Scouting for Wildlife
From the beginning of my adventure to learn to hunt, I understood the basics of hunting. Go into the woods and find some wildlife, shoot it, field dress it, process it, eat it. It sounded so simple. But then I tried to do some out-of-season scouting for whitetail deer and realized that finding a deer in the woods is not as simple as just randomly walking through the woods and looking around. I saw nothing. No deer, no sign (I thought I knew what to look for at the time), nothing.
I went back to the internet to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. I read quite a few blog posts and articles about deer sign to learn as much as I could about deer tracks, bedding locations, food types, etc. That is all very good information to have, but I was still lost as to how to find deer. I felt like I could understand the signs of deer once I found them, but where do I even start looking in the woods in order to find sign?
This led me to watching youtube videos and reading posts about using aerial photos to scout hunting areas (referred to as cyber scouting) prior to stepping foot in the field. This was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a bit of a challenge for me to find time to go out into the field and scout. Having a wife and 2 young kids, I just felt guilty if I spent a large chunk of my free time out in the woods without them. I tried taking the kids a few times, but the thick underbrush and prevalence of swamp / bog areas made it difficult to take a 1 year old and a 4 year old with me. So having a method of scouting that I could do from home for a few hours a night was perfect.
A Tracker’s Perspective
In addition to the various videos and internet posts about aerial scouting, I also decided to start looking into tracking again. I have always been interested in wildlife (and human) tracking, but I never took the time to really learn. Hunting was the perfect excuse to start looking at it again. I decided to start reading “Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking” and “The Science and Art of Tracking” by Tom Brown Jr. In the latter, he discusses his training as a youth by his friend’s grandfather (whom he calls Grandfather). He mentions that:
“unless a person knows how to read landscapes through the eyes of a tracker then he has as much chance of seeing wildlife as looking for deer in the ocean. Not all parts of a landscape are rich in wildlife. Some areas are better than others and its best to look at the land like islands in the sea. It is on the islands that the largest concentration and variety of wildlife will be found, not in the oceans between.”
Tom Brown Jr. in “The Science and Art of Tracking”
This quote emphasizes the same sentiment that I see a lot in hunting forums, that “90% of the deer are on 10% of the land”. I have no idea if the actual percentages are correct, but the point remains that in order to find the wildlife, you must find the “islands”.
Cyber Scouting Example
After watching all of the videos on cyber scouting, I decided to see how well I could apply what I learned. I chose a nearby public land area, and looked at the aerial photo (shown above).
The first thing that I do when cyber scouting an area is to look for anything unusual. For this area, the parts that stood out are the clearing for power lines (going from top center to left center), and the brown spots on the map. Since this was the first spot that I had scouted, I was naive enough to think that the brown spots were just open grassy areas. However, they were actually marshes.
Regardless of what the brown areas are, I can tell that they do not provide much cover. As such, it is likely that you will not see deer in the middle of them. So as my first step after choosing an area to analyze, I marked up all of these “no-go” zones in red.
After marking up all of the “no-go” zones, I then start to look for pinch points (also known as funnels) that might funnel multiple deer trails into a smaller area. I then draw potential routes of travel in another color, and create circles where the routes of travel might intersect.
We now have a map (above) showing possible routes of travel, and possible locations where those routes of travel might intersect. The white numbers on the map represent areas where I think I might find some intersecting trails. Intersections are good for multiple reasons. Intersections are food for a few reasons. First, it means there is more than 1 trail in the spot. Second, it usually means that the spot can be hunted regardless of wind direction.
Summing Up The Cyber Scouting Process
- Find a location that you want to hunt.
- Look at an aerial photo of the area.
- In red, mark up the “no-go” zones.
- In another color, mark potential travel routes
- Finally, mark locations where you might find intersections of the travel routes.
I feel like I should stress that I am still VERY new to this. So don’t think that the example I gave is correct. It was the best that I could do with the knowledge that I had at the time, but it could still be completely wrong.
Beyond The Computer
Now that you have cyber scouted an area, the next step is to get outdoors and walk the area. This should not be a typical hiking-pace walk. You should walk the area slowly, looking for any sign of deer that you can find. You want to check all of the intersection areas, as well as all funnels. Don’t just look in the area of an intersection or funnel, though. Make sure you look at everything within a 50+ yard radius to make sure you get a full picture of what the deer in the area are doing.
In addition to all of the youtube videos and posts that I read online, I decided to purchase the Traditional Bowhunting and Wilderness Podcast scouting DVD. In the scouting video, Jason goes very in depth on cyber scouting and in-the-field scouting for whitetail deer. I really can’t recommend the video enough. Jason has a host of knowledge about hunting, and is very good at explaining things. He also is very good about answering any questions that you might have after watching the video. Recently, he also released a 2nd scouting video, but I have yet to watch it.