Not many deer hunters will argue that they would enjoy hunting more if they felt confident that a mature buck was likely to pass their tree stand at any given time. This is where good scouting techniques come into play.
Scouting for deer sign has certainly changed over the past several decades. Now we hear the term digital scouting – also referred to as digi-scouting. This digital way of deer scouting is using hi-tech tools like trail cameras, GPS units, mapping software, and satellite imagery to put together a plan for a successful hunting season.
We use a hand held GPS unit for marking trails, tree stands, camera sites, and any other notable sign. This spring we used our GPS units to measure off food plots. By using a unit measuring tool on the device, we held the unit and drove the perimeter of the plot with a 4wheeler. This would give us an exact inside measurement in acres – no half assed measuring by stepping it off or second guessing. The GPS unit was dead on every time.
Finding an aerial map of your property used to be a tough proposition. Years ago we went to the courthouse to purchase aerial photos that were in black and white and not very detailed.
Today, you can purchase detailed satellite images and topographical maps from places like Point North or My Topo. You can also download Google Earth or Google Maps onto your computer or smart phone.
Satellite and topographical images can show you terrain layout, pinch points, ditches, and other features that are common deer travel routes. Highlighting these hot spots before you even hit the field is a huge time saver. Plus there is a chance that you might not have even stumbled upon certain hot spots without first viewing aerial maps.
I like to save the image of my hunting property from Google Earth and then open it in an editor like Photoshop. I mark tree stands, camera sites, food plots, know rubs, scrapes, trails, etc. I print and laminate it for planning my hunts.
Lately while figuring out stand sites, I’ve been using the Google Earth app on my iPad by tethering off my cell phone service while out in the field. If you would have told me 10 years ago I’d be viewing a satellite image of my hunting property from a mini computer while I was in the field, I would have said you were freaking nuts.
The trail camera has to be the top hi-tech tool for digital scouting techniques. We first start the season by placing our cameras over salt blocks or mineral licks. This brings the deer to the camera so we can see which bucks survived and their current antler growth.
Towards the end of summer, we move the cameras to large openings, food plots, and heavily used trails to attempt to pattern the deer. We pay close attention to the time of day and the direction the deer are heading.
We’ve had success putting the trail cameras up higher (10-12 feet) to get a shot of an entire field or opening. We put the camera on a time lapse mode so it takes a picture every few minutes during certain hours of the day. I like setting it for every 5 minutes during first light and then again in the evening. It’s a lot of work flipping through all the images but it can really tell a story about the deer patterns leading up to hunting season.
Technology also helps me to view my trail camera images faster and more efficiently. I bring my laptop to insert the SD card into so I can see what pictures we have. Then I can decide whether to leave the camera there or move it. It sure beats driving all the way home to flip through the images.
Using software like Buckview which comes free with the Reconyx Cameras can be a huge advantage. You can upload all your images and use the X-Pattern tool to see patterns and where certain deer are hanging out. The software also has a slideshow viewer, image tagging, video builder, and radar overlays.
Currently, we have a good 10 point that has only visited 3 of our camera sites which all form a triangle. Now we know where his core area is and where to hunt him. Without the image storing capabilities of the Buckview software it would be hard to remember what camera he was on, where the camera was, and so on. I’ve tried to track all my images without software before and it gets confusing to say the least – no matter how organized you think you are.
Digital scouting for deer is cutting edge and adds another level of excitement to this great sport. Don’t be afraid to go hi-tech this hunting season, you’ll learn more about the deer you hunt and the lay of the land. I think you’ll also find it will be more rewarding when you put yourself in a better position to harvest a deer.