When we moved from California to Indiana this summer, I thought I would have all kinds of time to spend in the woods, scouting and learning my way around whitetail country. Unpacking, getting the shop set up, maintaining our new house, and getting our bearings have taken a lot more time than I anticipated. Here it is early September and I have spent almost no time scouting the public lands around me in person. I’ve taken two hikes in what could be promising areas. Archery season starts in 29 days; I have to get moving!
What does hunting have to do with self-sufficiency?
In a word, everything. Once you have some equipment, you can hunt each season for the cost of a license and/or tag. Assuming a “typical” deer is 140-165 pounds, that should yield 50-60 pounds of usable meat. At $24 for a single-deer license in Indiana, that’s 40-50 cents per pound. We pay 5-10 times that for meat at the market depending on cut, and we don’t get to enjoy the time spent in the woods away from our everyday lives.
I do all my hunting on public land (so far). Since I don’t know anyone with hunting property I can use, I have to hunt the land owned by the people. Due to time constraints, I have to make short work of scouting and getting myself ready. Since I’m used to hunting out West for blacktail, I have to change my approach a bit, too.
Desk scouting or E-scouting:
This is a time when I LOVE technology – I can scout an area from the comfort of my house, regardless of how far away it is, and cover acres and acres of land. Learning to do this well has been a great help in making my time in the forest more productive. Two of the hunters I follow on YouTube have great information about this – I need to give credit where credit is due:
- DIY Sportsman: How to Scout Deer on Public Land
- Randy Newberg, Hunter: Hunting with Randy Newberg – How to; E-Scouting
Like Garrett (DIY Sportsman), I primarily use two tools for desk scouting:
Google Earth: it’s a free-to-download satellite imagery application so I can see anywhere I want to look. and there are free overlays I can use to prevent a lot of switching back and forth between windows on my computer.
CalTopo.com: I use this site when I need to see more detail with the topographical map. The topo overlay for Google Earth gets a little grainy when zoomed in really close, so I use this to smooth out the lines.
Learning whitetail hunting
Hunting whitetail (midwestern) is usually different from blacktail or mule deer (western). In western hunting, you almost always get up on a high point with good binoculars and a spotting scope and look at a lot of open area to locate your quarry, then you plan a stalk and execute it. With whitetail, it seems you scout an area, set up a good place (or two or five) to lie in wait and hopefully get a shot. This is what I’m learning in my second season of hunting deer.
I’m leaning heavily on the knowledge of others to learn as quickly as possible. I recently found a 4-part series from Legendary Whitetails that taught me a lot in a very short time. It starts here.
Practice, practice, practice
Lastly, all the scouting and mapping won’t help a bit if I can’t reliably hit what I need to. What’s most important is that I ONLY take an ethical shot. If the deer is facing directly toward me or away, there is no shot there. If he’s too far away and I will likely injure instead of kill, I can’t take that shot. Simply put, I feel I need to be able to hit a spot the size of my fist from as far away as necessary. If I can take a 20-yard shot, I’ll be ecstatic – I can make that shot pretty easily. As I move farther away, I’m less confident. Daily practice is needed here, so I take a page from coaching sports and I practice harder than I’ll play.
I’ll be in the field a lot over the next week or so in an effort to locate the deer I want to bring home, then I’ll stay away until opening day in an effort to not scare them off.