All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
Hunting season might be here and in some states opening up very soon, but that doesn’t mean scouting season over! I don't know about you, but I have been out in the hills, pounding my optics and boot leather as much as possible. This is the time of year when we get to take inventory: What’s walking around in the country we are planning to hunt? Is it even worth hunting in said country? How is the terrain? Where is the water? All of these, among others, are questions begging to be answered right now. But the only way we can answer them is to do our homework and get out in the field to have a look.
Over the years, I have realized how important it is to make the most out of my scouting trips and even "scouting while hunting" to check out some new areas during the season. Not having a plan and being completely unfamiliar with an area before I get there only adds to the limited time I have on the trip. All of us are busy, with various obligations, which is the incentive to actually prepare for these scouting trips so you can squeeze every drop that you can out of them. Time is a precious thing and so is our scouting.
I will be the first to say that I absolutely love looking at topographic maps of my hunting areas and always make sure to have a printed map of where I will be in my backpack. However, there are some things that you just can't do with a regular topographic map. If you are a serious hunter and don't know what Google Earth is I highly recommend you take a look at this incredible tool. In a nutshell, it gives you the ability to see 3D imagery of any given piece of country. You can see water, terrain features, food sources and even game trails. On top of that, you also can mark pins on the map, measure the distance of possible hiking routes, and see historical satellite images of where you want to look. Do you see why this is important?
Before you even step foot into any given area, use Google Earth to familiarize yourself with it first. By doing this, you are going to have a really good idea of things like where to park, what route to hike, possible glassing knobs, feeding areas, bedding areas, and even more—the list goes on. This is going to let you eliminate certain pieces of country; therefore, making you more efficient with your time while in the field. You can also check out these great articles that show you how to use Google Earth for hunting: Unlocking the power of Google Earth scouting and Advanced Google Earth tactics to prepare for hunts. And if you're an elk person, you might want to check out a three part series by Dave Barnett on his practical scouting methods for elk: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Sounds simple, right? I assure you it is, but I have definitely been guilty of not sticking to a plan or not even having one for that matter. Because of this, often, I would return to the truck and realize that I didn't get done what I wanted to that day. Sometimes, I find it difficult to separate "hunting" and "scouting." This leads to me getting sidetracked. Nowadays, I tend to write down a plan in my phone so I can remind myself of what I want to do on my scouting trip. Maybe all I want to do is glass for the morning. Maybe I want to cover eight to 10 miles and check out a few different spots. Either way, I try to create an agenda for the day and I think it has paid off greatly. Knowing that there is actually water in my notated water sources means a lot, especially for an Arizona boy. Knowing that I can, indeed, make it to the other side of a canyon is valuable information that I wouldn't have unless I physically went and checked it out.
I really like picking a loop or certain route to take for the day that hits a few different areas of interest to me. Sometimes, this is based on confirming water sources. Other times, it might be glassing areas and food sources. Confirming that the oak trees are yielding acorns this year is gold to me and, as it is, I can't see acorns from Google Earth. This is also a great time to find good areas to camp if you are planning on backpack hunting. It might be just me, but I generally like to know where I am going before I get there—if you haven't already noticed.
This is another area where my brain gets scrambled and sidetracked. I love to sit down and glass and feel like I can never look through my optics too much. You can check out an article I wrote on glassing techniques here. However, the only way I am going to investigate other areas intimately is by covering country. The way that I have found to remedy my issue is to glass at optimal times of the day—mornings and evenings—and covering country during midday. This is because most animals are going to be moving the majority of the time during morning and evening. That is a great time for me to sit down and observe this through my optics. Once they lay down for the day, I can get out and hike new areas to look for sign, feed, water, new glassing knobs, set up trail cams, etc. I will say that you don't want to be trampling through likely bedding areas during midday so keep that in mind when picking your hiking routes.
"Time." That word is really what this whole article is about. I've heard some folks say that they'd rather have more time than money. That's a bold statement, but one that makes sense to me. You can make more money. You can't make more time. If that isn't an indication of how precious this commodity is I don't know what is. Once September is gone, it isn't coming back until next year. Even then, it's a new year, new September. Like most of us, I don't get to scout seven days a week, which means that the time that I do get needs to be used productively. By following the system I've outlined above, I've been able to make the most out of my scouting trips instead of singing "shouda coulda woulda" on the way home. Think quality instead of quantity with scouting. Do your homework, make a plan, and make some memories.