The pressure of barely hanging my stand in time caught up to me as sweat beaded on my forehead. I quickly threw on my jacket, pulled up my bow and got ready. Before the sun disappeared behind the tree line, I had shots at four different bucks. I was set up for a perfect early-season ambush. My portable stand was located right between a water hole and a lush green hay field. Not too bad for having never stepped foot on this property before today. I had just gained permission to hunt here the previous week. Traditional scouting was not an option, so I did the next best thing. I studied aerial maps of the area online. I didn't draw my bow all night, but I still left feeling satisfied that my homework had paid off.
The amount of information available to hunters online is growing at an astounding rate. There are all kinds of maps, data and statistics that can be used to pinpoint your next trophy buck. With a little practice and an open mind, anyone can become an online scouting pro.
MAPS, MAPS AND MORE MAPS
The first thing I do when I think about hunting a new location is go to the Quality Deer Management Association Web site and hit their "Whitetail Map Guide." On this page they have a great interactive map that gives a lot of helpful information. There is also a link there to the Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett maps. These maps show a county-by-county breakdown of the number of trophy-class animals killed that have been entered in their record books. By using these maps, I can quickly check an area of interest, see how many trophy class animals have been harvested there and get a brief overview of the topography of the area. Just because an area does not have high numbers of trophy animals does not mean they are not there. It could signify low hunting pressure or tight-lipped hunters.
FIND THE SWEET SPOT
I always scout and plan to hunt state land. Every state has a natural resources Web site where information on their public hunting land will be available. Some states have very nice, interactive maps. Others just have links to documents with information. Through the state's Web site you will be able to locate public hunting land.
When I get to a piece of public land that I like, I also knock on neighbors' doors and ask permission to hunt their private land as well. You can never have too much land to hunt.
If you want to hunt private land but don't know any landowners in the area, try making phone calls to local natural resources officials for potential leads. In addition, lots of land is leased over the Internet. Local realtors may also have some ideas on where you could hunt. Many counties have their tax information available online. With the tax information, I learn who owns what parcel of land and can identify the owner's mailing address. From that point, I'll send the landowner a letter seeking permission to hunt their property.
Google has an application for just about everything. Go to the Google Maps Web site, or open up Google Earth if you have it. The images are similar. I prefer Google Earth because I like to mark points and measure distances between them. Those extra tools are not available on Google maps.
Type in a city or address near where you are looking to hunt, and then pan with the cursor over the area you plan to hunt. By now you probably have a street map or diagram of the area open in one window and a full-color satellite photo in another window. By using the map imagery, you will be able to get down to a very detailed view -- even down to individual trees! This is where you will really be able to dissect a piece of hunting property.
When conducting your online scouting, look for obvious deer hangouts such as food sources, water, travel corridors and bedding areas. Also identify stand locations, entrance and exit routes and parking locations. Other overlooked things to pay attention to are sources of human interference such as houses, roads, other parking areas and train tracks. If it is easy to get to, someone else has likely already been there.
Finally, I visit a whole new site, www.mytopo.com. With a small investment on your part, MyTopo.com can help you create and legally print all kinds of different maps. Print multiple copies of the maps you have been looking at. After you have done that, mark off potential stand locations for morning, noon and evening hunts.
Now you're ready to hit the road with a specific plan in mind. If you can, drive to the new location with your maps and actually scout the area you might be hunting. It is very satisfying to walk directly to a place you have pinpointed on a map and find it littered with deer sign. Keep an open mind and make sure to thoroughly evaluate the entire property. After all, you might not be able to return until you hunt.
Don't underestimate anything. Small pockets of public land can potentially hold a lot of deer, probably because everyone overlooks them due to their size. Sometimes the deer won't be using the areas that you think they should, so be flexible. Take your GPS and mark your stand locations, parking spots and entrance and exit routes.
I learned a great trick from a buddy of mine, Jarrod Erdody with Blood Brothers Outdoors (www.bloodbro.com). When scouting your new area, be sure to make time to contact the local taxidermist or sporting goods store. The taxidermist can show you what caliber of deer the local hunters think are worth mounting. The guys at the sporting goods store should be able to give you some guidance. Through Jarrod's site, you can post forum messages about hunting. Other hunters who live in the area you plan to hunt can help.
Anytime you hunt a new area, remember that you are embarking on an adventure! By using all of your online resources, your scouting trip will be much more efficient. If you can't physically scout at all, you're going in "blind." That is just as much fun, but take the first few days of your hunting trip to scout. You might think it is a waste of your time to sit in your truck glassing fields instead of sitting in a tree, but it is not. Deer change their patterns all the time, and you've worked hard to get this far, so don't mess it up now. Find a good portable stand to use, and don't be afraid to move around until you see the sign that you have been looking for.
I've just scratched the surface on what resources are available to hunters through the Internet. You can also find prevailing winds, sunrise, sunset and moon phase tables and other valuable information online. The next time you're suffering from cabin fever, grab a cup of coffee, fire up your computer and start scouting!