Any successful deer hunter will tell you that scouting, planning and preparing plays an important role in their operating rhythm. Over the years, I have gathered from whitetail experts that in order to consistently harvest mature deer it comes down to knowing the herd and knowing the land. In order to uncover pertinent information, one has to scout, study maps and document their discoveries. As die-hard hunters, we all know how much time and effort we put into scouting. Additionally, we also know that there is a lot of information about the locations we are hunting. The amount of information can be overwhelming and I find myself unorganized more often than not. When this happens, I may find out after the fact that if I prepared a little more, or took the extra step to simply organize my planning, I could have had better results than I achieved. With this in mind, I thought it would be beneficial to talk about the tools that are available to us that would help organize the information we collect while scouting and planning for the upcoming season.
GIS Mapping and Plat Maps
If you are unfamiliar with the acronym “GIS”, it stands for Geographic Information Systems and it is the electronic form of a Plat book. Plat maps are phasing out simply because it is much more inexpensive and efficient to have everything electronic. If you want to find the GIS mapping for your county just type “GIS Your County, Your State” and it will populate a link to the county’s website. There you can search through your county’s GIS data library and pick what area you wish to research. You will be able to see the road names, land owner names, acreage and water system names. Not all counties are operating with GIS mapping, but it is no secret that everything is moving to 100% electronic. So if you cannot find GIS mapping for your county you will need to revert to a plat map. What’s great is that you can print off the desired page of parcels you want to take with you on the road when you go scouting or door knocking. Take notes on the back of the page about the people or activities in the area that might help you with planning your hunting locations. If I find out that the neighboring land owner likes to log trees frequently during the fall, which will drive deer away from that particular area, and I will make a note to remember this when setting up my stands.
Google/Bing and Paint
Two great online mapping sites to use would be Google or Bing. I favor Google over Bing because based on my experience Google updates their imagery more frequently than Bing. Although my buddy would argue that Bing is better because of its “Bird’s Eye View” feature, which enhances the details of the land features in the image. Either one you use you can’t go wrong. When using this tool you are simply looking for key land features; such as funnels, pinch points, crop fields etc. This will give you an idea on where to start your scouting. Once you have scouted a particular area, you should save the map image you found in Google to your computer. You can do this by pressing the “Print Screen” button on your keyboard once you have your desired image within the frame of your monitor. This will “copy” your desired image and allow you to paste it in another program.
I suggest using paint or a similar program to map out everything you find and what your plans are for that particular area. Create a key as I did in the image below. You can draw out everything you find and save the image once you are done so you can go back and analyze your findings. This will lay everything out so to speak, and really give you an idea of not only what the deer are doing within the area, but also where you may need to setup for a shot opportunity. You can mark where your potential stand locations would be, or where you want to setup up a trail camera. This really helps put the pieces together to display the big picture for you on one screen.
Scoutlook has been around for quite some time and they continue to improve their application. You can do many of the actions that I suggested in the Paint program using a Google image. You can track your stand locations, trail cameras, and mark other waypoints, but I haven’t been able to draw out the details that I wish to in Scoutlook; which is why I still like to use the Google image and Paint. Truthfully, I use Scoutlook more during the season because it provides critical information about wind direction, temperature and barometric pressure in near real time. I can also use Scoutlook to determine ahead of time what stands are good for a certain wind direction, and based on my scouting efforts and trail camera pictures, I can choose a location to hunt efficiently. These resources help make organizing the information collected in the offseason much easier; which ultimately aids in making educated decisions about where to hunt during the season.
Wunderground.com and Weather Data
Do you ever go back through your trail camera photos and wonder why a buck made an appearance at a certain time? I am sure all of us do this, and finding the answer is next to impossible simply because there are many uncontrollable variables that influence deer movement. The variables are more irrepressible during the rut when bucks are focused on breeding. However, I have learned through other experts that data tracking may provide some clues to help pattern deer movement during parts of the season when they can be patterned. Wunderground.com is a weather based website that not only provides real-time weather information, but it also provides historical weather data as well. You can find the temperature, barometric pressure, and wind direction etc. for any day of the previous year. So if you have a buck appear in daylight on October 15th, and you want to know what the weather was during that day or week, you can search Wunderground.com’s historical weather data to see that information. Perhaps a cold front moved through during that timeframe, or there was a significant pressure increase that week. There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn by collecting this data and comparing it to deer movement. This not only useful during the offseason, but it can also be beneficial during the season to help make timely decisions.
There is one drawback to wunderground.com. The weather information is pulled from a major city’s airport, so really the historical weather data is reporting the weather at that specific airport. So if your hunting location is nowhere near a major city’s airport then this information may not do you any good. However, if you hunting location is nearby then this data is going to be more relevant for you. There is another way to collect relevant and applicable information to your hunting area. Unfortunately, it will require a little work on your part however, this can be very beneficial. Simply create an Excel spreadsheet that lists all your stand locations and organizes the pertinent weather information. You look at the weather each day during the season right? Record the wind direction, temperature, barometric pressure etc. for each day of the month. It’s an extra step in the process, but you will be happy that you captured this information when planning your strategy both in and out of season.
Hopefully, these resources are something you will consider using for this coming season. I know at first glance it sounds like tedious, desk work and no one likes that. We want to enjoy the outdoors and the experiences that we have on the hunt. However, I can assure you that a little time spent organizing yourself utilizing the aforementioned tools will pay off big time for you in the fall. These are tips that myself and many experts have used in the past to be successful. If you have any tips that will help with offseason scouting please share them in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing about your success in the woods next season. Until then, stay fierce and keep scouting!