Digital Scouting With Dan Johnson

Scouting for bucks from your computer like a mad scientist.

It’s nine o’clock on a Tuesday night and the entire family is already in bed. I turn on the television in the living room to give off the impression that I’m watching TV. I check all the bedrooms to make 100% sure that everyone is really sleeping. I close the doors to the bedrooms in order to hear if someone comes out and ruins what I’m about to do. I grab the iPad, a glass of my favorite bourbon and then find a secluded corner of the house. I then turn off the lights, close the blinds, and get comfortable in one of my favorite chairs. It’s time to release some stress and escape in to a different world. I take a sip of my chilled bourbon, the first sip sets the mood.

One last deep breath and look around the empty room to make sure I am alone. I pick up the iPad, turn it on, and pull up the internet. As I begin to type in the URL the web address automatically pops up as it is a website that I visit on a regular basis. As the website loads a small smile appears on my face. If people actually knew how much time I spent on this website, they might be concerned for my wellbeing. I don’t see a problem with it, I think it’s a healthy alternative to sitting in a bar all night or even adultery. I crack my knuckles and begin. Tonight my fantasies become reality… and it’s all because of Google Maps.

Get your mind out of the gutter! I am addicted to digital scouting. Some people spend hours a day on social media, but that won’t help you kill deer. Me, I like zooming in and out of the properties I have access to and getting a detailed view of the lay of the land.

Let’s get one thing straight, nothing beats boots on the ground. But as most of can attribute, we can’t, nor would we want to be scouting that much through the season. Just too much pressure on your property. There are several different platforms out there that will give you quality satellite imagery, but in my personal opinion Google Maps is the way to go, or at least a great place to start. There are several benefits to digital scouting and I will touch on a couple of them.


Like I mentioned in the above paragraphs, I like going through the properties I hunt with a fine tooth comb. One of my favorite activities is looking for different access routes to my favorite stand locations. Let’s take a pinch point for example. If you have only one access route to that pinch point, my guess is you are doing one of two things.

First, you are probably using that access route on the wrong winds, blowing out the entire area before you even get to your stand. However, that could be a risk you are willing to take if once you get your stand location the wind is back your favor. But again, you run the risk of ruining the entire hunt.

The second option is that you lay off that stand location altogether on “bad winds”, not a bad idea if you are scared of spooking deer. But… Just imagine if you had an alternate route to that stand location that would allow you to hunt it on different winds.

That opens you up to more potential encounters thus increasing the odds of you killing deer. These secondary access routes will more than likely take longer to walk, have difficult terrain, and will just plain suck to walk. But if it allows you a chance at the buck of a lifetime, would you do it?

Have you ever been hunting a buck that spent a majority of his time on a property that you couldn’t hunt, or scout for that matter? Did you give up on that deer? Digital scouting can help.

A couple years ago I got trail camera pictures of a 160 class buck that was showing up on my farm one hour after dark on a scrape on the field edge of a corn field. On this field edge was a fence line, and that fence line marked the property boarder. The first thing I did was ask permission to hunt that property… they said “No”. I then moved my trail cameras around for a couple more days until I figured out where this buck was crossing the fence.

I then moved my stand location to as close to that fence crossing as I possible could and waited till the next “good wind” to hunt that stand. That day came and the buck never showed up, or any other deer for that matter. I was a bit confused. Once I got home I pulled up the digital map with topo lines of the neighboring property and realized that what I thought was a good wind was actually very bad. The wind was more than likely blowing my scent in to a creek bottom that looped back around to where the deer were crossing that creek before they were crossing the fence.

Once I realized that, the next day I set up another stand about 150 yards down the fence line. Why? Because I recognized what I assumed to be a different bedding area about 45 yard off that fence line on the other property while looking at that digital map. I zoomed in really close and found what looked like a trail leading from that fence crossing right in to that assumed bedding area.

After I set up the new stand location I found the best access route to that stand. I then waited two days until the wind I needed showed up for that morning hunt. The goal was to catch the buck coming back to the other property to bed. At first light a couple does and a couple small bucks crossed right in front of me. This was the spot. About 30 minutes later, a lone doe appeared on opposite field edge and started to walk right towards me, guess who was following her… the buck I had on camera. A nice typical 10. But as luck would have it, a younger buck came in to the picture and started pushing the doe in a different direction. The big buck followed. There are some things you can control. The moral of the story is that I was able to use a digital map to identify an alternate stand location by looking at a property that I didn’t have access to scout.

As the season draws closer, take a moment to pull up a digital map and really dig deep in to the properties you hunt. Look for new bedding areas, new access routes, and brainstorm how to integrate  that data once you get the opportunity to hunt or scout that property. Hell, it may even help you get closer to that buck of a lifetime.

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