danger here is almost zero because no hunting is permitted. On the other end of the spectrum, think of public land full of hunting pressure so intense that most deer movements happen only at night. Most situations fall in the middle.
Location involves where deer herds feel safe and where they do not. In the thickness of cover, deer feel much safer. The cover provides camoflage, and if any predators approach, they can hear them coming through the thick brush and move into safety. In the open and at food sources, they are in sight and much more vulnerable to predators.
Timing involves day and night, as well as timing of dangerous situations. Deer feel much safer out in the open during late evening and night time hours. During the day, thick cover provides safety when the sunlight makes them more visible. If an atv drives through at 6:15pm every day of the week, deer can alter their routine to avoid this percieved danger. They may not come out of cover until 7:00pm. Perhaps a pack of coyotes show up at a certain time. Deer will adjust accordingly. It can even be due to a hunter walking to a stand, causing deer to wait until dark to come out.
Trail cameras are an excellent tool for determining what time deer show up in a certain area. They will create images of what deer are in the area, and they will make a time stamp on each image.
Putting it all together, every situation has to be evaluated accordingly, as not every situation is the same. The key is to get in between the bedding area full of thick cover and the feeding area, where they feel safe enough to appear before full darkness. In areas of low hunting pressure, open areas can be utilized for hunting and be able to see deer. In areas of high hunting pressure, you may have to walk back into the woods farther.