QUESTION: I live in north florida and this is my third year bow hunting. How is the best way to go about scouting in a national forest in early season?
- Michael W.
ANSWER: My first steps would involve doing some web browsing. Go to the U.S. Forest Service web site and search for maps and descriptions of the forest you’ll be hunting. You should also look up contacts for the local or regional wildlife biologist. Next, go to the state fish and wildlife agency web site to see if there is any specific information on the area, specifically things like harvest totals for the town, county or wildlife management unit in which the forest is located. Then go to a site that shows aerial photos and maps, like Google maps or MyTopo.com. You will find these tools invaluable in your scouting.
The next step would be to contact the Forest Service biologist in charge of the unit you intend to hunt. He or She will know the land and the animals on it better than anyone. Not only are they willing, it is part of their job to inform you of where the better hunting areas occur, or at least where you should find the most deer.
Pull out your photos and maps and try to apply the information given to you by the biologist. Look for concentrated food sources, thick cover and topographical features - like steep elevation, deep water, fences and even buildings - that may funnel deer movement.
As this is public land, you may also want to look at access points. The easiest access points will attract the most hunters. Avoid them. Seek out the least accessible areas, remote areas or areas only accessible by boat, for example.
The next step is to get out on the ground and look around. Start with areas you’ve specifically identified on your maps, and work your way out from there if there’s not sufficient sign. Don’t stop at the first hotspot you find either. Look around the immediate area and try to figure out what’s going on. You may find an even hotter spot nearby.