E-scouting is essential! Below, you'll find different e-scouting strategies from Trail Kreitzer for elk, Matt Ashley on antelope and Brady Miller for mule deer. While these strategies might differ slightly, you'll see they also have some common themes. So you're sure to pull some gems from these guys.
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I would approach this from two angles, the scouting you can and should do from your desk at home and if time allows, a follow-up trip to get boots on the ground. If you have drawn a permit or have purchased one over-the-counter one of my first visits is to the Unit Profile within your Insider account and I will read through it. If you bought an over-the-counter tag and are trying to narrow down the units to one, I will utilize the Filtering 2.0 portion of your account and explore the harvest success, trophy potential, and filter the middle column for bull:cow ratios. I will explore the options and visit unit profiles based on those results and look at the historical data including the number of hunters surveyed, and harvest success. I’ll also pay particular attention to the paragraph under the season near the bottom of those pages to see if there are specific spots to consider or intel about the hunt. I also read through the comments section at the bottom of the page to see if other members have asked questions or left information that may be useful. From that, I will open a Google Doc and make any notes that are applicable as I go.
Also, be sure to check out this article for a full breakdown of how to use Filtering 2.0 to find hunting opportunities.
After that, I will do a Google search for the unit, weapon and species. For example I might search for Utah Beaver unit archery elk hunt if I had that permit. In most cases that will yield several forums and topics that relate to my search. I will spend hours reading through those posts to see if there is information that may help. In many cases there will be members that have replied to posts and if you have an account to a forum you can private message them to inquire about the area. Most will not give up the best information in a forum or even through a private message to a stranger, but I have gained good information. Once again, I will make notes of anything that may be helpful.
My next step is to turn to GOHUNT Maps. I’ll use the layers available within the map to begin to research and identify areas of interest. I’ll use the land ownership and government land layers to understand the layout of the unit. I use the fire history to identify areas that may have good feed. The roads and trails layers will help you begin to paint a picture of where the access points are. I will also use the polygon tool to draw boundaries around any spots that were noted from my search of unit profiles and online hunting forums. Once I have done that, depending on the hunt you have I will use the Terrain Analysis and 3D tools to further research the landscape. Learn about the Terrain Analysis tool here. If you have a late hunt, consider the slope/aspect tool. Highlight the south, southwest, and southeast facing slopes. Those areas can be great late season. Early season hunts, I look at north, northeast, northwest facing timber where elk like to bed. I also consider those areas as they relate to mosaics of open meadows for feed, benches, saddles, water, wallows, wet meadows, and most of all..potential hunting pressure.
With the steps above, I will have a good understanding of where I believe elk will be. With my notes, my next step is often to contact the area Game and Fish biologist. I will ask them specific questions about the areas I have identified. Often a biologist or game warden is more responsive if you have done your homework ahead of time and ask about specific areas. Don’t forget to explore the question of hunting pressure with them.
Remember to take notes on everything. If you cannot get into the field to scout further, I will continue to dig into the unit from behind my desk and lay out plans for the hunt. I’d suggest you establish plans A, B, C, and D and have trailhead/access, routes, camping, and glassing locations saved in your maps.
If you can then take a trip or two to the area to actually do some scouting, I suggest having the roads, trails, and glassing locations picked out and saved. Make the most of the most critical hours of the day, early mornings and before dark. I’d suggest hitting as many of those glassing locations you have identified during the time you have. Be there well before light and stay until it’s too dark to see. Mid day hours can be used for driving the roads to get familiar with the unit and hiking to check on water sources and benches. Look for elk sign, current and old. Make notes of rubs, droppings, wind direction; anything that can aid you in finding and killing an elk. Also, take pictures and attach them to locations within your GOHUNT Maps app. Information can be sifted when you get home, more is always better.
My e-scouting efforts at this stage are primarily focused on maps. I have gathered the information from Insider Unit Profiles, forums, and other hunters that have hunted the area and made polygons, dropped pins, and made notes in areas of interest. I am continuing to utilize GOHUNT Maps imagery to scan those areas to ensure I have not missed any details that can help me on my hunt. My first elk hunt opens August 20, as such I am still spending time looking for remote pockets of water tucked away on a shady north facing slope. Those types of seeps, wet meadows, ponds, and springs can be a great spot to ambush a bull during those first two weeks of my hunt. I am also still considering the best options to access those areas and identifying the best possible glassing spots since glassing will be a good tactic during the early days of that hunt. I am also looking for benches and saddles and areas that have a good mix of open country for feed and good bedding cover. At this stage I am also putting together opening day plans and I am adding plans B, C, D etc as I go.
When I am able to take the e-scouting information I have done into the field to scout, I am looking for elk. When I am in the field scouting for an early season hunt, I expect to see elk, both the cow/calf herds and the bachelor groups of bulls. Finding the cow/calf areas will become increasingly more important as the rut begins to pick up during the middle to tail end of September. With an early opening date like August 20 or September 1 as it is in many states, I am also looking for the bachelor herds of bulls. I can key in on hunting bachelor bulls in those areas during the first portion of the hunt. Experience tells me I have a week or perhaps two weeks where those areas can be productive before the bulls begin to move to gather cows. When I am in the field scouting, I am very focused on being at the best glassing points where I can see a lot of country and I put time in behind a good pair of binoculars and spotting scope. I cover as much ground as I can, I try to be in a new glassing point a couple times a day, one in the morning and another before dark. I take notes as well as I travel the roads and trails of where I am seeing people. I note where I am seeing the recreational weekend campers and hikers. If I see a trailhead with any truck or ATV along the road that appears that it could be another hunter out scouting I make notes of that as well. Ultimately, boots on the ground is about finding and seeing elk in the areas I expect to see them. When I do find elk, I make notes about everything I am seeing, the terrain, vegetation, elevation, feeding direction, time of day, and I take pictures of the landscape and digiscope film as much as I can. All of that will be reevaluated once I get back in front of my computer and look at the map. With the information I have gathered and looking at the landscape on the map I can begin to understand the bigger picture and make plans on the best possible approach to kill.
I do have a couple permits that I am more focused on, both are limited quota tags that I drew. The first is a limited entry elk tag in Utah and the second is a limited quota elk tag in New Mexico. The Utah tag is an early opener, August 20, and the trophy potential is good, especially this year with the spring and summer moisture that the area has received. The New Mexico tag is during the middle of September when it’s more likely that the bulls will be responsive to calling. I’ve put more time into e-scouting and scouting the Utah tag because the trophy potential is better, I utilized my bonus points to draw the tag, and it’s closer to my home here in southern Utah. It’s also the first elk hunt and with the earlier dates it’s possible that a lot of that hunt will be spot and stalk and ambush style hunting. With the New Mexico tag I feel quite confident that if I have identified good areas, hike and call that I can find elk, so I have spent less time scouting for that tag. My suggestion would be to focus your scouting efforts on the hunts that have better potential. Also, the timing of the hunt comes into play on how much scouting I do. Early season and late season elk hunts take time to scout for and plan out. Mid rut hunts still require scouting and the more you do, the more successful they will be, but with bulls that are bugling I feel like I can cover a lot of ground and utilize calling to find elk.
Before starting the scouting process, I begin by conducting as much research as possible to give myself an idea where to focus my efforts. There is no better place to get started than GOHUNT Insider. From state specific species breakdowns, Insider only Strategy Articles, member comments, to specific information about your unit and hunt, Insider puts loads of information and data at your fingertips. Since I have already secured a permit, I pay special attention to the unit that my permit is valid for. One of my favorite features is the Buzz section of Unit Profiles which offers helpful insights and trends as well as trophy expectations. Another highlight I review is the paragraph under the species section which gives season specific tips and tactics.
After consulting GOHUNT Insider, I conduct an online search to try to garner more information about the unit(s) I am hunting. It is amazing the amount of information you can find in various forums and social media sites. Searching forums can provide relevant information and occasionally locations consider. I search YouTube for videos of previous hunts within the unit, as well as hashtags on social media which can help provide imagery or harvests from within the unit. These can all be great resources for potential tips such as the habitat the animals are typically found and occasionally you can connect with someone willing to visit with you about your hunt.
Next, I like to make a list of my personal contacts or network that I can reach out to for information. Do you know anyone that has hunted the unit? Do you know anyone that lives in the unit who might share some insights or introduce you to someone that is knowledgeable? Maybe they simply see antelope during their commute to work. Often, outreach to your contacts or a personal introduction from a friend seems to lead to the most valuable information.
Reaching out to a local biologist can be very worthwhile. They get a lot of phone calls, so being prepared for the conversation and asking specific questions can lead to more detailed answers. If you haven’t read the recent two part GOHUNT article by Jake Horton titled “Asking The Right Questions To A Biologist” I highly recommend it.
Keeping detailed notes and information is important throughout the research and scouting processes. This documentation will give you reference materials leading up to and during your hunt. Proper research and scouting will help establish a hunt plan and guide you in making educated decisions in the field during your hunt.
Because antelope live in such vast areas and open areas, my strategy has always been about covering the most amount of country possible. More than any other western big game species, it is worth considering your vehicle as a tool to help expand your reach within your hunt unit. Before going into a new area, I identify roads systems in GOHUNT Maps and how they relate to public and private lands in the area. I like to draw routes in GOHUNT Maps on all of the roads I intend to drive. It is critical to know the difference between public and private roads and what roads are open. Reaching out to the regional federal agency office to ask for their most up to date Motor Vehicle Use Maps for cross reference as well as asking about current road closures will help verify legal public access routes and save you time and potential headaches. Next I identify the access points to public lands and potential areas off the beaten path where I can get away from the pressure of other hunters.
An antelope’s primary defense is their eyesight. They prefer open country where they can use their incredible vision to their advantage. I have harvested nearly all of my antelope with archery equipment but learned early on (after many failed stalks) that choosing areas with broken or rolling terrain over more flat areas dramatically increased my odds of success. Depending on your weapon choice and effective range, consider picking areas in your unit to focus on where the topography lends itself to your weapon choice and your hunting style.
Since antelope live in such big country, identifying glassing points that give you the best opportunity to find what you are after is critical. Within the strategy of covering lots of country, I like to mark glassing points that might not be a long hiking distance from a road, but expose areas that aren’t visible to others. An example could be a ridgeline you can hike to that is blocking the view of a distant valley or basin. Looking at these areas in 3D in GOHUNT Maps will give you a better idea of what to expect, and by marking these points you will be more effective in the field.
In the arid habitat environment that antelope typically reside in, water sources and nearby agriculture fields can concentrate antelope populations. Identifying and marking these in GOHUNT Maps can help give you a starting point for areas to glass and look for sign. Antelope can be fairly patternable to water sources and in some cases also agriculture which can lead to potential ambush opportunities. Antelope trails can sometimes even be visible in aerial imagery and the high resolution images in GOHUNT Maps makes these possible to pick out. Seeing trails bisect fence lines can tip you off that they are not domestic livestock trails.
Boots on the ground for me consists of validating and eliminating all of the points of interest I have labeled in GOHUNT Maps. Are the roads you have marked open and passable? Is the topography of the area you had marked too flat to effectively stalk antelope with your bow? Can you really see what you thought you could from the glassing points you marked and are they worth revisiting? Are the water holes you have marked dry? Being able to confirm these questions will make you more efficient and effective once the hunt begins.
I was fortunate to draw a mountain goat permit this season in Montana after many years of applying. These tags do not come around often, so I want to be prepared to make the most of the hunt. I have been spending a lot of time in GOHUNT Maps to study the unit and have made one scouting trip already. On this trip I was able to validate some areas I had been told were good places to find mountain goats as well as identify some new glassing points and camping spots. Preparation is always important, but having special permits like this seem to add a little extra incentive to make sure I am proficient with my weapon, have a solid game plan and make sure my fitness is at a high level.
In my honest and personal opinion, e-scouting is way more than just looking at maps and dropping waypoints. Let’s define e-scouting for a second. As you've probably heard from me in the past, my definition of e-scouting is as follows; e-scouting is a systematical digital scouting effort on a map (on your computer or phone) where you dive into every piece of the unit before you ever put a foot on the ground. This is the pre-hunt work that will put you in the position to find mule deer and develop a plan. The key thing here is a “plan” because without a plan, you’re most likely just going to waste time and days on your hunt if you haven't scouted out your unit on 3D satellite imagery.
If your goal is to find mule deer, e-scouting will help you do that. And even if you want to take a big old mature buck, e-scouting still plays a huge part in that. What you do right now through mapping work, will set you up for success.
In its greatest form, e-scouting or boots on the ground scouting for mule deer is a combination of learning where deer live, how they move about their habitat and why they are where they are at any given time.
Be sure to check out the article below for a deep dive into exactly how I e-scout for mule deer:
Some of the main points I work through in my e-scouting efforts are:
Jump over to GOHUNT Maps on the web and start getting prepared for this coming season.
One of my all time favorite tools is GOHUNT's Terrain Analysis tool. You can unlock more secrets to finding mule deer using this tool than any others.
Remember, once you put a tag in your hand, that day is when your e-scouting process starts!
If you want to check out my exact process for how I color code and organize waypoints, check out the article below:
When I finally put boots on the ground, my main goal for a new area is to cover as much of the country as possible. I want to visually inspect all the places I marked during my e-scouting efforts as spots I might access/park my truck. Reason being, I want to see what those look like in person. For example, things I’m jotting down; is the area I’m accessing remote or heavy use? Is there room for horse trailers? How beat up is the trail. The reason I make note of possible horse trailer use is that while I don’t mind some competition, I’d rather try to find an area that a lot of horse hunters or outfitters don’t hunt. Next, I'm trying to glass country from a long distance away. The first day or two of scouting is spent finding areas I can park my truck or make short hikes to sit down with my Swarovski BTX and 115mm objective spotter. I want to mainly get a feel for the terrain and if I see some deer, that's a win, but early season scouting when I have late season hunts I don't put a lot of emphasis on finding deer. Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here of an article series on summer scouting for fall mule deer hunts.
If you want to check out a podcast that we recorded recently for our Big Hunt Hunt Guys podcast, be sure to tap the button below to listen to it! Myself and Chris Neville sat down with Mark Livesay and we went to town on diving into all sorts of tactics that Mark and I use to find animals through e-scouting. The podcast was titled, Episode 23 - The Best E-Scouting Podcast Ever! for a reason. I might be biased, but that podcast is worth it's weight in punched mule deer and elk tags!
The one hunt I’m focused on this year is my October mule deer hunt. It’s a hunt I look forward to every year and it’s the type of hunt that I truly believe you need to prepare the most for if you really want to be successful. What I mean by that, is the way I hunt this spot will eat your body up if you’re not careful. Plus, bucks are timbered up and hunting this time of year is just difficult to begin with. It's a hunt where I feel like I’m at a huge advantage by being in the best shape of my life and it’s what I plan and prepare for all year. I could pretty much say this about every unit or state that I hunt, but in this particular spot I’m tapping into an extra gear when it comes to my efforts to find a quality buck. A lot of areas I hunt don’t have a ton of numbers of older deer. Which is why having a mental and physical edge is so important to me. If I want to grab my entire camp and drop a ton of elevation, then climb back up the other side. And do that several more times over the course of a few days, I’ll do it.
If you have a tag that is good for one or several units, take a lot of time and analyze the terrain across the unit slowly
Where are the groceries (feed)?
Where are the escape routes
Is water a limiting factor on this hunt for deer and for you?
Distance from roads
If you've never stepped foot in the unit before, are you e-scouting for an upcoming boots-on-the-ground trip, or will this be scouting for your hunt?
If you're going to put boots on the ground later, don't overlook long-distance glassing areas
Utilize Hunt folders and have a waypoint strategy in place to stay organized