I’d been scouting the timber non-stop for over an hour. I crossed every creek, climbed over every hill, some of which were hundreds of feet high, and scanned every clearing. It was a hot August afternoon in Missouri; at least 100 degrees in the shade, and I had just scouted over 1,000 acres without losing a drop of sweat to the sunbaked soil. Not a stitch of human evidence was left behind, not even a boot print. As a matter of fact, I never left my air-conditioned living room!
Through the use of maps, many bowhunters are now doing the majority of their pre-season scouting from the comfort of home as it’s proven a more efficient, more effective method, with far less human disturbance to the area. Most bowhunters would no more consider scouting unfamiliar ground without the use of land maps than they would drive cross-country without using GPS.
There are basically three types of maps used by hunters: plat and topographical maps, and aerial photographs. I recommend using all three in conjunction with each other. Here is an overview that can help you become a map scouter this summer.
In my opinion, the topo is the most useful of the three maps. With a little practice you can become expertly familiar with any given tract of land. By using the contour lines of the Earth, cartographers are able to portray land elevations in feet (normally 20-foot intervals), thereby enabling you to identify valleys, ridges and every change in elevation in between. If contour lines are spaced far apart, it means the terrain is formed of gradual slopes. When they’re spaced closer together they indicate the terrain is quite steep. And no contour lines mean flat ground.
Through the use of colors, topo maps also depict the nature of cover. Blue is generally used to represent water, such as a stream, pond or lake; green is used to represent forest land and white represents fields, croplands or clearings (open ground).
Scouting with the use of a topo map is almost like hovering in midair above your intended hunting area. You are able to study the different configurations of land without setting foot on them. You can pinpoint forest bottlenecks between crop fields, narrow corridors of cover, ridges, hollows and wall barriers. Understanding these different land configurations makes it easy to accurately predict the travel routes of game animals. By knowing the key areas to explore in advance, you can make better use of valuable scouting time.
The Plat Map
The plat map is an extremely useful tool for quickly sizing up the landscape. At a glance you can determine who owns what tract of land and where the prominent landmarks lay in relation to the property boundaries, rivers, streams, houses, lakes and roads. This enables you to develop a quick sense of direction as well as providing an invaluable resource for tracking down property owners of potentially new hunting territories. County plat maps are created for the purpose of assessing property tax and can be obtained through the area tax office, usually located in the county courthouse or website such as MyTopo.com.
With an aerial photo it’s quite easy to evaluate the characteristics of flora covering the landscape. Sizeable trees will be depicted by large dots while immature trees will be represented by small dots. Aerial photos also reveal deep canyons, saddles, draws and clearcuts.
However, aerial photographs, which are likely more current than topo maps, are not as clear or easy to understand, therefore they are used less by hunters. There are two aerial photo types: one-dimensional prints, which look basically like common black and white photographs, and two-dimensional aerial photos, which look blurry without the use of a stereoscope.
Maps in the Field
Once you have narrowed down primary areas to physically scout, I recommend you photocopy your maps and carry copies into the field or save them to your smartphone. This allows you to plot and record any pertinent information as you find it. After exploring and establishing the deer’s main food source, bedding area and travel routes, along with any other special findings, such as scrapes or rubs, indicate each of your findings in different colors so that you will not confuse them with each other.
If you choose a map rather than a smartphone app, you might color travel routes in pink, bedding areas in orange and food sources in yellow. You can effectively apply this type of map scouting to any species of game animal you wish to bowhunt. I use read-through color markers rather than dark magic markers or pens so that I can still see the map lines for my own reference.
After thoroughly scouting the hunting area, you are ready to review all the important information you’ve gathered. By this time it should not be difficult to pick out ideal locations to hang stands, place game trail cameras and intercept game.