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Scouting for big game: spring and summer

Article and photos by Frank Biggs
7/09/15 -- Most of us do not have too much time to scout before the big game season openers. This is especially true when we choose to hunt hundreds of miles away from home. So here is a thought especially for bow hunters: why not hunt closer to home? I would say there are a greater percentage of hunters that live in the valley and travel to the central and eastern part of Oregon to hunt for deer and elk, than the opposite side coming to the valley or coast. About five years ago, due to my work schedule, I decided to bow hunt for blacktail deer on the west side of the Cascades.

forked buck in the woods, photo by Frank Biggs
Why travel half-way across the state when bucks like this are right next door?

There is a bit more to the story as to why, though. Having to drive a long distance to work in the rural part of a couple of counties, and take evening rides, I could not believe how many deer I would see during these travels. In the wee hours of the morning, I would see some dandy bucks, but the evening trips was when the action happened.

Let’s get to the meat of the how to make pre-scouting pay off for the bow hunter. It all starts around the first of May; at least for me it does, and continues until the first full moon in August. After that it does change a bit, most likely due to the greater heat. In recent years, using a GPS and mapping software while working a specific route, I found many places on public and private lands where I was able to get permission to hunt.

I usually want to be in my dominate area around 7:15 p.m., whether it is May or August. Blacktail habits seem to be the same. I look for what doesn’t belong in the tall grass, brush-trimmed areas, couple-year-old clear cuts, or the tree farms that are prevalent in western Oregon. In an evening, I might see up to 25 bucks and less in the way of does.

A lone balcktail deer looking at the camera, photo by Frank Biggs
The author likes to start scouting for western Oregon blacktails as early as May

Once I have found an area, I then want to target the bucks activities by setting up trail cameras in strategic locations. The habits of big game whether it is deer, elk or even pronghorn, do not deviate. However, the times of the day that the blacktail deer come into the trail cameras might change due to their feeding habits or interruptions in the deer’s day.

I was always of the mindset that blacktails only work a small area of living space. But, in the last five years, I have found them to cover a great deal of land mass in their daily routines. I have found the same bucks more than three miles (line of sight) from their home bases. I know that mule deer work even greater distances and Rocky Mountain elk often an area within a 20-mile radius. This conversation about distance pertains to rural blacktails and not migratory blacktails that must contend with seasons, weather, and feed.

3 large horned bucks walking into the woods, photo by Frank Biggs
Getting to track antler growth from year to year can be fun and rewarding

I believe that with early scouting bow hunters chasing blacktails or other big game can make a significant change in their success. One last item of interest: you’ll have a great deal of fun profiling the bucks from year to year and seeing how the carry-over bucks develop in their antler growth. I have put a number of bucks in this article that are carryover. Last year was a tough year for blacktails on the property we had access to, with the clear cutting of 45 acres of Douglas fir and the late opener and with the bucks already rubbing all the velvet off. Thus the bucks were seeking solitude!

In closing, do not hesitate to come back to your routes later. A few of the carry-over pictures were taken 45 minutes later in the same area I had been in earlier.

Frank Biggs, aka “Bwana Bubba” is a true authority as a rifle and archery hunter. He is particularly well-regarded for his knowledge of hunting in Oregon. He is a member of the Pro Staff of onXmaps HUNT, a Field Staff member of H.H.A. sports, Contributing Writer for “Archery Talk,” a Martin Archery Good Old Boy and Senior Luxury RV Sales Consultant in Portland.

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