Like most hunters, I don’t have as much time available as I’d like to scout for deer and deer sign. While there is no good substitute when deer hunting for time in the field, that time can be spent more efficiently if we have a plan before we get there. I use a few applications and websites to help me find a good area to hunt in as well as keep track of important points within the hunting/scouting area.
Deer Hunting with Google Earth
Google Earth (get it here) is by far the tool I use most. I can see historical photos that show different times of year, as well as making my own marks of areas and potential paths right on the map. The included Parks/Recreation Areas layer makes it easy to estimate boundaries between the state-owned lands that can be hunted and the private lands where permission is needed.
Free add-ins I use:
- Earth Point Topo Maps is a free topographical map overlay for Google Earth. It’s very useful to help me figure out how steep the hills are between the truck and the hunting area.
- BLM Lands: a .KMZ file that outlines and shades the lands owned or operated by the US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management
- US National Parks: a map overlay that shows national parks and their boundaries.
The topographic map on this site doesn’t get grainy or pixelated when you zoom in like the Earth Point overlay in Google Earth, so I use this for up-close looks at the terrain. I love the slope-angle shading view. I use this, too, when I am away from my own computer and want to take a look at something.
After doing my initial legwork, I verify boundaries of the public land using the GIS website for the county I’ll be visiting. Most of the GIS sites I have used provided a satellite view as well as a parcel view, so I can pinpoint my scouting locations and routes pretty easily by comparing to Google Earth. Sometimes it has a better view of the land in the Fall, making it easier to identify the deciduous parts of the forest from the evergreen.
As far as the know-how goes, the Mapping Whitetails series from Legendary Whitetails has been a great crash-course in hunting public lands here in the Midwest. Each article is just full of useful information without a lot of extra fluff. I’ve detailed some other resources in my post on cramming for hunting season.
Transferring data to and from my GPS
Once I have things lined up on my computer, I use EasyGPS to transfer the pins from Google Earth to my Garmin eTrex 20 handheld. I love this simple but effective GPS unit. Not a lot of frills, but I don’t need them.
When I get back from scouting, I plug the GPS back into the computer and transfer those things I’ve marked while in the woods to help me plan my next scouting session or hunting-day activities.