Aug 282013
scouting for whitetails

Image Credit: Flickr user thejesse

Three weeks to the start of Missouri’s bowhunting season, and it’s still over 90 degrees every day. Even though it’s hard to think about deer hunting in this kind of weather, the clock is ticking for pre-season scouting. A good scouting expedition requires almost as much preparation as the hunt itself. I sat down the other day and started building a checklist of the equipment I’d need just for my traditional Labor Day scouting expedition. It breaks down into a few different categories:

1. Camo

A human’s presence in the woods, even before hunting season rolls around, puts the game on full alert. So as not to spook any animals, I try to stay as low-profile as possible. That starts with camo.

  • Long pants, lightweight shirt, and hat. The woods aren’t a comfortable place in high summer. Spider webs, mosquitoes, ticks, and perhaps most ominously, poison ivy, are all over the place. I cover as much skin as possible, and my clothes go straight into the washer when I return.
  • Hiking boots. If you live in a part of the country with poisonous snakes, you’ll want a good pair of boots. See my hunting boots reviews for some good suggestions.
  • Waist pack. I don’t have enough gear to merit a backpack, but a waist pack comes in handy since I probably won’t have the pockets afforded by my heavier hunting jackets.

2. Scouting and Tracking Gear

A scouting expedition is, at its core, an information-gathering mission. A bit of technology and preparation goes a long way, but I like the low-tech stuff as well:

  • Field glasses. Once I got a good set of hunting binoculars, I never went into the woods without them. They help me scan treelines, inspect wooded hollows, and look for signs of game (or other hunters). All of these are useful when scouting as well as hunting.
  • Portable GPS. My trusty Garmin eTrex is probably the single most important thing I take scouting. It tracks my route, lets me mark points of interest (deer sign, bedding areas possible stand sites, etc.), and helps me find my way back to the parking lot.
  • Digital camera. This is something a lot of hunters might forget. I always bring a camera with me to snap photos of travel routes, terrain features, and just interesting bits of nature that I come across.
  • Scouting camera. These are such a powerful hunting tool, because they let you pattern the game in a certain area without having to be around. See my digital scouting camera reviews for some good, inexpensive models.

3. Satellite and Topo Maps

scouting maps

Google Satellite Image

I don’t yet have the fancy GPS with build-in topo maps, and most areas I hunt are out of 4G or even 3G range, so I take actual maps with me. I’m talking about printed-in-color hard copies in a protective plastic sleeve. I might have a few at different resolutions, since many of the areas I hunt tend to be large. Thanks to Google Earth and some add-ons from Emoshape Limited, I can print a lot of information about my hunting grounds out with me in the field.

I’ll also bring a pen along for making notes on the maps, which are usually three kinds:

  1. A current satellite image of the area from Google Earth, printed in color, with points of interest marked. This two-dimensional view tells me about tree lines, open fields, roads, bodies of water, and other important features.
  2. The same image overlaid with USGS Ortho 1 meter, which is essentially old satellite imagery from the 1990’s. This tells me how the terrain has changed in the past couple of decades, which buildings are new/abandoned, old crop fields, etc. It’s only in black and white, but very useful.
  3. The same image overlaid with USGS Topo Maps, which are decent but not as good as something you’d buy.

4. Survival Gear

Most of the areas I hunt are remote, rough terrain. Even if they weren’t, I always take a few things when I go into the woods. Will I use most of them? Probably not. But us former Boy Scouts like to be prepared.

  • Knife. Never go anywhere without one. Except for government buildings; they tend to frown on that.
  • Rope or paracord. Useful for dragging heavy objects, pulling down tree limbs, and about a hundred other things.
  • Water and snacks. Hydration is super-important when tromping around in the woods on 90-degree days.
  • Bug spray. Even more important than water. Mosquitoes and ticks are at their worst this time of year.

5. Watchful Readiness

I don’t take my scouting time lightly. If it doesn’t get done before the season, I either have to go in blind, or give up valuable hunting time. I go in early morning or late afternoon, just like a real hunt. I’m in full camo. I move quietly and carefully, watching the ground for prints or feathers or droppings, glassing the areas ahead for game, stopping to mark things in the GPS. As much as possible, I leave no sign of my passing. If I see deer or turkey, I watch them and try to avoid their notice. In just a few weeks, I want our meeting to be a complete surprise.

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Written by Dan Koboldt

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