Author James L. Bruner
Now that got your attention didn’t it? You’ve probably clicked into this article to verify the fact that indeed the author must be crazy. And if I were to offer you tips on scouting with flashlights, lanterns, or similar gear, I would obviously qualify for the earlier statement. In all honesty I’m not looking to send anyone out to scout a new hunting area in such a manner. My intention rather is to educate hunters to the benefits allowed to each and every reader of this article. Perhaps the title for this column could have been Scouting At Any Time but honestly, would you have clicked in here so quickly. And, if I didn’t truly believe the information wasn’t a viable tool for the hunter I would not be sitting here clicking these keys.
Now lets move forward and share this blueprint of scouting which will allow you to scout your proposed hunting areas more thoroughly, leave less impact on the area, and allow some pre-scouting at any time of the day. Thats correct. You can scout at night with the following procedures.
Here’s the technique in a nutshell. Aerial topography and time-related geographic overlays. Sound a bit expensive or time consuming? Not at all. I am not going to suggest renting a plane for the arial view. You can do this directly from your computer at any time of the day or night and some of this information is completely free. To add to this you leave absolutely no physical impact on the actual area the you plan to scout until you have actually put your foot to the ground. If you’re able to give me any benefit of doubt here I can assure you that you will probably save yourself a lot of footwork once you see the bigger picture.
To begin with you should have an idea regarding the structure of the land tract you are focusing on for the moment. Take into consideration the topographical elevation. If you were able to realize structures such as ridges, water, and slopes, before you hit the woods, wouldn’t you be that much more educated and save yourself a lot of time? I know there are a lot of die-hard hunters out there that will say there is no substitution for actually walking through the woods to pick up deer sign. I agree 100% but that isnt the topic here. I fully realize what the term scouting entails but I do not limit myself by definitions just the same as I do not dictate the way I hunt by others actions. While the veteran hunter, who is set in his ways, sits at home once the sun goes down, you can, and should, continue to educate yourself.
Our friends over at MyTopo have their own program to allow anyone the option to create and order topographical maps directly from their website. These maps come in a number of sizes and customizations for a very affordable price and will be your baselayer for the overlay that will come later. This will be the only cost to you the consumer. You can give it a test-spin for free to view the quality and we have outlined the basic procedure below in 5 easy steps.
1. Choose your city and state.
2. Select your feature of that particular location.
3. From left hand navigation choose your selection of a Topo Map or a Black and White Aerial Map and orientation detail. We prefer the 1:10,000 output scale because we are focusing on smaller tracts of land and greater detail.
4. Choose type of map you desire and click next.
5. Type in desired Title, Subtitle and Owners Name of map. Choose either the Standard or Enhanced version and click next.
From here the work is done. On the following page you can preview the map and make your purchase. The preview may take some time on a dial-up system as it is quite large and graphics intense. You will have the option to view a thumbnail version or the original size. This preview does utilize a popup window so you may need to disable your popup stopper or allow this specific page to appear. There you have it. Just by viewing the preview you will get a much clearer picture of your hunting area and see where this information can be a very useful tool.
Now, providing that you have the map you created you have the basic lay-of-the-land complete with elevation. Wouldn’t it be great to also see the actual population of trees, open pockets of land that may be hidden, funnels and bottlenecks? Of course it would. Put those two elements together and you have a very good overview of the property and, like I mentioned earlier, you havent impacted the area at all.
To take this form of scouting to the next level we would suggest the use of Google Earth or, a similar program. We mention Google Earth for the fact that most people these days are aware of it’s use and many already have the program loaded to run on their personal computers. If not, here’s a link directly to the download page which will explain any needed system requirements and offer current options.
Now you have the basic equipment needed to put these elements together and visually realize the larger picture of nearly any tract of land. From my own personal experience I have found that the Google Earth program typically provides a very good quality picture but does not afford me the view inside such as the elevation. By comparing your print from Google, along with your Topo Map, there leaves little doubt if the taller stand of trees you may be seeing are actually mature or simply setting atop a ridge. Now let’s hypothetically say that this is a ridge of hardwoods, a few oaks in there would be a nice bonus, regardless of the tree species you have confirmed this as a definate ridge but you have also learned a couple other aspects of that ridge before scouting. Through the maps you can determine which way the ridge runs. North, South, etc. will be relevant in your decision as to whether this area deserves some actual scouting on foot. You can also factor in the sunrise and sunset direction and of course the prevailing winds for that time of the year. Thats some very relevant information that is usually decyphered in the field. Call it homework if you will but it all boils down to further education and knowledge.
The other aspect I have found that is of particular interest is as I suggested earlier, finding those deer funnels. Funnels can be a fantastic place to set a treestand. I find that many times a hunter never realizes that a funnel actually exists until they see some sort of arial image as some funnels are more pronounced than others. This doesnt have to be the typical hourglass shape or the classic funnel as we know it dictated by trees. A simple growth of brush can provide all the cover a deer needs to travel from one tract of land to another undetected by the hunter especially during early morning or later evening hours. Elevations on either side of the funnel can lend some possibilites of probable bedding areas especially when the outlying area is compromised mainly of lower elevation. You may also reveal the location of watering holes or similar features that can draw deer like a magnet. I think you see the possiblities.
With this in mind I hope that our readers find that their scouting does not have to end at dusk or be cancelled when the hours of free time run short on those busy workdays. You can pinpoint possible hotspots from your desktop without trekking miles through the woods and leaving your scent to linger and alert the resident deer herd. In effect you can utilize this pre-scouting type of technique in any weather, and at any time. In essence you can even do some of your scouting, as implied, at night.