Deer aren’t really affected by our sluggish economy. I wish we hunters could say the same. With gas prices already over four dollars a gallon, many people are looking for ways to be more frugal. One of the first things to get cut out of the budget was the annual spring scouting roadtrip. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I’ve come up with a solid plan to still “scout” potential hunting property from the comfort of my own home, without ever starting my truck.
The first thing I do is turn on my computer and Google "QDMA Pope and Young map". That search will lead to a QDMA page that has several color-coded maps to reference about Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett harvest statistics. By looking at the map, I'll get a good idea as to where I want to hunt.
When traveling, I tend to hunt public land, so the next thing I do is open another browser window and pull up the DNR website for whatever state I want to hunt. Each state's website will have some sort of "where can I hunt" link or page that lists all of its public hunting land. I look that over thoroughly and find public land in counties that showed promising P&Y and B&C statistics. If public land isn't an option, search each specific county's website thoroughly. They should have online tax records and plat maps telling exactly who owns what properties. The plat maps will also give the landowners address. If the tax info and plat maps are not online, call the office and ask where to get it. The book may cost a bit, but it's much cheaper than driving all the way.
Gaining permission to hunt private property out of state is an entire topic in itself. In a nutshell, I try to be respectful and always offer to earn the permission. Once a landowner's address is acquired, I send them a letter stating who I am, and that I am planning to bowhunt in the area for a week in the fall. I ask if there is anything that can be done to earn a chance to hunt. I've found that people appreciate the respect I show them with a letter, and are usually quite friendly. Letter writing doesn't always work, but I've met a lot of landowners who prefer a well written letter than people coming to their home and knocking on their doors.
After finding a location I like, I open yet another window to Google maps, type in the nearest city, and choose the "bird's eye" or "aerial" options. By panning the map a bit here and there to zoom in on the potential hunting property itself, I find myself looking directly overhead at a high quality color aerial photograph. I first like to look for bedding areas, food sources, and water. If an area has those three things, the chances are good it will hold deer as well. The next thing I look for are sources of possible human interference and other hunting pressure. Remember, if it is easy to get to, there's probably already somebody there.
Once I've decided on a property, it is time to get technical. I try to put myself in the deer's mind, thinking about the time of year I'll be there, and what the deer will be acting like. For instance, I wouldn't sit on a green summer food source in the peak of the rut, and adversely, I wouldn't hang out all day in a bedding area during the early season. I generally do roadtrip hunts during the rut, so I look for doe bedding areas, funnels, ridges, valleys, and travel corridors. Usually at this time of year, cruising bucks will be on their feet scent checking one doe bedding area to the next. When selecting the exact location for a setup, be sure to consider wind directions, the AM and PM thermal effects, and any other technical detail that may make or break a hunt. I try to find safe access to a point somewhere along a travel corridor where I think bucks will frequent.
Thinking about stand access and exit routes usually leads to the next question; where will I park? Depending on the state and area, parking may or may not be permitted just anywhere. Find a nice, legal parking area and plan on walking a bit. Be sure to follow all of the rules. An out of state vehicle illegally parked will almost guarantee a ticket, a lot of headache, and possible ruined trip.
Once I have found a place that looks promising, the next thing I do is get on the phone. I'll call the local DNR offices, sporting goods stores taxidermist's shops, etc… and find out as much information as possible. Most of the DNR officials will be pretty open and honest. Some of the others may not like the idea of an out of state guy coming nosing around so their opinion may have to be taken with a grain of salt. Keep that in mind when analyzing the P&Y and B&C maps as well. Some great areas are kept secret by tight-lipped, humble hunters.
If, and when everything is on track and the property still looks inviting, the next logical step is to hunt it. Before I hunt the property, I go to an online map-printing site and print a few waterproof copies of the aerial photographs that I need. The Google imagery (and most others online) is copyrighted, so the only legal way to print the maps is by purchasing them. Several sites offer printed maps at a fair price. Each year several hunters earn their fifteen minutes of fame by getting lost, and having the entire county on a televised rescue effort looking for them. Go in with a good map just in case the GPS fails, tell someone your location, and don't be one of those statistics. A better way to become famous is by shooting a monster buck!
These strategies will work on any game animal, anywhere on Earth. Scouting property online is a fun way to do some legwork and cure cabin fever. Although virtual scouting will never replace a good old hike through the woods, it's the second best option when the budget is a bit tight.