The Modern-Age Deer Hunter

Are you too busy to scout for whitetails the way you would like to? There are some gadgets out there that can help you shorten the learning curve.

The new generation of deer hunters are turning to their home computers to enhance their scouting efforts, mostly to save time. Photo by Randy Templeton

By Randy Templeton

Today's modern-age deer hunter is taking major leaps and bounds in the way they plan a hunting trip or just a day in the field. What had taken days to accomplish can now be done in a fraction of the time. Instead of spending countless hours in the field, some of us have realized the benefits of bringing the deer woods home by planning our hunts and scouting trips from a desktop computer. From there we can explore the landscape and terrain features from aerial photos and topographical maps, then develop tactical maneuvers and plans of strategy based on our finds. In some cases, powerful annotation tools can be used to mark trails and plan routes on our maps without leaving home.

While in the field we can also keep a living document of our finds by recording them on a Global Positioning System or Pocket PC. When returning home we can overlay our footsteps and see exactly where we've been. Last but not least, we can share the maps with our hunting buddies and friends via e-mail. There's no doubt none of this would be possible if it wasn't for the development of the Internet, lightning-fast computers, GPS, handheld Pocket PCs and innovative mapping software.

I'll be the first to admit I haven't mastered all the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets, but they've certainly changed the way I think about scouting and preparing for a hunt. With the season approaching, let's take a look at how technology can be used to our utmost advantage.

AERIAL PHOTOS & TOPO MAPS

Aerial photographs and topography maps are vital tools. I've been using maps for years as a visual aid to locate travel corridors and potential stand sites, and also as a living document of my hunting areas to reference from one year to the next.

When working strictly from paper maps, I prefer using 7.5-minute series maps. Maps of this scale give the most detail with minimal distortion. The first step in scouting typically begins with a couple of hours of intense review from home. The goal is to pinpoint terrain and landscape features that have a funneling effect on deer traffic. Past experience has proven that narrow travel corridors make premium stand sites where nearly every deer in the area will pass through at some point in time.

When I go to ground scouting I'll target these funnels, and with any luck I'll find a rub line or big tracks that confirm my suspicions and lead to a buck's core area. Rather than make a second trip later, I'll look for the ideal tree for setting up an ambush and mark the location on a map or GPS.

There have been several occasions where I've been able to look over an aerial photo and make an educated guess what terrain features a buck may utilize to move across a piece of ground. Take for example my most recent experience this past muzzleloader season. I knew the area held big-buck potential, so I ordered maps from www.myTopo.com months beforehand and studied them thoroughly.

The evening before leaving on the hunt I reviewed the maps again and discovered a couple of key areas of interest. There was a long east/west ridge that ran parallel to a crop field on the front side and a big CRP field on the backside. My primary focus, however, turned toward the location where the big ridge branched off three ways on the east end.

Early that morning I made the four-hour drive and arrived shortly after daylight. With the necessary gear and maps in hand, I made my way toward the far end of the east/west ridge. The agenda was to do a bit of light scouting and to hopefully find a stand site for the following morning.

Having gone no more than 50 yards I spotted several calve-sized cedar trees rubbed to the pulp that formed a rub line. Following the rub line led to the exact location on the map where I thought there might be a saddle. Call it luck, but my hunch had paid off with not just one saddle, but two!

Above those saddles was an oak flat littered with droppings, beds and a dozen big rubs. It became apparent that the deer were bedding on the flat, mostly likely during midday. I hung a stand along the upper rim between both saddles and quietly left the area.

The alarm clock was set for 4 a.m., but I was up well before that, chomping at the bit. Temperatures hovered in the lower teens with a brisk 15 mph northwest wind. An hour before sunrise found me slipping into my Scent-Lok suit and making my way toward the stand. At the timber edge, I put a few drops of doe-in-estrus scent on two drag rags and heated up the trail every 50 to 75 yards. Twenty yards short of the stand, I hung one rag upwind and the other downwind.

The sun had just peeked over the horizon when the first deer came tiptoeing through. It was a smallish 8-pointer that stopped to investigate the scent before bedding down within spitting distance of me. Only minutes later a doe and two yearlings came through, and the young buck leaped to his feet and made a move to sniff them out. Judging from their actions, none were receptive to his advances, but nevertheless the youngster tried. Eventually all four moseyed down the ridge and out of sight.

About a half-hour later the crack of ice breaking in a shallow drainage behind a stand of pine trees announced something bigger than a squirrel. I stood up and got ready, but all of the sudden there was clash of antlers, followed by what sounded like a shoving match between two bucks. I grabbed the rattling antlers and rattled for about 30 seconds and followed up with a couple of grunts. Just a minute or two later I spotted a rack bobbing over the rise from the downwind side. Through the binoculars I could see it was a dandy 10-pointer, and the more I studied his rack the better he looked.

After a few more steps the moment of truth had arrived. I pulled up the muzzleloader, centered the crosshairs on the crease behind the shoulder and squeezed off. By the time the smoke cleared, I caught a mere glimpse of the buck racing back over the ridge. A few seconds later, however, a familiar crashing noise told me the buck was down. He turned out to be a 160-inch typical 10-pointer.

This is just one time of several where I've been able to narrow the search for the most likely ambush site from an aerial photo or topo map. With a little practice, I'm quite confident you'll be able to do the same.

SCOUTING WITH TECHNOLOGY

Scouting or hunting with the aid

of a GPS or Pocket PC is not much different than using a paper copy of a map. The biggest difference is having the ability to record everything live as it happens.

A GPS is probably the simplest of electronic methods for keeping records and getting you to the field and home again safely by using markers and waypoints. When returning home, our waypoints and markers can be downloaded from the GPS and overlaid on the original map.

When a GPS is used in combination with a Pocket PC uploaded with maps and software, you can create track logs and markers of game trails, logging roads, clearcuts, rub lines, scrapes, staging areas, stand sites, and perhaps where those big sheds were found in the field. Now you have a running record of where you've been and how to get back.

When returning home, the newest version of the map can be downloaded to a computer for storage or can be printed out. You can also download the latest and greatest to your favorite Internet mapping service and edit the map further, then order a larger-scale map to include all the annotations you've made.

SPY IN THE WOODS

Whoever thought 10 years ago the way we go about scouting and spying on deer would have evolved from using observation stands and a good pair of binoculars to trail cameras? Well, the day is here! Although some hunters - including me - still use observation stands and look at feeding or staging areas at dusk and dawn, trail cameras have certainly helped reduce the amount time many people spend spying on their quarry.

Other than during the rut, most big bucks are rarely seen during legal shooting hours. To pattern a buck that's gone underground is tough, but trail cameras can help nail down a specific time and place. If you've found a specific funnel or travel corridor where you suspect a big buck might be passing through, set up a trail camera and confirm those suspicions one way or the other.

MAPTECH

MAPTECH is my favorite source for topo maps and aerial photos. I say this because it's a one-time investment. CDs can be purchased for a specific region or an entire state. Each CD contains up to 300 United States Geological Survey maps in two different scales, 1:24,000 (7.5-minute series) and 1:100,000.

Maptech's Terrain Navigator software is the best. It allows you to scroll seamlessly from map to map. You can scrutinize individual maps for exact distances, coordinates and elevation data of terrain profiles using the line-of-sight tool. Another nice option in the navigation tools allows you to pinpoint an exact location by specifying the distance and bearing, plus view cross-sectional terrain profiles as well.

Terrain Navigator allows transferring waypoints and tracks logs directly between a GPS and computer. This is great if you've been creating waypoints and tracking logs in the field. When returning home you can plug in the GPS and see exactly where you've been.

Another great feature is the ability to customize a topo map in Terrain Navigator using the marker, track and route tools, and then upload the map to a GPS receiver to use in the field.

If you're serious about going high-tech, then take a look at the new Terrain Navigator Pro. The Pro series has all the capabilities of Terrain Navigator, but is much more powerful. One of my favorite features is having the ability to view maps in either 2-D or 3-D. You can also view two maps at once by using the split-screen feature or by toggling between aerial and topo. Personally, these features are important because they give me a better understanding of the terrain features that influence deer movement and dictate travel routes.

The two biggest advantages of the Pro series is the addition of aerial photographs and the editing capabilities for making annotations. Think of the possibilities of having both an aerial and topo map of an area saved on your computer. When scouting, you can record every footstep, then edit the maps in Navigator Pro when returning home. Now you can upload the maps back to the GPS or Pocket PC for the next adventure.

You've probably seen people walking around work or perhaps in a meeting with a handheld Pocket PC taking notes or reviewing their e-mail. The Pocket PC has many other uses, some of which are just now being explored by hunters. You'll need to purchase Maptech's Pocket Navigator software, but with it the possibilities are endless.

To start, you can download a USGS topo map to the Pocket PC from a computer and take a paperless map to the field. By connecting a GPS to the Pocket PC you can create routes and waypoints while on the move, plus follow them on the Pocket PC. For example, let's say you want to record what was found and where on a new piece of ground. Using the Marks Planning tool, record that information on the Pocket PC. Now the newest map version can be saved back to a hard drive and printed, or e-mailed to your hunting partners and friends. When the season gets under way, you can return to those hotspots with GPS or Pocket PC guidance.

As with anything you purchase, do a bit of research beforehand to determine what Pocket PC and GPS configuration works together. For a list of those that have been tested, go to the Maptech home page at www.maptech.com.

MYTOPO.COM

If you're still buying more than one map and hovering over the kitchen table piecing them together, then you're living in the dark ages. I purchased my first customized high-resolution aerial photograph and topo map from www.myTopo.com just a couple of years ago, but have used their services many times since.

MyTopo.com is basically an Internet map service provider who specializes in large-format aerial photography and topography maps. At their site you can then create a customized seamless map using either the standard UTM or military grid reference system, plus add your name and property title to the map. The maps are stored on the myTopo server and can be retrieved at any time. The basic map costs $9.95, but for about $15 you can get a high-resolution image printed on waterproof- and tear-resistant paper. For a few dollars more, the map can be laminated. Normal delivery takes four or five days, but laminated maps take a bit longer. For more information, visit their Web site at: www.myTopo.com.

MAPCARD

MapCard is a company who specializes in online mapping system software. A merger between MapCard and myTopo has made it possible to view, edit, create and order large custom aerial photographs and topographical maps online. MapCard offers two different memberships. The standard membership to MapCard costs $14.95 and includes the ability to view, upload, download and print 8x10 maps with standard 96 dpi resolution. The MapCard Pro membership costs $29.95, but with it comes the ability to use the powerful annotative tools for creating and editing both types of maps. You'll also have the ability to download and upload maps back and forth between the site and a GPS.

Think of all the advantages of having MapCard Pro for scouting and planning a hunting trip. For example, you can upload a map to a GPS to take to the field for scouting. If you record your footsteps and findings, when returning home you'll be able to download the newest version to the MapCard site via the GPS. Using the annotative tools, you can then add stand site locations, rub lines, scrapes, food sources, preferred entrance/exit routes or anything else you might feel is relevant. You can either print out an 8x10 or order a large custom map printed on waterproof paper through MapCard. Storage shouldn't be a problem because your maps are stored on MapCard's server and can be retrieved at any time. For more information, visit the MapCard Web site at www.mapcard.com.

MICROSOFT TERRASERVER

It's a good thing technology has streamlined the way many of us scout and prepare for a hunt, because it's very unlikely we'll ever eliminate our spur-of-the-moment whims. It wasn't that long ago that acquiring a map in a hurry was something almost unheard of, and expensive, too!

With the new high-speed computers having megabyte this and gigabyte that, acquiring a standard 8x10 aerial photo or topo map is a snap from the Microsoft TerraServer Web site. The only investment you'll have is time, because from this Web site the maps are free!

Two seasons ago I used the TerraServer Web site for a quickie map, and it paid off big time. I hadn't planned on hunting that day, but on a whim I scheduled a couple of days of vacation. I didn't know much about the area, just the general locale. There wasn't time to order maps, so I fired up the old computer the evening before and went surfing the Internet. Within minutes I had gone from having nothing to having both an aerial photo and topo map in hand.

That evening I studied the maps and found the location of three converging ridges that became the focal point for scouting. Hanging a stand that day at the junction where the ridges met paid off two days later with a 160-class 11-pointer. For more information, visit terraserver.homeadvisor.msn.com.

CONCLUSION

As you begin to realize the benefits of technology, chances are you'll begin planning your season from home and will spend less time in the woods or on the road. This can nearly guarantee you more time for hunting. Good luck and happy hunting!

OTHER SOURCES

If you're not in a hurry and want the highest-quality aerial photographs, then order them from the Aerial Photography Field Office in Salt Lake City, Utah. These maps are printed from the negatives of the original flyover, so the quality is the best. Order forms are available at your county FSA/USDA office, or visit their Web site and place an order online at www.apfo.usda.gov.

Topozone.com is another online aerial and topographical map service. Their maps come from the USGS archives, and they offer both topographical maps and aerial photography. For some areas, 24-bit color infrared (CIR) aerial photographs are also available. Once registered with Topozone, you can purchase a one-year subscription to Topozone Pro for $49.95 and then have full access to the annotative tools for editing maps. The maps you create and save can be ordered online and take approximately a week to arrive. For more info, visit www.topozone.com.

Topoguide Version 2 software allows you to plan, record or retrieve your latest outdoor adventure all on a topographical map via a computer. It has a feature that allows you to customize your map with features discovered in the field, like trails, ponds, clearcuts, logging roads or whatever else you think is important. Another nice feature is the seamless viewing capabilities, which means you can bring two maps together and create a solid image. Version 2 maps are all geo-referenced, meaning you can link a specific area on the map with geographic coordinates. For more information visit www.topoguide.com.

DeLorme Mapping Co. has been producing maps for quite some time, and the newest version, Topo USA 5.0, is offered on CDs and DVDs containing topographical and aerial photographs of the entire United States. Topo USA 5.0 gives you basically five maps in one - topographical, shaded relief, 3-D shaded relief, trail and a road map. Maps can be uploaded and downloaded between a desktop computer, GPS and Pocket PC for use in the field. You can add text to mark trails, roads, clearcuts and any other specific info or areas of interest. For more information, visit www.delorme.com/topousa.



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