By Bob Humphrey
It may still be summer where you live but as the days grow shorter a change is coming. Decreasing day length signals Autumn is on the way, and with it comes that glorious time of year we call deer season. If you want to make yours more enjoyable and successful, you need to get out and start your pre-season scouting.
Actually, you can do much of the preliminary work right at home (or work), at your computer. One of the most important scouting tools a hunter can utilize is a map; and good maps of your hunting area are often just a few mouse clicks away at places like Google maps, terraserver.com.
Several, like Mytopo and Maptech even allow you to build and order custom maps online. There are also software programs like DeLorme’s Topo USA that contain topo maps on CD-rom. And, most of the above also have aerial photos.
Maps and photos are loaded with info you can use to hone down your scouting time. In their daily travels a deer’s routine consists largely of feeding and resting; and unless disturbed, they will generally take the path of least resistance. On the maps we’re looking for topographic features such as steep terrain, or water bodies that will funnel deer movement. These and the photos can also help you predict where feeding and bedding cover occur. If you have a GPS, you can even store locations for future field investigation. Some units can even interface with the mapping programs, allowing you to download specific locations instead of manually entering them digit by digit.
Without ever leaving your house you now have specific locations to scout, and an efficient means to find your way to them. We’re almost ready to hit the woods but before we do, we need to go back to our maps one more time. The maps will show not only where to go, but the easiest way to get there, which may not always be a straight line. Just like the deer, you may opt to go around obstacles such as waterways, waterbodies and steep terrain. And, maps will also show unimproved roads. If your hunting location is remote, you may be able to cover a considerable distance to it on an ATV before you hit the ground, which is the next step.
Once you’re on site it’s time to look for actual sign. Reams of information exist on specifically what type of sign to scout for, and we’ll be covering some of this in more detail in future installments. For now, we’ll deal in generalities, and early in the season the most abundant sign will be tracks and trails. Look for slotted prints in the soft soil and try to determine how fresh they are. You should also look for signs of feeding, and bedding. Can you see distinct trails leading from a cornfield to a nearby swamp? Are the deer traveling along the course of a stream bottom? Later, as bucks shed their velvet and then rutting begins, you can look for more specific sign like rubs and scrapes.
Log all this stuff in your GPS; bring it back home and plot it on your maps. Pretty soon you’ll start to see patterns of movement develop on your maps. Now it’s time to start hanging stands, another thing we’ll cover in the coming weeks.