Hunting Technique – Scouting

Scouting can take on various forms, but for backpack and other serious backcountry hunters, it typically requires a great deal of effort. Between the drive to the trailhead or jump off point, the hike to location “x”, and days spent covering ground with feet or eyes, it can be the most difficult part of a season’s hunt. Since most of us can afford to spend a limited number of days or weekends in pursuit of game, maximizing effectiveness of scouting trips is key.

High quality optics are one of, if not the, single greatest tool that we have at our disposal for serious backcountry hunting. The same is true for scouting. Covering miles of terrain with your eyes is the most efficient way to observe animals and get a feel for their habits and range. The more time spent behind your binoculars and spotting scope, the more you will appreciate high end glass.

If you know the location of the wintering grounds for the population that you hunt, early winter can be a good time to do some glassing for genetics and trophy quality. Animals may be on very accessible ranch property, so a quick call or knock on the door of the landowner is a worthwhile prospect. Be sure to go fairly early in the winter, before antlers begin to drop.

Scouting early in the summer offers the benefit of ideal temperatures, potentially less bugs (depending on your location), and deer with coats that are easy to pick up with optics, even at extreme ranges. The downside is that cervidae antler growth has slowed little if at all, and field judging for trophy quality is very imprecise.

Waiting until very late in summer is often the most logical time to head to your potential hunting area. Animals are generally set in their routine for that area, their horns or antlers have finished growing, and in most cases they have yet to be stirred around by hunters.

If you are fortunate enough to draw a unique tag with low draw odds, try to contact those who have hunted the species and area in question. With low chances of drawing again, they may be likely to share priceless information about terrain, animal habits, and strategies.

For scouting trips, leave bulky gear behind and go as light as comfortably possible. A benefit of scouting in the summer is the speed at which you can travel in snowless terrain and the light weight gear that you can use. An ultra light three season tent, tarp, or bivy sack is sufficient for shelter. The lightest canister stoves and cookware should suffice. Since there is no chance of packing huge quantities of meat, a light daypack weighing 2-4 pounds will comfortably handle your load. A lightweight down bag from Montbell, Rab, or Golite weighing 2 pounds or less will lighten your load as well. Ultra light trail shoes or boots are ideal for this purpose, and will reduce fatigue over days on your feet. Focus on equipment that will allow you to cover the most ground possible between glassing points.

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