John's Journal...

Keys to Successful Precision Scouting for Deer

Day 1: Identify Good Hunting Grounds by Using Topo Maps, Aerial Photographs and Google Maps

Editor’s Note: A successful deer hunt is knowing where the deer will be, and when they’ll be there and getting into a good position to take the animal. If the wind changes, someone else takes the deer or some unforeseen event occurs to prevent you from bagging a deer, then that’s just hunter’s luck, which can happen to anyone at anytime. No matter how much of an expert you are, how much you know about deer or what type of terrain you hunt, fate always can deal you a hand that makes you unsuccessful. To be a consistently successful deer hunter, be in a place when and where deer show-up most often. Learning the keys to precision scouting is critical to success in finding such a spot.

Click for Larger ViewLocating a place to hunt where there are deer may sound academic, but you’ll be surprised at the number of hunters who spend thousands of hours each season in areas with few, if any, deer in them. By checking with your state’s fish and wildlife section or department of conservation, you usually can learn where the heaviest concentration of deer are in any state, as well as learn about the availability of both public and private lands in that area. The best time of year to scout for land and then obtain permission to hunt is immediately after deer season ends. By allowing 10 to 12 months to find good lands where you can bowhunt, you’ll more likely be able to locate private lands at little or no cost in good territory with easy access. Click for Larger ViewIf you plan to hunt private lands, you can narrow-down your choices. Then when you begin your on-site scouting, you won’t have nearly as much land to cover as the hunter who waits until 2-weeks before deer season starts. However, right now at the beginning of September is not too late to start your scouting for deer.

Maps are one of the keys to successful scouting. Hundreds of hours walking through the woods can be saved by obtaining aerial photos and topo maps of the land you plan to hunt as well as using Google Earth. These maps can be obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey (, 888-275-8747) or go to ( Maps help hunters learn where the roads, the creek bottoms, the river bottoms, the agricultural areas, the clear-cuts, the rights-of-way and the closest houses are on the property. Click for Larger ViewYou can gain volumes of information about the place you want to hunt, before you ever set foot on the property. From the aerial photos, you can spot funnel regions, which are small necks of woods that are bordered on either side by terrain breaks. Large numbers of deer often will funnel-through these small necks of woods to move back and forth through woodlots, so these are ideal places for you to set-up a tree stand. Studying the maps may aid you in locating several tree-stand sites before you ever enter the woods. Also, from the maps, you can tell from which direction you must approach each stand and how to place the stand, so you can hunt it with different types of wind conditions. Therefore, maps are critical tools for successful scouting.

After studying the maps, go to the land to see if it is still in the same condition it was when the maps were made. I once found an ideal location on a map to hunt some land that I’d hunted some years earlier. Click for Larger ViewHowever, when I arrived at the spot just prior to the season, I found that the entire area had been clear-cut. My ideal bowhunting stand was now plywood on someone’s wall. Another time I discovered on a map a site where two creeks ran together to form a bottom that had three ridges funneling into it. The spot looked ideal for taking deer. However, when I went to that location, I found that what the maps hadn’t shown me was the beavers had backed-up both creeks. The area I wanted to hunt was under 4 feet of water. So, although studying maps is critical to successful scouting, they’re not the absolute answer, because land use can change.

To learn more about successfully hunting deer, purchase John E. Phillips’ books, “The Masters’ Secrets of Hunting Deer,” “The Science of Deer Hunting,” “How to Take Monster Bucks,” and “Masters’ Secrets of Bowhunting Deer” at

Tomorrow: Key-in on Food Sources to Locate More Deer

Check back each day this week for more about "Keys to Successful Precision Scouting for Deer "

Day 1: Identify Good Hunting Grounds by Using Topo Maps, Aerial Photographs and Google Maps
Day 2: Key-in on Food Sources to Locate More Deer
Day 3: Choose the Most-Productive Deer Trails to Hunt
Day 4: Locate Deer Sanctuaries
Day 5: Select a Number of Stand Sites with Favorable Winds to Have More Opportunities to Take Deer

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Entry 630, Day 1