By Alex Comstock
Let's say that this weekend you want to go out and either find new hunting property or scout a new piece of hunting land that you just found. You don't just hop in the vehicle and head out with nothing right? This past weekend, I found a couple of new spots to hunt, and then a few days ago, I went and did a quick scout, and hung a few trail cameras. Whenever I do this, I find a few tools particularly useful to help me hopefully be more successful.
Read on to see what I like to use, and let me know if there is anything else you use to help you!
Maps: The first tool that I like to use is some type of map. If I'm simply looking for a good area, I usually first scour google maps to find a general area that looks appealing to me. I then want to figure out if there's any public land in the general area. If there isn't, I need to know who owns the private parcels, assuming I end up liking something enough to knock on a few doors. A good place to look for this information is your county GIS map. Most counties have some type of property lookup you can search where you can see the individual parcels and landowners.
Another thing that I just recently started trying is onXmaps. This is a mapping application that you can purchase which gives you all of the parcel information for properties, and has layers you can use to show you where public land is, etc. This has already helped me locate new public land, and I intend to continue to test it out. If I could only pick one thing to help me locate potential new areas to hunt, maps would be at the top.
Drone: First thing with a drone - check your state laws to see when you can and cannot use them. But one thing is for sure - they can be an awesome scouting tool. A drone can especially help in a couple of different situations when you are trying to find and scout a new piece of hunting property. The first being that they can save you a lot of wasted time. If you've got a new piece of public land, and have to walk a long distance to get where you would actually scout, you can fly the drone over the property, and see how it lays out exactly, and whether or not it would be worth your time to put boots on the ground.
If you decide that this new piece of property is worth a scout, you can also use the drone to do what I call a preliminary scout. I will fly the drone around the property, and have it help me decide what areas I want to check out first, or where I want to put a trail camera, etc. The biggest reason that I like using a drone to help me scout a new piece of property is that it saves me time. Usually with a new property, it can take some time to understand it and how it lays out. Usually you find it on a map, then walk it and compare that to what you saw on the maps, and then after you walk it, you go back to the map, and the pattern continues until you start to feel comfortable with it. A drone can just help you expedite this process, and hopefully figure it out quicker.
Binoculars/Spotting Scope: Optics are a great tool to help you scout new property. When it comes to scouting new hunting land, I use my optics if I am driving around the property or walking the edges, and want to see how something sets up. Example: I may find a piece of land that I've decided is worth hunting, and I'm trying to figure out where I might want to put a treestand. There are a lot of situations in which you can use your binoculars or spotting scope to glass a tree from a distance to see if it sets up well for a stand before hauling it all the way there, only to realize the tree isn't what you thought it was. You may be able to do this from the road, or might have to do a little bit of walking. I understand in some regions, such as a dense northern forest, or in big timber, this might not be as effective. But in any area you can see a considerable distance, optics can be a great tool to help you scout a new property.
Trail Cameras: This one may seem obvious, but it's worth noting anyway. Trail cameras can help you tremendously with scouting new areas to hunt. I run anywhere between 15-20 trail cameras every year, and at least half of them are on new pieces of public land, and at least half of those will be on pieces of property that I never hunt. In many instances, I get trail cameras up on as many pieces of public land as I can early in the summer, and then check them right before hunting season starts. The ones that have nothing desirable on it, I may not hunt there that year, but I will leave the trail camera up all season, and then take it down after season. I'll go through all of the pictures, and if there are any cameras that produced mature buck movement during the season, I'll note that and then use that information for the following season.
Camera: Not a trail camera, but a normal camera. Heck even your phone camera. How will a camera help you in regards to scouting a new piece of hunting property you might ask? I take a lot of photos for various reasons, but one of those is to help me scout. When it comes to scouting a new property, take photos of anything you find important. Rubs, scrapes, trails, ridges, beds, a crop field, you name it. My main reason for this is that life happens right? You scout a new property, get busy after, and don't ever make it back there. I've done it more than once, I can assure you that.
Documenting a new piece of hunting property with photos can help you in this situation. After returning from scouting new land, I will create a folder in my computer for the property and put all of my pictures in it. If I'm not able to make it back to that particular parcel, I can always look back on those to remind me how it set up, areas that I liked, or what kind of sign was on it without having to try and remember exactly what I saw on a fifteen minute scout a year ago. It might be a year or two down the road when you end up going back to a property, and these photos can be more helpful than you think!
Conclusion: New hunting property excites me. With my style of hunting, I am constantly changing where I hunt, and places that I scout. Without the proper tools at my disposal, I wouldn't be as effective seeking out and scouting new hunting land. The next time you go out to look for a new spot, or to scout a new hunting property, don't get caught unprepared.