Technology makes scouting easier, but you'll still sweat
Swarms of mosquitoes waged a full-fledged assault on my exposed skin as I finished hanging a portable tree stand high in a sturdy basswood tree. It was barely 10 a.m., but the temperature and the humidity were already in the eighties, an uncomfortable combination for an optimistic bowhunter putting in some hard labor to get ready for the upcoming archery deer season.
As I climbed back down the trunk of the tree, I paused for a moment to slap a half dozen of the vampire-like parasites and then wipe the sweat from my eyes. To some folks, this might sound like a miserable way to spend a morning. But despite the grueling conditions, I was actually enjoying my time in the woods.
Sound crazy? Perhaps. But I’m certainly not alone in my obsession with America’s favorite big-game animal.
Late summer is the time when many archers get serious about preparing for the mid-September whitetail deer opener. Drive down just about any rural road this time of year and you are likely to see a car or two parked alongside a field or woods.
Indeed, the folks who arrow deer consistently work hard for their shot opportunities. Every year, dedicated outdoorsmen and women endure the summer-time heat to explore their hunting spots in search of classic ambush sites, such as bottlenecks, trail intersections, and secluded field edges. Old deer stands are checked and, when necessary, relocated to areas with fresh sign. New stands are hung and the brush is pruned to create narrow shooting lanes.
My new perch overlooked a densely wooded whitetail staging area along the edge of a Winona county cornfield — an ideal site to waylay a mature whitetail buck. Staging areas are places where the deer tend to hang out until they are sure that it is safe to move into the open.
This one was textbook. Interwoven deer trails crossed through the dense underbrush like the web of a spider and the area was adjacent to the inside corner of a field, which provided a secluded spot for the animals to feed.
I didn’t find this little gem by accident. But I have to admit that it wasn’t all hot, sweaty manual labor. In an age when moms and dads are balancing most of their time between family and work obligations, it pays to find better ways to scout for deer.
What do I mean?
Despite its primitive beginnings, the archery industry has embraced the digital age and like many hunters these days, I began by studying aerial and satellite photos of my hunting area. Simply put, it’s more efficient to spend as much time scouting from the comfort of your living room as in the woods.
Online resources, such as Google Earth and Terraserver provide high-resolution images that allow for the identification of likely stand locations. I call this virtual scouting, and it provides a way to rule out certain areas that may be less productive. Of course, the hunter still has to do the leg work to get in there and check for deer sign once prospective areas have been found.
In addition to using online technology to lay the groundwork for a successful season, many hunters combine old-fashioned woodsmanship with new-age equipment, such as digital infrared cameras to determine whether trails are active. Viewing wildlife photographs from a trail camera is great fun for the whole family and they can be efficient tools for not only viewing deer, but other animals such as raccoons, skunks, turkeys, and even a wayward bear.
Although I use a trail camera occasionally for scouting and recreational viewing, I usually prefer the traditional approach. After spending two days hiking through the area, I set up and watched from a distance, hoping to catch sight of deer entering the field. As luck would have it, I watched several does and a nice mature buck come out to feed.
That’s just what I needed for me to gain some confidence in my stand location — and that’s all a bowhunter can ask for. For most of us, off-season preparations will continue to be a labor of love. But modern technology has made it just a little easier to get the job done.