Almost all of us have discovered along the way the “dos” and “don’ts” of scouting for hunting season. I consider the scouting game as its own little mission:impossible. I’ve always found scouting to be the most important part of the hunt. My preference is to put maximal effort into my scouting, so when hunting season arrives I have a bulletproof plan.
First, know your territory. The initial research on the area you are planning on visiting is critical to understanding the topography of the land. Coulees, valleys, watering wholes, flat lands, and treed areas are all things to note when initially looking at an area to hunt on a map. Google earth is a great way to start, the desktop version also allows you to plot trails and see their elevation and distance. Understand where landmarks are in relation to each other as well. Is there a watering hole near tree areas? How far is the flat land from the coulee? Where could animals potentially bed for the mid day hours? Once you’ve made a plan, now it’s time to execute.
Boots on the Ground
You HAVE to get boots on the ground. First, make sure that the land isn’t owned by anyone or make sure to get permission. Don’t be that guy who trespasses. Now, get your feet moving and heart pumping. Avoid using an ATV at all costs, you’re more likely to see more game and sign by walking. If you know the animals are used to ATV noise, still walk. Remember you are scouting, not hunting….yet. You don’t want to miss seeing beds, game trails, and sign because you’re ripping around on the quad. Hit up all the areas that you marked on your map first. Your gut instinct is always a good first bet, especially if you have some hunting knowledge and are confident in your landmarks. If not, then take it all in as a learning experience! Make sure to also bring a note book and mark up your map. When you see sign, mark it on the map. If you see game, mark it on your map, but also write down in your notes what time of day it is, the weather, was the animal bedding or feeding etc etc. If you see game, also note approachable angles depending on the wind. Animals strategically place themselves where they feel safe and have the escape advantage, so make note of multiple approaches you may use. If you have trail cams, this would also be a good time to place some along any heavily used trails, potential bedding areas, and places where the animals come out to feed. This will give you opportunity to track animal movements to plan your perfect ambush!
It may sound time consuming, but scouting is, in my opinion, the toughest part of the hunt. After you’ve returned from scouting, whether it was a morning, evening, or a whole weekend, you must put some time into reporting. I like using an excel spreadsheet to mark my sightings, time of day, the area I was in etc. This allows me to trend movements year round. I’ve known people to scout only in spring because they don’t want to push the animals as it’s nearing fall, but this can have consequences. I have seen it more than once where animals are in a completely different pattern come fall, especially in the rut. The best reporting is done throughout the year, especially if you plan on hunting the same area for years to come. The more you learn, more success that will follow. Now new technology like wireless trail cams can make scouting very efficient without having to scent the area up every other week. Be creative in how to scout. Find vantage points that you can see a large amount of the area without always walking through the middle of things.