Admit it. The first thing you think about when you hear of spotlighting deer at night is poaching. Fair enough. This heinous act is carried out by criminals every year. We all know mature deer feel safer moving at night. What many of us don’t know is that the physical act of shining a light on a deer is legal in many states – as long as you don’t have a weapon in your vehicle.
Spotlighting could be a suburban hunter’s dream scouting tactic. What better way to find deer than to cover lots of ground in a vehicle, searching through the grid of suburbia for a pile of deer near where you can hunt? On top of that, you can get it done within an hour or so at night.
Do it whenever you have the time! The goal is to find deer, even if that means you only have an hour. And if it means you need to skip television before bed, so be it. I have found that certain weather conditions and times of season dictate the best times for finding deer.
When we’re velvet scouting in the summer, the cool temperatures of a misty rain or just after a thunderstorm bring out the most deer. In the autumn, the rut has a lot of effect on deer movement but not as much effect as weather. Of course, the cold fronts that bring deer to their feet during the day also keep them on their feet at night.
If you’re limited on time, focus your search around areas you can hunt. Make sure you branch out. Even in some of the most densely deer populated areas of the country, I’ve had pictures of bucks on camera in October, and come November, the same buck is on camera more than five miles away. That particular buck had to cross a major river as well. You just don’t know how far deer will travel.
Man-made sanctuaries are always high on my list of places to check out. I’m talking developments and any other areas where hunting is not allowed. Deer move. And if they’re anywhere close to land I can hunt, I know it’s time to scout there in order to see where I might ambush them.
The time of year can make a difference. Velvet bucks in bachelor groups love farm fields. I’ve found that alfalfa is their favorite as long as it’s green. If I find a group of bucks feeding in an alfalfa field, I know there’s a good chance I’ll catch one of them once their velvet sheds.
If you don’t have any farm fields in your area, find what your deer prefer to feed on in the summer. It very well could be your neighbor’s grass or apple tree. As velvet sheds, I start to cover a greater area to find where the deer have moved.
Leave the weapon at home. Its illegal, it’s immoral, and it’s not what we’re here for. We’re not poaching. We’re hunting – and they’re not even in the same category. The first step to hunting a deer is finding a deer and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here. We want to find a deer where we can legally hunt it. So grab a spotlight (and a friend if you so please), play some tunes and go ride around. Often, you won’t even need a spotlight; your headlights will reveal the buck you’re looking for.
Be respectful with this method. Check your local laws. Never shine someone’s house or vehicle. Once you find a deer you want to hunt, do your homework and find out where you can ambush it. Spotlighting saves you the time of hanging cameras on pieces of ground where you’re not sure if there are legally huntable populations of deer.
Last modified: January 21, 2019