Navigating the Whitetail Web
Cuts, draws, ridges, saddles, pinch points, funnels, bedding, food sources etc. etc. etc. All of these are terms we have grown accustomed to hearing in regard to whitetail travel and behavior; and they can become overwhelming. Trying to keep track of where all of these features are on the property you hunt can be a daunting task. In the same way that a trip feels longer when you don’t know exactly where you are going, the whitetail woods you hunt feels vast and significantly larger before you become familiar with it. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m thinking that it has to be something about the human brain, how we process data and how we approach the unknowns. There is also a chance that maybe its just me.
Anyway, I can think of a specific time in Michigan when I obtained permission to hunt a small-ish piece of timber that was part of a much larger swamp/timber section. I remember walking into the woods and feeling like I was never going to be able to decipher how the deer were using this piece, much less the greater swamp area, because it seemed bigger than some of the wooded areas I was used to hunting, (not to mention it was mostly flat and I was used to hill country). In reality, it wasn’t any bigger, I just had a few things working against me. First, I got permission later in the year than would have been optimal. The understory was grown up and this limited visibility considerably. Ironically, I think lacking visibility has the effect of making a woods feel profoundly larger when you are in it. It takes longer to traverse through the area and you can’t use sight to your advantage. It can be hard to judge how far it is to property boundaries, or even the distance you have traveled during your first time into a piece. All of these are great reasons to do post season scouting whenever possible. If you find yourself in a situation where you must preseason scout, these factors can prove to make a property feel more vast than it actually is and the practice of learning it seem like a more insurmountable task.
The best thing I did to increase my scouting efficiency was to purchase a GPS unit. I used to use my phone, but it is unreliable in the areas I hunt. Furthermore, the more remote the area, it seemed like the faster my phone battery would drain, leaving me without a way to contact anyone for help in the case of an emergency. The Garmin GPS unit I bought has an external antenna and has yet to let me down in any of the areas I have hunted or scouted with it thus far. I have imported property boundaries onto my GPS so that I can be sure to remain legal when walking on public lands, and I have topographical maps and aerials of all of my hunting areas loaded onto it as well. When I am scouting, I can mark a waypoint at any place of interest. These could include bedding areas, scrapes, stand locations or other places of interest. I can walk directly to a stand I have marked, in the dark, without the use of reflective markers that can give away your position on public land.
Even with all of these features, one of the very best benefits of using a GPS unit is that it can map the path that I walk during my scouting sessions. This year, during one scouting trip I spent a day walking most of the deer trails in a new hunting area. After doing so, I accessed the aerial view of the property on my GPS and what had seemed like a random web of trails from the ground level, assembled itself into a decipherable pattern when viewed from above. The trails on the property immediately made more sense, to the point where it became evident that the deer utilizing this trail were quite obviously coming from that food source. I’ll admit, in the past, we would set a stand on a worn trail and expect the deer to come to us from “somewhere over there”. We had a reason for putting a stand in a specific location, but we didn’t have enough reasons. The thing is, once the trails on a property are mapped, as well as the food sources and bedding areas, high percentage ambush points become much more obvious and you can become more aggressive in your stand placement.
For example, while mapping a property, I came across a subtle edge where the deciduous woods met with a cluster of conifers. A well worn deer trail followed this edge and ran into a thick area of young growth where I jumped a bedded buck. After I found his bed, I backed off the area and set up a stand where I could approach the bed undetected to hunt the bed on the same wind that had the buck there that day. Since season was a long way off I also hung a no-flash trail camera high up a tree and angled it downward, so as to eliminate any mature bucks spooking from something new being in their core area. After sneaking back into the area one more time to pull the camera card, I was able to confirm that the majority of the traffic on this trail was bucks entering and leaving the thick bedding cover. The trip in to the area to receive confirmation from the trail camera pictures was the last I will make before hunting this area on opening day of archery season.
Because I could see on the aerial exactly how the trails laid on this part of the property, and how they related to bedding cover and food, I could make a more educated decision as to where to hang a tree stand. Using the trail camera was simply a confirmation tool to solidify what scouting the area and using the GPS mapping already suggested.
A handheld GPS and a few silent, no-flash trail cameras can go a long way to shortening a learning curve on a new property. Once you have a better understanding of the land you are hunting, the property begins to feel less overwhelming and hunting it becomes a more manageable undertaking.
Have you utilized a GPS unit to scout new properties? Leave your comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org