A buddy of mine and I were sitting on the deck in early August looking over our OnX Maps and discussing bow hunting plans for a season that is now a month away.
I pulled up a public piece of land on my phone that I’ve been looking at hunting this year. I wanted to get an idea of where he would target if he had to go into this spot without ever having stepped foot on the land before. He looked at the map and his eyes quickly went to the biggest block of timber he could find.
That’s natural for almost all hunters. It was for me for years when I would look at properties. Deer live in the woods, right? That’s where it’s easiest to hang a stand. It’s where we see plenty of trails indicating their movement.
There’s no doubt that big blocks of timber will hold deer, but they are not always the starting point I’m looking at on a property when I’m stepping foot on it for the first time, especially when I’m trying to target a more mature buck.
Mapping systems like OnX Hunt and Google Earth give hunters a huge head start when trying to dissect a property. Knowing how to effectively e-scout is a must when looking at new properties because it will help make the actual scouting process much more efficient.
The map graphic with this column is the public piece that I referenced earlier. It’s not a big piece -- a little more than 100 acres and most of that is under water, but that’s why I was drawn to it. Because of the water and cattails surrounding it, accessing this land for bow hunting without a canoe or kayak is pretty much impossible.
A piece of land doesn’t have to be 1,000 acres to get away from hunting pressure if it’s miserable to get into. I anticipate most will simply ignore this area for deer hunting and look at it as a waterfowl location.
When I am able to scout this on foot, there is one area in particular that I want to look at first. The reason for that is habitat diversity.
Those areas of multiple habitat changes are what I’m looking for on a map, and the spot I have labeled here as potential bedding has that. Notice the small, brushy trees along the elevation line within what I anticipate will be higher grass.
To the north of that is what looks like thicker cover. There’s a well-worn trail through the cattails just off the point of that thick cover where it looks like deer are accessing the slough for water.
I’m sure deer are bedding in that area, but I also anticipate bucks might bed up under those smaller trees within the grass on the leeward side of the hill. They will have the wind coming over their backs and facing the low, open area in front of them.
If you hunt open grassland areas or CRP fields, look for those spots with different habitat types like cedars or other trees and brush that has grown up within the grass. A CRP field I scouted last summer had a line of cedars running north and south. There were beds all over under those trees, and I bumped two good bucks about 50 yards from the end.
What also makes this public piece intriguing is how the terrain sets up for a potential stand location. Notice the small slough on the west-central portion of the map. The tip of that slough and the cattails that extend to the east create a nice pinch point along the thicker timber. Assuming the field to the south is either corn or soybeans, it’s easy to imagine deer would work their way out to feed in that field in the evenings by moving between the tip of the cattails and the timber. Ideally, there will be a tree to hang a saddle in along that area.
I’ll know more when I get in there to scout this in a week or so, but I know I have a good starting point. That’s the benefit of e-scouting. Find the areas of habitat diversity and then walk those transitions when you finally get in there. Chances are you’ll find the sign you’re looking for.