How To Scout In The Summer
The summer months are a great opportunity to find a trophy animal to chase during your hunt. Getting the most out of the scouting season can be the difference between taking home a wall-hanger or struggling to find anything to shoot at.
Below are some tips, strategies, and gear that’s worked for me, and what I’ve learned during my summer scouting trips.
Most importantly though, make sure to enjoy being outside and have a good time while you’re at it!
For the full-length version, check out Big Game Bowhunter’s article on summer scouting!
Who should summer scout?
Anyone who is serious about finding and harvesting a large buck or bull should at least consider some early season scouting. If you’re on public land, the competition can be fierce and with big animals in the area, you’re probably not the only one chasing them.
Scouting early gives you the advantage to know if there are big animals, where they are, and an idea of where they might go to hide when pressure hits. There’s also a good chance you’ll come across more than one, so you have a plan B just in case.
To start – getting a tag & finding your area
Before you start, make sure you have a valid hunting license and know where you can go with it. Check out this website if you need help getting a license.
Once you know your area, it’s time to learn it and figure out specifically where you want to start. I recommend starting with something like Google Maps (only after you know where your boundaries are), but any map will work. Try searching “hunting boundaries for [YOUR STATE]” online and you should be able to find your legal boundaries.
ONx maps is great for this too.
I like to start by going to the area and exploring around. Drive, hike, find vantage points and use your optics to ‘glass’ the area and get to know it. You’ll likely come across wildlife just by being out there.
If you’re using Google Maps, you can download offline maps and save pins for areas – even without cell service! This is a great tool to track points of interest and places to check out.
Things to consider
Some things to think about while in the early stages of your scouting:
- Don’t spend all your time aimlessly hiking – you want to find vantage points and places with good views. Make your binoculars and spotting scope do the work for you!
- Try to give the wildlife some space – if you move in too quickly too often, it may ruin good spots where your trophy could be hanging out opening morning. Keep the close-up visits sparse in the pre-season.
- Go in with a plan. If you have other people there to help you, make a game plan and place people strategically. One option to consider is a “push” – where you send a few guys into thick trees, with the guys spread apart evenly in an effort to move the deer or elk. You can be sitting just outside of those trees.
You can also use other hunters to your advantage – if someone beats you to your area, it might be worth going around to the other side and seeing if they push anything out to you!
Getting set up
Once you’ve been in the area a little bit had a look around, you’ve probably seen some deer and elk. Keep an eye on those spots and make sure to take note of it for later. Pretty soon, you’ll want to set up trail cams in good areas to make sure there’s something worth chasing.
Before setting up your trail cams, how do you know that an area actually has any animals in it? To figure this out, I like to look for sign. This includes tracks, droppings, and seeing wildlife there. Once you get more comfortable spotting tracks, see if you can find high traffic areas (or ‘highways’) where there’s a lot of activity. These are the places you’ll want to set up.
It helps to make sure the camera is pointed at the correct angle, I’ve set these up the wrong way more times than I’d like to admit. It sucks to get excited about seeing pictures, only to find out that you only got pictures of feet or right above the antlers. Another useful tip is to make sure the camera is set up properly, including the date and time – when you view the images you know how recently they were in your spot.
Keep only the best
Once you’ve got cameras in a few different areas, find the ones that don’t have as much action and give them a new home. Ideally, all of your cameras will have a lot of activity and you’ll have options that you’re confident in by opening day! If you’re really good, you can set up the cameras to track the same animal or same group of animals across a large area. This way, you can have an idea of where they like to go during different times of the day.
Some of the most useful strategies that I’ve implemented and had success with – for both opening day and pre-season.
Leave some distance between you and the areas you’re considering sitting in for the hunt. It’s really difficult to stay out completely – setting up trail cams and such – but I’d recommend going in as little as possible. This will help to keep your scent out and help the animals to feel that their spot hasn’t been disturbed.
When you do have to go in, try to stay off the game trails and use scent killer. Leave the smallest trace possible that you were there. It also doesn’t hurt to use camo and go in during the middle of the day. This way, there’s probably no one home and you can get out without anyone knowing you stopped by.
Once you have a good spot that you think is worth placing a trail cam in – leave a feeder or some mineral lick in view of the newly placed camera (if legal for your state). This will help to attract wildlife in the area and can make it a regular spot for them.
Having an attractant at your trail cam should increase the activity as well – what might have once been an insignificant spot is now a great place to gather for minerals or food. Try out some different types and see what draws the animals in.
Early set up
Once you’ve decided that you’ve found a good spot, set up your tree stand or ground blind early. This lowers the chance that the wildlife will get spooked by the new object in the area. If you get it in early enough, it will become a part of the normal environment and they won’t think twice about it.
There’s a chance that if you wait too long to get set up, your blind or tree stand might scare them out. It’s very unfamiliar looking, and with new people around for the hunt, they’ll probably play it safe and stay away.
There are many different ways to approach your scouting, and it helps to try new things and see what works best for you. Most of my hunting has been in Utah and surrounding states, so that’s what I know and what I’m used to. Your state may be different. Trying new approaches and strategies is a great way to figure out what works for you.
What are your favorite tips? What strategy works best for you?
Author: Zack Petersen
Zack is a passionate bowhunter and Founder of BigGameBowhunter.com – a website dedicated to helping educate and equip bowhunters everywhere. Living in Salt Lake City Utah, he loves the outdoors year-round and is always look forward to the bowhunting season.