This is a topic that in the more recent years I have become better at but in no way am great at, or even at times probably considered good at. But the more i venture into the world of instate and out of state public land scouting and even hunting whether it is for whitetail or big game, I begin to realize most have little to no experience with it. Sometimes even with the basics as to where to look? Or how do I decide which areas or maybe even which state. Well first and foremost I have to say decide where you would like to hunt at. I highly recommend getting your experience points with somewhere rather close, like an adjoining state or the next one over. Somewhere you can follow a few of the tips I use in order to potentially get better before covering large distances like me and my colleagues do, sometimes going as far as 30 hour drives one way.
Here is my list or order of importance in which I approach to establish some knowledge of where I am going. Now this differs slightly for whitetail versus big game so I will keep it as close to whitetail specific as I can and add annotations in where it differs for big game. My number 1 rule to begin with although sounding dumb, determine which state you actually want to hunt wherever that may be. I know it sounds crazy but I even catch myself sometimes running through states and ideas and never lock on to one.
Let us use Ohio as an example state. Once I determine ohio it will be then this is the time of year that scouting starts, right now being the turn of the year mid december at this point. I will now begin using apps such as for myself I run the onyx system and will run google earth as well. For lack of burning your ear off at how amazing this app is and beneficial for hunting anywhere (especially big game in western states) do your own research on it. The long and short is the app shows layers of public versus private versus state owned etc etc. They also have overlays such as topos(super important later) I will use this app to just burn hours and hours locating large tracts of land in which are open to public hunting.
We will now spare the hours and hours of searching for a piece of public land and actually move toward the what now? Now I actually will do 2 different things, I will use the overlays with roads loaded and try to find the largest lots of land the furthest from any space or area accessible by other people, whether this is from sheer distance from a road, or because the contour lines show drastic uphill climbs which I believe also eliminate a lot of people from a long all day hunt carrying a lot of gear. I will also search for small pockets near parking areas or human presence that can be often over looked, these areas though I will more cover with boots on the ground rather than on the app. I tend to look for a wide range of things, with whitetail it may be saddles, drainages that all connect forcing travel patterns, or fingers of timber in your flatter areas with agriculture. For western states and big game we search for areas we can walk all day long which have water, north facing slopes(for the cool weather) and access based on where we will be with thermals, can we get into the area based on the thermals.
Now that we have determined a state, found tracts of land or patches we want to get into. The fun begins! Starting in late january or early February I begin or we begin to put boots down and cover turf. Lots and lots and lots of turf. We will walk these areas in search of bedding, where are these deer moving, sleeping, eating. If a fresh snow comes I do everything I can to get my body into that area. The months of january through april is my favorite times to be in the woods and where you’ll hear people refer to when they kill their target buck. Now I don’t normally have a target deer but I have an area in which I have target deer activity in order to maximize seeing a mature deer.
I understand some of these topics are probably vague to some, and for not writing an entire book it almost needs to be vague. But do your research on these topics individually and develop your own spin on your own weapon. Keep in mind I am not great at this, nor am I even very good at times. But it’s the way that I have developed and moved and differs very little from many others. Feel free to contact us or ask if there are any further questions you would like clarity on and always remember, if your DIY hunting to always “Be Original!”