When it comes to deer hunting, there is one thing that produces more consistent success than anything else: scouting. In the digital age with so many technological advantages that we as hunters have at our disposal. There is nothing better than what we like to call “boots on the ground” scouting.
The use of trail cameras has changed the way we are able to document and see whitetail deer. It is true, trail cameras are great tools to help us scout, but they can never replace putting your boots on the ground scouting. A trail camera can only give you a little piece of the puzzle.
Much like just relying on something like Google Earth. Google Earth is an excellent software to visually view areas from the comfort of your computer screen. It can even show you the type of terrain, trails, and how the sunlight affects an area. You may get a general idea of where you are going. What it will look like, it will never tell you the entire story. All these technical tools are excellent ways to help you scout an area when you cannot physically be there. Make sure you are using them correctly and are not solely relying on them.
Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!
There are many hunters who will place a trail camera in a spot and fully expect to get pictures of big bucks. But when they finally return weeks or months later, they are disappointed with the results. The camera might have been functioning perfectly, and the area they set it in looked great on Google Earth, so what is the problem? Why did they barely get any pictures of deer, let alone any big bucks? The answer could be anything but picking a quality deer spot isn’t always as easy as finding a Google Earth location and then simply throwing out a trail camera. How do you know it is a good area if the most you have seen of it is the time you spent setting up your camera? This is where boots on the ground scouting come into play.
When I think about boots on the ground scouting, I think of two different things: hiking and glassing. Simply walking through a potential hunting area can tell you exactly what you might need to know about how many deer are in the area, or if there are any at all. Sure, many hunters will say that you don’t want to spook deer out of an area by hiking through it. Leaving your scent imprint, but how do you learn how deer utilize the property without scouting it? How do you find bedding areas, water and food sources, rubs, travel corridors, or maybe even shed antlers without putting your boots on the ground?
All of these things can be used to determine if an area can be a good potential hunting area to focus more time and attention to. I prefer to do a lot of boots on the ground scouting in later winter or early spring. Not only does this help cure my cabin fever. This also allows my intrusion to fade away well before hunting season. I will venture back in at different times of the year to move trail cameras if I am new to a hunting area, but I will stay away from known bedding areas.
When I am scouting a new area for the first time, I want to understand what this property offers a whitetail that it needs to survive and how they utilize this land? Is it cover & bedding, or food, or water or maybe some combination of all these? From there it is understanding how deer travel and transition across this property and on to adjacent properties. I may go a bit overboard, but I like to take a map or overhead image of the area and mark these points.
I can then reference that later during hunting season or glassing sessions. It helps for me to be able to visualize how deer utilize a property when picking stand sites.
In addition to physically exploring an area in person, another great way to scout an area is through the use of binoculars and spotting scopes. This is a perfect way to watch deer after you have already walked, identified, and documented a good area. Now you do not want to spook the deer all over again. Glassing can also be utilized to look at and analyze potential hunting areas as well. Without ever having to walk or hike to them. After viewing an area through your binoculars, you can decide if it looks good enough to take a closer look at or place a camera. This can not only save you some time, but it can also save you some hiking!
Putting your boots on the ground is far and away the best way to scout an area. After getting a good general idea of an area on Google Earth, and marking spots of interest,. You can now get your boots on the ground and get to work. After viewing these areas in person, you can confirm what you saw and guessed on Google Earth about the quality of an area. The area looks good, now it is time to initiate a Trail Camera Strategy.
Adding the pieces of information, you know about the area, spend time over the course of the summer glassing this area. I was hunting a new parcel that is adjacent to property I currently hunted several years ago. I didn’t receive permission until mid-summer, so I was not interested in bombing in on foot and spooking deer. Since bombing in wasn’t an option, I picked a couple of high spots in the shade where I could spend evenings glassing. The information that I learned those evenings paid huge dividends. We were able to harvest several deer off that property in the years after largely in part to what I learned on those summer evenings.
As you can see, every single piece of equipment and tool that we have as hunters should come into play and help play an important part in the process of scouting. Finding and killing a big, mature buck is a difficult puzzle. You must learn to utilize every piece of gear or tool that you can in order to solve it. Where many hunters go wrong is depending on one step or tool than the others. By doing that, they are not able to get all the pieces of the puzzle together in order to solve it.
Overall, you will never go wrong by doing any sort of scouting. Whether that is pouring over areas and terrain with Google Earth, constantly checking trail cameras, or exploring your hunting areas. The more time that you spend scouting, the better your odds are of killing a mature buck. Just make sure, during all your scouting, that you dedicate at least a little bit of time to some “boots on the ground” scouting, as this could be the most important piece of the puzzle to finally killing that buck of a lifetime!