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One of the most critical tools a hunter possesses is scouting. Time and effort expended on scouting trips have more than paid off in the large quantities of meat currently stocked in my freezer; in fact, I believe scouting is the single most important aspect of hunting that keeps the “upper hand” firmly attached to our wrists, so to speak. Without knowledge of animal movement, including times of day, active areas and even factors that affect movement, i.e. moon phase, rain, changes in food sources, would remain a mystery until the hunt, far later in the game than I prefer.
The truth is I’m a fan of planning my hunt. I know where I want to hunt, what time I want to be there, what time my prey typically moves through the area and what I’m going to do if the wind doesn’t play nice on any particular day. To that end, I have incorporated a number of tools to enhance my scouting efforts. These tools are not meant as a complete list; however, it is a list worthy of printing out for future reference, especially with deer season lighting up our hunting horizon.
I love a good surveillance camera. I call them game cameras while others refer to them as trail or scouting cameras; perhaps there’s a regional explanation but the camera is the same wherever you go. Built on motion sensors, with standard flash or infrared systems and quick trigger times, these cameras are worth their weight in gold when it comes to scouting.
I once read a book, “Character is Destiny,” by Russell Gough that clearly defines the value of a game camera. Gough’s premise was simply that if you had a ring of invisibility and chose to put it on, how would you act? It’s what you do when nobody’s looking that really counts. Of course Gough’s book was a message of integrity and how your character, your integrity define your destiny. Applying the value of knowing what goes on when we’re not out there, better yet, when our prey feel as though they are wearing rings of invisibility leads us to handy information; it allows us to better prepare. Let’s face it, in some small tracts of land, where you know the land like the back of your hand and the habitat teams with wildlife, game cameras may begin and end your necessary scouting efforts. For many of us; however, it is only one of the tools.
When scouting property, nothing is worse than walking up on wildlife, especially if hunting season is right around the corner. Living here in Texas affords me the luxury of hunting all year long so there is no great time to be caught traipsing through the woods. Carrying good binoculars and a spotting scope (on large tracts with good visibility) is absolutely critical in performing your scouting efforts largely undetected or at least at distances where wildlife do not feel threatened. Second to game cameras, good optics also gives you an opportunity to see what happens when they think they’re alone.
Whether the land you’re hunting is suffocating in vast expanses of heavy thicket, rolling prairies, picturesque woodlands or pristine pine forests, getting lost on large tracts of land is easy to do!
While elk hunting years ago, I left a logging road and ventured a mere 300 yards into an area where a 6x6 bull had been spotted. As I searched the area for sign the sun began to sink and shadows changed the landscape around me. I turned to leave and began walking. After 100 yards or so I realized I was not going the right direction. I went back to my initial spot and started over trying to follow my footsteps; they were everywhere, winding in every direction while I had been absentmindedly searching for sign. I panicked, then stopped and relaxed while I began to rationalize my predicament and consider the half lit sky in front of me.
Stopping to relax and absorb things around me saved my life. Surely, I would have been at extreme risk of death had I been forced to brave the -20-plus temperatures overnight. In the end, after only venturing from the logging road 300 yards, my return to said road found me a half mile from my original entrance point well after dark; my family had already begun to search for me. To this day I will not go into large tracts on my own without a map or compass; nowadays a handheld GPS is even better but maps will NEVER lose their value when it comes to immense forests and woodlands.
Maps also are great resources to create legends while scouting. Using a map, I number areas on the map where activity or sign were noted and use a pocket notepad to write what was observed for the number on the map; this keeps the map clean.
Regardless of how big or small your hunting area is scouting is vital to improving your odds. You have to make decisions about how involved scouting may be after weighing factors pertinent to your area but certainly terrain, foliage and the size of the huntable land should answer many questions for you about what to incorporate from the list above and even what to add; this is not necessarily a complete list.
The standing rule of thumb on scouting never changes. Plan, plan, plan - walk into the woods as educated as possible about what you are hunting, where you plan to hunt and how you plan to hunt it. The only way to do this is to scout. Blindly traipsing off on a hunt most often leaves you in the dark.
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