Deer hunting is over for the season and the icy winds of late winter have swept bare the timber, leaving only the skeleton like bare limbs silhouetted against the cold sky. Long past are the days of sitting comfortably in your stand, listening to the white oak acorns rain down on the forest floor to lie among the brilliantly colored Autumn vegetation. Instead of sitting back passively while your primal need for the challenge of the hunt gnaws at your gut, put down the television remote and go do your reconnaissance on that new spot you’ve been wanting to hunt.
Pictured above is my mentor Johnnie Taylor. He has caused the demise of more whitetail bucks than chronic wasting disease and deer still tremble at the sound of his name. Years ago he taught me bow hunting and instilled in me a philosophy that still holds true today, “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.”
During the wet Winter months while the ground is either muddy or snow covered, much of the initial scouting can be done from the climate controlled comfort of your truck seat. With a hunting buddy for a spotter, obvious road crossings like these can be spotted at thirty miles per hour. I like to find places where the deer habitually cross the roadways to give me a general idea of the herd movement, especially when my crew and I are in unfamiliar territory.
When I don’t know the area, I find that modern technology really shines and google maps has found a place in my arsenal of hunting tools. My son turned me on to this app last firearms season when we ventured out to find new hunting ground.
He and I made a bow hunting excursion a week prior to the gun hunt to get an idea of the terrain and road access points in relation to the Eleven Point River bottom. A friend had given us directions and a Forestry Service road number to an area of the Mark Twain National Forest which he assured me, “not many people hunt.” Not many, being a relative term I suppose, but that’s another story. After a quick impromptu hunt we began driving the rocky dirt roads searching for potential hunting spots, guided by motor vehicle use maps provided by the Forest Service and Google Maps. The app proved to be invaluable by showing terrain features such as the main ridges, draws, hollows, and other features that saved quite a bit of time and effort.
Google Earth is an even better tool according to CS Outdoors Prostaffer, Mike McIntyre. In a podcast interview hosted by Whitetail Rendezvous’s Bruce Hutcheon, McIntyre said, ““I think we have so many modern conveniences at our disposal right now, in this day and age, that it really takes so much of the physical effort out of scouting a new piece of property. One of the things that we’ve really evolved, started doing is using Google Earth. It’s a great resource. It’s a free resource. Whenever we start looking at a new piece of property, either be it for a consultation or if it’s a piece of property we picked up to start a lease on, that’s one of the very first things we do is get on Google earth and really start scouting the property from the satellite image.
It’s such a great tool to use. You can actually see some of the terrain features. You can actually zoom in and out and tilt it to an angle where you can actually see hills that are rolling. You can kind of see where some draws are, where in a two-dimensional world, before you could never really do that just by looking at a map on a piece of paper. So Google Earth has really just turned it into an invaluable resource for us.
Finding the road crossings should give you the general area you wish to hunt initially and satellite technology gives a hunter a head start on deciding where the funnels are. Modern conveniences are wonderful, but there comes a time when a hunter has to put on his walking boots and put in the leg work necessary to make educated guesses in the field. An advantage to scouting in late winter is the clarity in which trails stand out since the weather is typically wet and the leaves have begun to decompose. These factors coupled with steady deer traffic result in a well worn path. We all know that whitetails meander about, browsing here and there, and picking up acorns at random. I’m not saying they step in the same tracks every time, I’m referring to travel routes, river crossings, funnels, and where they skirt the head of a draw.
When your scouting no detail should be to small to give your attention to. Tracks, beds, antler sheds, hooked bushes, and droppings all tell you something of the quarry we seek. For great information and more hunting tips check out the good folks at CS Outdoors and Whitetail Rendezvous. Until next time, “Keep your powder dry and your nose in the wind.”