Summer Scouting Tips

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

Scouting begins long before you ever set foot in your chosen hunting area, but I thought this would be a good time to talk about some things to do when you actually arrive in your prospective area.  When selecting a hunting unit, I will generally narrow down my selections by first going over the stats, picking out a few units of interest based on whatever my main criteria are.  Then I’ll whip out the maps ( I have an atlas for every one of the Western States, plus most of the others with significant public lands, and I don’t live too far away from the USGS  map center) to see whether the terrain and landowndership pattern are something I can work with.  I’ll use a little Google Earth and other remote scouting tools to then get an idea of the habitat types that we might be looking at.

Once I’ve settled on a unit based on stats, photos and other research from afar, I still have to see it in person.  But what am I looking for?  Well, that depends on the intent of my scouting.  I consider deer, elk and antelope scouting to be very different.  I also consider meat hunt and trophy hunt scouting to be different.  It also depends on what time of year I’m doing my scouting.  Since it’s July, and the mountains, back roads and trails are now clear enough for serious scouting, I’ll focus on my summer routines.  I have different game plans when winter and spring/application season scouting and day-or-two prior to the opener scouting.  Most of what I’ll talk about here applies to deer and elk scouting, less so for antelope.  

As a Front Range hunter who primarily hunts on the Western Slope (read: 3.5 to 7 hour drives), I do not have the luxury of making once or twice a week scouting trips.  When I lived on a State Wildlife Area in Nebraska and could scout nearly every evening and was able to follow individual bucks.  Identifying and targeting an individual buck or bull is beyond what I am capable of during one or two scouting trips a month during the summer (though I can get in about 6 scouting trips each summer, I hunt so many different units for various seasons and reasons that I just can’t find one great animal and stay with him).  Due to space issues, I’ll focus on road scouting in this article, and if you like it, I can expand upon other aspects in future articles.

The first thing I try to do is get to know the major roads in the area.  Every map marks roads differently than the other, or one’s idea of a maintained gravel road may be different then mine.  I prefer to hunt off of poorly maintained dead-end roads to minimize the hunter traffic. In general, a paved road will have more hunters near it than an unpaved road, a through road (a dirt road that connects two paved roads) will have more traffic on it than a dead end road, or a major destination dead end road will have more traffic than a minor destination dead end road, and well maintained dead end road will have more traffic on it than a neglected road. 

When driving these roads, I will note major camping areas that are not marked on the maps.  You can be sure there will be plenty of hunters near any place with campgrounds and cabins for rent, but I have a difficult time discerning dispersed camping areas on public land from afar.  Usually the flattest areas and trailheads alongside a road will be your main concentration of hunter camps, but sometimes there can be huge shoulders and pull-offs on winding roads that attract a lot of hunters.  By identifying the hunter concentrations, I’m often able to figure out escape areas, or less molested country.  I’ll also kick around some of the hunter camps, looking for old signs of success and trying to identify which, if any camps I’d like to be able to use during hunting season.

Other things I look for when cruising the roads are major trails in the road cuts.  Most dirt and paved roads in hilly country have their roads cut into the side of a hill, creating a disturbed area alongside the road that often has soft dirt and very noticeable trails coming down into the road.  If I’m meat hunting, I’ll simply take note of the species using them and where they are going.  If trophy hunting, I’ll take a closer look for buck and bull tracks that might be unusually large.  I’ll also follow those trails, as they can be obvious places for bucks and bulls to leave rubs or sheds in the vegetation.  The deepest of the those trails are often left by cattle, but I will follow those too as you can still see game tracks in cattle trails, and those trails frequently lead to unmarked water, bedding areas and very small meadows.

But, the most important thing to look for is GAME!  When planning a scouting trip, I always try to budget my time to be cruising during the most productive hours.  You can follow trails and identify hunter camps at midday, but I prefer to cover ground as quickly and quietly as possible at dusk and dawn.  It was painful for my girlfriend to get up before dawn for three straight days this past weekend, but we saw a ton of wildlife by doing so.  If you want to get really fancy, you can note concentrations on the maps or make note of what habitats they are most frequently using.   I will keep a running count in each area of bucks and does, then stratify the bucks into mature and immature.  A gut feel is nice, but when two areas feel similar to you or they all begin to blur together, it helps to have good notes to fall back on.

This past weekend, one of my goals was to get a feel for what kind of bucks would be present in our hunting area.  I noticed that the sex ratio had dropped pretty heavily in the stats, so I wanted to know if holding out for three and four year old or possibly even older bucks would even be a possibility.  Asking Katie whether or not she’d shoot the deer we were looking at also gave me a better idea of what she would really take, and what her idea of “big” was.  Talking B&C scores is pointless with many people, instead it helps to show them big, medium and little.  Knowing that “big” or “medium” (we did see a two year old after several 3 and 4 year olds that she got excited about) bucks are out there, and that she has seen them where we plan to hunt helps her have a little more discipline with the trigger rather than take my word for it.

It was an extraordinarily hot weekend and of the dozens of deer and elk we saw in-unit last weekend, all but one was seen at dusk or dawn, so I can’t stress the importance of taking your scouting as seriously as your hunting if you truly want to verify the presence of game.  Get up before dawn, drive around without your headlights (once it’s light enough to see), and go slowly if you think you’re in game country.

I can get into further depth on some of the other aspects of scouting in the near future, but I figure I’ll leave you with just these basic road scouting ideas for now as you’re hopefully out getting to know or relearn your hunting areas over the summer.


niceshot_smitty's picture

wow its been more then just a

wow its been more then just a summer of day trip scouting.  it been more like 13 years of scouting for my up coming Mule deer hunt in Sept. 2011.  I have had a lot of set backs but i do belive i can recover before the hunt starts in 2 months.  My biggest challenage is yet to come.  find a buck that meets my goal.  it just can't be a 4x4!  it has to be "the" 4x4 or better...  Don't get me wrong, this tag won't go un used.  I will fill my tag but anything smallier then what i want, will be a let down..  be it will be good eatin.  


hunter25's picture

I really like this article

I really like this article and the information presented here. Usually the word road and hunting don't go together at all but the use of them for scouting makes sense and can help you to cover a lot more ground quickly and get a much better feel for more areas deserving of a better look. Or in some cases you could even make your choice from the roads alone and then plan from home for your hunting trip. Not the best idea but it can be done. I have made some fairly successful trips to other states myself just from using the internet, buying maps and then using google earth to figure out where I was going. I have even been able to choose a camping spot on BLM land in Arizona and after punching in the gps coordinates to be sure was able to drive 14 hours right to it having never been there before. The information we can get now is amazing and has opened up a whole list of opportunities for us.

I will be heading out to do some elk scouting soon and a lot of this same information will be the way I get started. I look forward to the rest of this series to give me more ideas as welll.

WishIWasHunting's picture

Thanks again!

Thanks for another great article, and I do not think I am alone in hoping that you will write the follow-up article you suggested regarding additional scouting tips. 

I have been able to do some scouting in my archery deer area for this fall.  I did see more deer driving around the area than I did on my 8 mile hike.  Unfortunately, of the 6 deer I have seen in the area so far, all 6 were on non-hunting properties.  Only one deer was even close to some forest service land.  To make things more frustrating, the Forest Service has several trails in the area not yet open from winter seasonal closures or closed for reconstruction.  That could be a good thing by keeping more people out of certain areas, but, for now, it is making my limited scouting time less efficient.  I will have to give the local Ranger Station a call because all the closure signs they had in these areas were definitely less than informative. 

Thanks again for the article, and I will try to keep as much of this in mind when I get out there on my next scouting trip. 

ecubackpacker's picture

You always have good blogs to

You always have good blogs to read. This is the first place I come to when I've been away for awhile to see what new blogs you've written. There is some good info in this one as well.
Sometimes scouting can be just as difficult as hunting. But those mid-summer trips to a hunting area can be just what I need to keep my interest high regarding my training program.
It's more difficult to scout an area completely if you only get one chance to scout during the summer. A seven day scouting trip/backpacking trip is better than no scouting at all, but it can take longer to understand the daily habits of deer or elk.
This has been a good read and I look forward to reading the other blogs I've missed plus the ones to come.
Keep them coming.

GooseHunter Jr's picture

Wow alot of great info there

Wow alot of great info there and now you are really getting by blood pumping to get out there.  My work schedule took just a drastic change here about 3 weeks ago and all the scouting trips I had planned got foiled and now I have alot of other stuff that is keeping me from getting up there.  Hopefully I can find some free time...especially during the week if possible.  I really need to get up and look at a couple of areas that I was gonna try and bow hunt if not I may have to veture to where I hunted last season...atleast I have an idea of the terrain and where I did see the few animals that I did come acrss.  Looking forward to some more of you scouting articles.