E-Scouting Makes You a Better Hunter

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Preparing to hunt a new area can be daunting.  The unfamiliarity fosters many questions in the mind of a hunter about access, terrain, habitat, water sources, hunting pressure, ease of travel and weather conditions, just to name a few.  I was faced with this scenario in May of this year when Harvesting Nature founder, Justin, my father and I drew deer tags for a zone in Wyoming that none of us had previously hunted.  With months ahead of me to prepare, but no time to waste, I wanted to make the most of the four days that we planned to spend hunting, so I needed to start researching.  In this article, I’ll cover my approach to eScouting, hoping to share a few pointers.  I’ll end with an interesting (or heartbreaking) story about deer recovery, assisted by onX Hunt, a tool that crosses over from eScouting to the actual hunt.

I knew when I applied for the region that there was a significant amount of public land, and I had a general idea of where I wanted to hunt.  You should know these factors before you put in for the tag.  I wanted to get in deep to get away from the hunting pressure and get away from the roads to get away from the road hunters.  I started by taking a close look at the deer region maps on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) website that identifies public land and “Access Yes” opportunities (private land that allows public hunting due to WGFD lease agreements).  Access Yes land can provide access to otherwise landlocked public land as well.  With a refined idea of a target area, I then went to onX Hunt to look at the topography, landscape, and habitat.  By scanning satellite images, you can get an idea of the vegetation type, tree cover and water sources.  Pay close attention to the topo map.   What may look like an easy hike across the canyon, may in fact cover difficult terrain, extreme terrain or be outright impassable.  As a backup, and because I like to spread a large map out on my office desk to pour myself over, I also ordered the surface maps for the zone from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  They are $4.00 each and are nice to have on hand if technology decides not to cooperate in the back country.  Also, details can sometimes stand out by studying the large surface map that you may otherwise miss looking at images of satellite maps on your computer screen or phone. 

During my review, I assembled a list of questions that could not be answered by studying maps.  I needed to acquire firsthand knowledge of the area from someone who has had boots on the ground during hunting season.   Who better than a local game warden?  You can often get in contact with the local warden after one or two phone calls.  The Wyoming Game and Fish Department have the contact information for each district’s game warden listed on its website.  Well done, Wyoming.  I have found they are happy to talk to hunters looking for information to support a safe, responsible, and respectable hunt.  In this instance, the game warden answered my questions about predators, camping precautions, road conditions, hunting pressure, and even mentioned the location of a potable water hand pump.   Mind you, the hunting area was 50 miles from the nearest town, so this last detail was much appreciated. 

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Beyond researching maps and talking to locals or hunters in your network familiar with the area, and in preparation for the field, be sure to download the offline maps for onX Hunt before you head out.  This a great feature within a great product and I utilized it constantly to understand my location and boundaries.  I have also found that many game wardens ubiquitously accept onX Hunt as factual and encourage hunters to use it if questions or disputes arise of location of kill or trespass from private landowners. 

In fact, on this hunt, Justin was tracking a mule deer he shot when the blood trail crossed from State of Wyoming public land into private land, a 3,000+ acre cattle ranch.  Having taken photographs of the blood splatter at the border fence, to evidence a solid hit, and marking the location on his onX map, he backed out and drove to a nearby hay yard to talk to a ranch worker.  The worker directed us to a nearby house where he told us we could find the landowner.  When we turned into the driveway there was a large and obvious “No Trespassing” sign that we intended to honor.  We decided to drive to a nearby hunter check station occupied by WDFG biologists and game wardens.  It turned out that the local game warden had a good relationship with the landowner (small town) and he granted access for us to follow the blood trail as long as the WDFG “monitored” the recovery effort.  What I found interesting is that WDFG monitored us by asking us to enable the tracking feature within onX Hunt that traces your path as you move over the landscape, creating a trail of bread crumbs detailing the route you traveled.  While Justin impressed me with his ability to follow the blood trail through a mix of clay, cactus, grass and sagebrush, we found the end of the trail after about a half mile in the deer’s bed, but not the deer.  Our thought is that the wound was not fatal, and the blood coagulated while the deer bedded down, thereby ending the blood trail and Justin’s hopes of recovery.  We have pictures, meat and mounts of the ones we successfully harvest, but it’s the ones you lose that you remember most vividly.  Living on forever in constant reply of the shot in your mind.

We then returned to the hunter check station to report back to the game warden that we were unable to recover the deer and showed the screen image of our track to evidence were we crossed into private land.  They very much appreciated us doing the right thing, documenting the situation, contacting WDFG and requesting permission to recover the animal.   Apparently, some hunters will abandon the search once the trail crosses onto private land, or worse yet, illegally trespass which can lead to a contentious interaction with the landowner and a bad reputation for hunters.  We at Harvesting Nature pride ourselves in taking the high road. 

A.J. Fick

I was born and raised in northeast Pennsylvania, and currently live in the hill country of Texas. I consider myself a western hunter at heart, enjoying glassing vast landscapes and the thrill of the stalk. My motivations as an outdoorsman are rooted in the sustenance and physical aspects. In fact, my largest driving factor for physical fitness is preparing for upcoming hunts and ensuring I’m well prepared to climb mountains and cover ground with a heavy pack.

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