After 2-6 cups of coffee, my brain begins to work a little better right around 10 AM. When my thoughts wander toward whitetails, the hunger to scout new places and buckle down on old ones is strong. The issue about thinking is that a mind can wander as much as your feet can in a new place without a dialed plan.
If you go into a bow season feeling like a boy scout ("ready for anything"), you need a precise plan for your scouting efforts.
Deliberate scouting will build the results you're looking for, and when you're on the stand, you'll have the confidence that it's only a matter of time.
Knowing every inch of ground is good, but narrowing it to a handful of spots will make you a killer. In the Bible, David chose five smooth stones from a brook. He killed a giant with only one of them. Sometimes the right way is the simple way.
Establish a Baseline
To name a few, OnX, Spartan Forge, HuntStand, HuntWise, GoHunt, and Base Maps; one or two of these apps will help you on your way to areas of interest. For the past eight years, I've habitually used about 10 minutes of my time every day to find something new on OnX. But when planning my post-season scouting trips, I take extra time to look at an entire property.
Pending the size of the new place, I'll mark all areas that might have the elements I'm hoping to find. First, I mark everything in the same color. Next, I'll choose sites with as many mixed features as possible and change those waypoints to another color. That site may have multiple terrain features, or where satellite images appear to have a variety of vegetation. I keep this step attainable; 2 to 4 areas within a square mile is a good start.
Finally, I will take leftover areas to make plan B and C spots. Make sure you use three colors for A, B, and C plans! Also, a helpful tip REMEMBER THE COLORS!
Map the Main Access
Having smarts about the main access helps understand the hunting pressure. If you've had a chance to start the scouting process early, driving around to access points will give you a lot of info. Don't worry if you didn't. Keep that in your bag of tricks for next year. Focus on popular parts of the season, like the first week of November or the opening weekend of gun season. Since these dates will likely see the most traffic, you'll get a gauge for when people prefer to hunt those areas.
Without the early start, you can still scout main access. Look at things like how far is the nearest town? Does accessing the property require special equipment like chest waders or a kayak? Is the route to main access rugged enough to keep certain vehicles out? What about being hidden? Are only locals privy to the parking? Keep these ideas in your head, look for those hidden access points on your scouting app and mark them as finding them later can be tricky.
Take a Hike
This part of the process is all about speed. If there are trails in the area you've chosen, and you can breeze by some of your waypoints, it will give you a starting point for the next step.
Hop in the car with your spouse, kids, dog, or all of them, and get them outdoors. Hike past as many of these waypoints as possible. You may see something you like from the trail and consider changing a plan C spot to a plan A spot.
Helpful tip, if there are no hiking trails, a speed hike through the bush is still a good plan. But when you're taking your family, remember to keep it fun. Those kids you're taking might become your hunting partner later in life. If you ruin it for them too early by keeping your own interest at the front of your brain, they will be less prone to want to tag along. Avoid taking them to places with a higher difficulty level right away.
Through speed scouting, you've now confirmed the areas you'll dive into for more details. Depending on how early you're starting your mission, consider starting with plan C and B spots first. These locations are likely the easiest to get to and will serve as back-burner spots during the hunting season.
By scouting B and C first, the odds of bonus shed antlers increase in the areas you believe will be your top hunting spots. The best way to shed hunt is to separate scouting and shed hunting, but if you're limited on time and still want to find sheds, combine the two. If you start by scouting plan A spots first, you risk bumping deer to other areas where they will drop their sheds. Of course, there is a bell curve with shed antlers, and some will be on the ground as early as December, but a higher bulk of sheds is more likely to be found in March.
When dissecting properties you've selected to scout, take notes on the number of features that run together. Then note the amount of deer sign in the area. Does the site hold a large number of deer? Is there enough different types of food to make them use the area all season, or is the available food something that will come and go? What type of sign are you finding, bedding cover, travel routes, pre-rut or rut sign? Use this info in the next step.
Sort Your Findings
After a full spring, your legs should be tired, and you should have enough intel to make good plans for the fall. This step will make your hunts as productive as possible.
Fully rank your spots from best to worst at this time. Categorizing them by wind direction and the ideal season phase will help you make the best decisions on where to hunt when the time is right.
This is an area where we can all improve. It's so easy to think the deer are elsewhere when you aren't seeing much. That thought can really burn a hunter out and bring them down during a long season. Knowing that you've selected what you believe is the best spot for the circumstance is a mental booster.
Plan a Hunt
During the last stage of your post-season scouting, it's time to plan how your hunt will take shape. If you have time, hike through your top three points of interest. Otherwise, work off memories and maps. Walk an access and exit route that will work for the ideal wind. Also, keep thermals in mind!
I'm not a fan of tacking a trail of trees to get to a spot; we have app trackers for that kind of thing. But tacking a specific tree or two to make your setup? Now, that's a good idea. I can't count how many times I've gone into the woods for a hunt, thinking I knew the area well, and had a hard time finding the best tree for my hunt.
You're a bowhunter! Remember, 10 yards might make or break your hunt!
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member