If hunters are good at anything, its making the pursuit of an animal as impossibly complicated as they can. We buy scouting cameras, create mineral licks, study the moon, and on and on the madness goes. Then, we schedule our time off to catch that one critter we’ve been watching on his feet. What happens? The wind shifts, the temps go up or down, or the worst rain of the season hits. Or worse, we completely spook the entire area because of some ridiculous mishap on our to and from the woods. How can we ever get the most out of scouting for our next hunting season? Does scouting have to be hyper-expensive? How can digital scouting help us approach our next season?
An “Outside-In” Approach
In this post, I’ll be focusing on an “Outside-In” look at breaking down the property you hunt to make more educated decisions as you begin building your hunting strategy. Scouting doesn’t have to be overly time consuming or expensive. It begins with digital assistance. Between the uses of trail cameras and the internet you can save an incredible amount of headache and boot tread as you move toward your hunting season.
There are several ideas out there concerning how much time you should spend in the field before the season begins. Some say that the more you are out there, the more the animals will become accustomed to your activity. Others prefer a much more hands-off approach. I would argue that both strokes are too broad in dealing with scouting. Both are subject to daily activity, even outside of your personal activity, on the property you hunt.
What’s the most low-pressure approach to scouting? Not going in the woods at all…. So, using the right online tools before you get out can put you on the right track toward success.
There are three ways I use digital data to help me scout an area. It may be the most invasive, but trail cameras help determine time of movement, deer classification and inventory, moon phase, and even direction of travel when they are utilized in video mode. Digital maps can help tremendously when determining topographical makeup and the effect specific wind direction can have on an area. Finally, previous season’s weather data helps me establish the viability of a hunting location based on prominent wind direction. It can even help with deciding whether or not to attempt a hunt based on previous years weather patterns.
It would be silly for my to try to argue that trail cameras aren’t valuable. They are. They can help you zero in on tough animals that may otherwise never be patterned. They help with species inventories and mountains of other valuable data. I typically don’t use them because the properties I hunt don’t allow me to manage them well. If I happen upon a particularly interesting area, I will set up a camera no matter the surrounding circumstances.
The trouble many hunters get themselves into with trail cameras stems from one simple assumption. It’s a false equation that we need to get out of our head if we are going to become more consistently successful. It looks like this:
Camera+Pictures+As much time as possible in the field= A deer hunting home- run.
So you have some killer daytime photos of a velvet whitetail on camera. Then suddenly the velvet comes off and you notice photos of him getting later and later. Suddenly, everything you have is night time pictures. Welcome to the nocturnal zone! That particular buck just changed the game on you. It’s time to start looking for other bucks that are utilizing a more daytime pattern. This is where trail cameras are truly priceless. They make a bad equation into something far more realistic and desirable. You want your equation to look more like:
Camera+Daytime Photos of a Shooter Buck+ As much surrounding digital data as possible= The beginning of an opportunity to pursue said buck.
Without trail cameras, this would be a lot more complicated.
Utilizing cameras well can be a lot of fun and can mitigate the need for a lot of time spent in the field glassing. They may be an investment, but they can also tell you a great deal about times and conditions in which the animals are most active. If your hunting property allows for good use of cameras and you can afford them, use them.
There are several great hunting apps on the market right now that will allow you a lot of flexibility with regard to seeing and marking your hunting property. My favorite is still my already installed maps application on my phone. This is strictly because it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and it’s readily available. I like to use the satellite imagery to determine terrain features, and to see how dominant wind directions can work against me or in my favor. It’s super simple. Just put in your hunting property address, adjust the map as necessary, and go to work. I also like that I can zoom in on certain locations and break them down in more detail.
Wind Direction: Best Friend or Worst Enemy
Another resource you should have at your fingertips is a solid online weather resource. Preferably one that you can use to research previous year’s temperatures, weather patterns, and dominant wind directions at the time you will be hunting. This is not always 100% accurate, but it is a good baseline to begin determining what connections exist between the normal weather conditions and the deer movement within the general time of the season you’ll be hunting. Remember, weather trumps a lot of other variables in the field, and the wind that goes with it can be your biggest ally or your worst enemy.
The wind direction on your stand site demands four questions:
1. Where are the deer coming from? This means knowing where the bedding areas and travel routes are located.
2. What is the dominant wind direction during the time I will be hunting?
3. Do I have access that will not spook bedded deer? (Is my scent blowing toward a travel route or bedding area?)
4. What are the thermal currents doing while I am in my stand? Thermals rise in the morning and fall in the evening. Falling currents disperse themselves around the base of your stand, and are carried by the wind. Are you covered?
Time to Begin Your Approach
After you have done all your digital research, you can begin a more aggressive approach if necessary. I like to know exactly where travel routes to and from bedding, water, and food are located. The only way I can do that is on foot. I like to start by glassing and actually seeing the animal behavior. Then, during slower movement times of day, I will work into specific areas that I have already identified through online maps to identify prime stand or setup locations. I will also only enter those areas during wind conditions I would be hunting.
What’s the biggest advantage to digital scouting? It’s the the “outside in” advantage. Being able to systematically formulate a very general game plan before putting boots on the ground, and then being able to go back to the table to put together a very detailed approach after you have looked more closely.
What are some of your favorite digital resources for scouting? Leave a Comment!