Scouting season can come and go in the blink of an eye, and before you know it you’ll be waking up opening morning; hopefully with a very thought out game plan. To help make the most of the short time to scouting until archery season, I’ve compiled some tips that I use to help me get prepared for fall.
Where To Start?
No matter what type of terrain you like to hunt, Google Earth can be a very useful tool. Personally I hunt the high-country, so whether I’m looking for places to go in a new unit I’ve never stepped foot on, or an area I’m very familiar with; I use Google Earth to help me out. I usually look for areas that are remote as possible so I can assume I’ll have less hunting pressure if I do end up finding a shooter buck or bull. I’ll then look for high country basins or hill sides that are south or east facing where the deer will be feeding in the mornings that also have a good mix of trees or cliffs that are north facing, or provide shade that can offer good bedding areas. Keep in mind any saddles, ravines or drainages that could hold some water so you can investigate further when you hike in to find out if the deer are using the saddles for escape routes, or if there is water.
Whether you’re looking at the high country or looking to hunt the lowland, once you have a few spots picked out that look promising on Google Earth, be sure to purchase a trail map of the area, download an app, or have a GPS showing the trails. You never want to spend hours hiking up a mountain just to run into a road or main trail that you could have used. (Been there and done that, unfortunately). Having a good map along side with Google Earth will help you know access points around private property, or just finding the easiest way to the top of the mountain.
Once you’ve got your area scoped out on Google Earth, and you know how you’re getting there, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to hike in and be in position before light. I like to give myself 30 minutes of extra “buffer” time than I think I’ll need to hike in. The last thing you want to do is hike for 2 hours, just to be 30 minutes late to glass that hidden basin. I’d always rather get up there too early and take a nap waiting for light, than push myself way too hard because I know I’m going to be late.
When I’m glassing, I always try to keep my distance from where the animals are, or where I expect them to be by at least a ¼ mile or further. If you can help it, you don’t want to be too close and leave your scent all over your target area. You are stepping foot in a mature deer’s backyard, and from my experience when a big buck feels pressure, whether its scouting or hunting, he instantly becomes harder to hunt by becoming nocturnal and his habits change. Don't risk getting too close and lowering your odds for success!
This leads me to my next point: spotting scope or binoculars? Everyone has their own technique they like, and there is no right answer. I personally pack a 65mm spotting scope, paired with 10x42 binoculars. I don’t mind the added weight of my spotting scope because it gives me the ability to zoom in close enough to see exactly the size of buck I’m looking at. I also like having the spotting scope for filming purposes which I’ll cover in a another post about my Digi-scoping and camera gear setup. If you don’t want the weight of a spotting scope on your back, the other option is to still pack a tripod, but rather have an adaptor on your binoculars that you can attach onto your tripod. This is probably one of the best methods for locating animals, because it’s stable, and very comfortable to allow you to glass for hours while looking for bedded bucks. I’d suggest using a pair of 12x50 binos if you don’t pack a spotting scope so you can have a little bit higher zoom. The only disadvantage of using this method and not packing a spotting scope is not being able to zoom in and judge the size of the buck, as well as not having very good digi-scoping abilities. The best of both worlds would be to pack a spotting scope along with an adapter for your binos, which is what I do. But like I said, to each their own, just find what works for your specific needs.
Trail Cameras can be a very good way of patterning your buck or bull. My situation might be different from most, but because of the terrain I hunt, and the fact that I don’t want to risk spooking the animal, I do not put any trail cameras where I already know the deer are feeding and where I can already see them. To me, the point of a trail camera is to find the areas down lower in the trees where the bucks go when they get pressured. I don’t need a camera to tell me where the bucks are bedding, because I can usually see them bed. I like to think of when the hunts come around, where will this buck run to? So I try to setup my cameras in near by saddles, passes, or just areas I feel good about to try and catch my target buck(s) on camera so I can get an idea of where to look when the going gets tough. For everyone’s different hunting styles, trail cameras come into play differently. Obviously, if you're hunting wooded areas for elk or deer, you’ll want to put out as many cameras as you can to get an idea of what’s in the area.
With all this mind, what a successful scouting season really comes down to is time in the outdoors. The more time you spend preparing for the hunt, the more likely you’ll notch your tag on the animal you were after. I always try to keep at least a 1:1 rule which means; for every 1 day of hunting you plan on doing, you should at least have 1 scouting day under your belt for that tag. Whether that means you have to wake up and start hiking at 3 a.m., glass an area for just the first hour of light from 6:15-7:15, and jog back down to your vehicle to make it to work on time, then so be it. The way I look at it you’re at least getting your mountain legs ready and in shape, and come hunting season you won’t let your legs keep you from achieving your goals. Now I’m not saying you have to scout and spend your whole summer in the mountains to harvest mature animals, cause that’s not the case at all for a lot of successful hunters. But I do know that it will definitely give you an edge come opening morning. You just have to ask yourself how bad do you really want it?
My Scouting Gear List
2. Vortex Razor Spotting Scope 65mm
3. Vortex Razor Binoculars
4. Vortex Summit SS Tripod
5. Phone Skope
6. Tinesup Digiscope
7. Garmin Rhino GPS
8. Video Cameras
9. 100 oz Water
10. MTN OPS Ignite/Enduro stick packs
14. Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes / UA Tabor Ridge Boots