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Do Your Homework

By Dale Larson

Do Your Homework
The author scrutinizes topo and aerial maps for clues to deer movement and cover.

All the time and effort spent with the landowner has paid off; at last you’ve gained permission to bowhunt his property. But hunting season starts in two weeks.

Because of our choice of a short-range weapon, we bowhunters must scout precisely and thoroughly to have any chance of success. When time is limited and opening day is just around the corner, the scouting process gets kicked into high gear. Doing your homework, analyzing maps and aerial photography, and picking the landowner’s brain will speed up the process. This type of scouting can be performed in your spare time and in the comforts of home.


Large-scale U.S.G.S. quad angle or larger topo maps are inexpensive and readily available. For bowhunting, concentrate your effort on locating contour relief changes that create physical bottlenecks, saddles and drainages that deer will use to travel; side hill terraces that bucks love to establish rub lines on as they travel; and ridges used for cover during daylight movement. Don’t overlook even the slightest ridge; it doesn’t take a lot of elevation change to make the ridge appealing for security. Also, locate benches that lay on the upper third of the side hill with points, a favorite hangout for bucks bedding and putting down sign.

Analyze how the existing topography will affect wind currents. Drainages, ridges and steep slopes will all affect wind direction. Consider thermals in your investigation of topography, like drainages, which are greatly affected by thermals.


Do Your Homework
The author scrutinizes topo and aerial maps for clues to deer movement and cover.

With today’s technology, accessing updated, current aerial photography is only a mouse click away. Aerial photos are easy to read; however, they tend to hide information found on contour maps. Aerial photos and contour maps should always be used in concert. Contour maps are usually decades old and accurate with geomorphology but not with man’s constant changes to his surroundings or vegetation changes. When acquiring aerial photography, make sure to obtain aerials of the surrounding areas. Looking at a radius of several miles will help you understand local deer movement. Keep in mind rutting bucks’ increased travel, need for cover in daylight and their knack for using even the slightest cover to connect large tracts of cover or food.

With aerial photography, man-made structures and, to a certain degree, the frequency of man’s use of these structures, are easiest to identify. Locate buildings, roads, utility lines and trails to see how they are affecting or could affect deer movement. Locate and identify all agriculture activities from cultivation, grazing, haying, logging, etc. What types of crops are planted and when will the deer use them? When will the crops be harvested and what affect will the harvest have during hunting season? Are the cattle going to be removed prior to the archery season? Are some areas grazed enough to alter deer movement? Are the timber activities ongoing?

Next, inventory natural habitat to include edge habitat, tree species and water. Edge habitat has a more diverse plant community, which attracts deer, creates travel lines and is close to security cover. Edge habitat can be from classic timber to grassland or as simple as two different types of planted row crop. Bowhunting along the habitat edge will increase harvest odds dramatically. Tree species identification may seem hard to the untrained eye, but thinking how the canopy or limb structure looks between the different species will aid in identification. Old, mature timber stands and young timber stands both have their benefits, but younger stands usually contain more deer. Locate dense stands of conifers or heavy cover for bedding areas and foul weather cover. Aerials depict water sources easily, even allowing you to find non-visible water by using vegetation. A small seep or spring hidden in cover can pay dividends to the bowhunter.Subscribe Today!

Both contour maps and aerial photos are working tools. Do not be afraid to mark them up. I always keep a complete master set untouched and have another set with identification markings, which change frequently. Any working map that I need is copied from one of these two master sets and taken to the field. The sky is the limit to marking schemes and items to be identified.


Depending on your rapport with the landowner, the ability to ask him questions can unleash a wealth of information. The history and future plans of the property will influence your hunting decisions. Inquire about past and current hunting activities, number of hunters, type of hunting, type of weapons, what they harvested, where and how they hunted. Ask what other outdoor activities occur on the property, like hiking, walking the dog, hay or firewood cutting, or horseback riding. Ask about crop rotation, planting and harvesting, cattle grazing and rotation. Collecting this information will eliminate surprises later that could ruin the hunt.

Completing this homework will get you in the right stand in the shortest possible time with the least amount of disturbance.

-- Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters Magazine