July 26, 2022
Last July 4th fell on a humid, hazy Sunday. After a noontime family gathering, I ran home and snatched up my summer scouting pack and set off on foot for a long, late afternoon hike in the heat. The goal was simple: withstand the sweat and mosquitoes and infiltrate a larger section of timber surrounded by chin-height standing corn on all sides.
I was reasonably certain thanks to winter scouting a few months prior that a mature buck lived in the area, and I had my last remaining trail cameras ready for some summer big buck espionage.
I packed a few hand tools and some items that I used to make a pair of mock scrapes. I took the time to dissect the multifloral rose bushes and fallen limbs from a low-lying creek bed, so I could use the water as an entry and exit avenue for what I figured to be formidable play on the suspected buck’s core area.
I packed in a pole saw as well and trimmed out a couple stand site locations while I was at it. I, again, used earlier winter scouting notes and onX map pins I had tapped into my phone app in late January when the snow was on to help guide me through the summer understory growth.
It was hot work, tromping along the standing corn rows from task to task. By the time I was plodding back to the truck at sunset, I was soaked in sweat and a little bloody from the thorns and the bug bites, but I felt very content with the half-day’s work.
Choosing Your Pack System
Hello everyone, my name is Clint. And I have a backpack problem. I just can’t help it. As I sit and write this very article, to my left hangs no less than nine different backpacks. My wife claims to have only two purses. I have no reason to doubt her, so one can see the reason my stable of hunting packs may draw her wifely ire. Backpacks all do the same thing, so how did I end up with enough of them to outfit a baseball team?
First and foremost, I wanted to find the perfect pack for my needs in the summer months, so I experimented. I bought top end, high volume military grade packs that could hold a small sporting goods store. I
bought smaller, low price point day packs from common retail stores and tried them all out with my essentials stowed away. I eventually settled on a neutral tone pack with a modest price point and fair capacity, with plenty of MOLLE attachments for multiple exterior attachment points.
The pack I decided on has a great layout for stashing gear in efficient fashion, allowing for quick deployment of gear between tasks. It also has an internal pouch for a water bladder and port for a bite-valve tube to help support hydration that I find is so critical for this type of summer deer work. When I get super dehydrated, I get sluggish; and I’m just not mentally sharp.
The pack I chose can comfortably hold enough essential gear without being overbearing in weight, and when coupled with gear ties, it carries a versatile array of gear too large for the pack’s main compartments. A couple of features I’d like to see in my next pack would be an attached waist belt to go along with the chest strap for more even weight distribution over uneven terrain. A few more load compression straps for the body of the pack would be nice, too.
I’d also like to have a mesh stand-off for the portion of the pack that attaches directly to your back, to allow better air flow and less sweat absorption by the pack. But for now, anyway, the wife says no more!
Everyday Carry Items
Here’s a quick breakdown of the items that are mainstays in my summer scouting pack. These are the key pieces of gear I can’t leave home without when the mission calls for summertime buck reconnaissance.
I’ve seen folks like my old man before: those that can go for hours working in the summer heat without a drink. But I am not one of those people. You’ll encounter severe humidity and heat when hiking in tall corn fields, and it can be tough to find motivation for hanging trail cameras.
And trimming out entry routes in the dank heat of a windless, low-lying creek basin is no better. I used to carry a water bladder inside my pack with a bite-valve tube attached to my pack’s shoulder strap, but I’ve since moved to a snag-proof puncture-proof, 32-oz. nalgene bottle carried on the side of the pack. I like to spike my water with a flavored electrolyte packet from Liquid IV and will usually pre-hydrate with one before I set off on foot. Fighting dehydration keeps me much more mentally sharp.
A hand saw and a sturdy pair of ratchet pruners are always must-haves for summer scouting work. These simple, single handed use tools are ideal for trimming back understory in areas I want to mount a trail camera or improve access to my tree stand. Areas drawing my interest will get trimmed up in a fashion as to not yield 15,000 photos of a vine dancing in the wind.
I love running as many trail monitoring game cameras as my wife lets me buy! I can’t get enough of these things. Getting images of bucks as they grow their velvet antlers is a great way to spend the time between hunting seasons, and it can help zero in on a monster come fall. My summer pack usually has room for up to eight cameras, and I find this to be about all I need in one trip in most areas I hunt.
Trail Camera Accessories
There are several after-market screw-in trail camera mounts that can be used to take your trail camera game to the next level, and I find them to be so essential. I hang over 50 percent of my summer cameras with these screw-in mounts. These help position the camera on the tree at the desired height and angle to help aim the sensor for the perfect shot. These mounts seem to increase camera life by mounting the unit away from the tree enough to reduce rainwater egress over time.
Another such accessory is an SD card case to help protect your cards while keeping them organized while beating and banging in the field. I pack two different 12-count SD holders; one houses fresh, formatted cards to replace the ones pulled while doing a camera check in the field.
If I’m going to be using my phone to scout new areas, I don’t want it going dead halfway through a hike in the heat of the summer. I’ll use my phone’s onX Hunt app to map out trail camera locations, note important sign, rediscover previously noted winter sign, and pin entry routes to potential stand sites. I’ll carry a small 10,000 mAh power bank and a 6-foot fast charge cable in an easy to access front pouch.
When it comes to trail camera power, my pack will almost certainly have 24 AA batteries in the bottom of it. I use a small battery organizer for this
task and keep any discharged batteries in a simple Ziploc bag for proper disposal when finished. This practice may seem a bit tedious on a hot summer day, but it definitely helps reduce cost in wasted batteries when supplying my trail cameras with the power they need.
Mission Dependent Items
My summer scouting pack will usually go through various content items depending on the tasks I’m trying to carry out with each scouting trip. If I think I may need to hang my cameras up high, I will typically lash a 20-inch double step climbing stick to the side of the pack using some rubber coated gear ties.
Adding an Amsteel aider helps get more height out of the single stick, and it can be a great tactic for both hiding trail cameras and trimming out shooting lanes for potential stand sites if I’m carrying in an extendable pole saw.
Occasionally, I’ll pack in an old tobacco hatchet and a pair of brush loppers. I attach these to the center of the pack and toss in some leather gloves and a 32-oz. spray bottle of brush killer herbicide to create entry routes through dense growth. I think this is one of the most effective ways to shoot mature bucks if you hunt an area you can lawfully trim out. It’s hot work, but makes for a stealthy entry to your stand in November.
Later in the summer, I will make several mock scrapes and will usually combine this activity with checking trail cameras as they are often a one in the same activity. I have a small “scrape kit” bag that includes scent, zip ties and some blue poly-rope cordage for creating the licking branches that seem to drive mock scrape success.
That herbicide sprayer can also be used to help create the “bare dirt” look characteristically seen in fall scrapes in mid-July. This is especially effective in areas where overhanging natural licking branches meet thick edge grasses. Simply spray a manhole-sized patch of brush or grass where you want a future mock scrape, and then return in a month to scratch it up.
On summer evenings, my scout pack goes through yet another reconfiguration; reconnaissance carry. I almost never take optics with me during deep timber or corn field excursions in the heat of the day. But when the sun goes down, I often find myself glassing deer from long distance.
I tend to have a larger day pack in this setting to accommodate a spotting scope, tripod, battery pack, video camera and small stool. My smaller day pack can easily be converted to this on the fly, but it saves time having two separate packs for two parts of the summer workday in the field.
Summer scouting is a fair bit of work for the successful DIY deer hunter, and a good pack system that fits your organization and layout needs is a great help in maximizing the efficiency of time spent in the woods.
Last July 4th, my holiday hike helped uncover a whopper buck that eluded my family and I all fall in 2021. As luck would have it, the buck we call “HBK” survived the season and the winter, and we were fortunate to find both his sheds.
You can bet, this July 4th, I hope to replicate that same scouting hike to get the ball rolling for 2022. And I might just get to try out yet another new scouting pack system — if I can just slip it past Mrs. McCoy, that is!