Big Game Scouting (Part 2) - by Mark Campagnola

Submitted By Admin Jul .31.2017

In my last article I discussed the different types of maps that I use for scouting an area. This time I want to cover the do’s and don’ts when you are physically standing on the ground of your hunting area with maps in hand. Now before we go any further about scouting for elk, deer or whatever animal you’re hunting, let’s backup a little because you have to have a place to camp right.

Depending on the location and what type of vehicle you can use to get around (ATV, bicycle, horse back, or on foot) really depends on where you will set up camp. You don’t want to setup camp in the middle of where the animals are and you don’t want to set up miles away because then you have to add how long it takes just to get there to start hunting. While studying your maps at home look for flat areas that could be close to the area you want to look over and if possible, camp there. Some areas have designated camping spots while some other areas it’s pretty much whatever you can find. Try to find a spot that is centrally located for your area.

This year when we were out scouting we found three other camping spots that were better than where we had set up camp. We found those spots while we were out scouting. The best part about this is if during our hunting season someone else has already setup a camp where we had planned to, we will still have three other backup spots that we can go to. So, really we’re not just scouting for animals but also finding backups for our camp. I firmly believe that the most important part of a hunting trip is a nice, clean, organized camp. When you’re comfortable you relax, if you’re relaxed you think clearer. You will enjoy that hunt way more than if you have everything strung out all over the place and can’t find something you need right away. You get uptight because you can’t find something and then that wears off on your hunting buddies and that’s not good. Ok, enough of that - let’s go scouting.

When I’m scouting an area that I have never been to, I like to drive around and look the country over to see the big picture and match it up with my maps. This is when my Garmin GPS comes in very handy. You can mark waypoints at home and then match them to your maps and you will see what a difference those mountains really look like in person than on the kitchen table. There’s no ground shrinkage here. Once I’m orientated to my surroundings I will start my game plan which began at home. My first morning out well before daylight, I will be at high vantage spot in which I can see large vast areas. I really try to have the sun at my back but sometimes that’s impossible. I will sit there scanning with my eyes first and then glassing with my binoculars.

If I spot something that’s too far to tell whether male or female with my binos, I’ll brake out my 20-60x60 spotting scope. If it’s what I’m looking for I will mark it with a number and a letter on the front of my map. On the back of the map I correlate the number and letter with all the information. I will write how many (bulls/cows bucks/does etc.), the date, weather conditions, and time. The letter I use is designating the animal, like 1E for elk and 2D for deer and so on. I mainly put the letter in there for future hunting trip references. 

I’ll stay at that spot until I see the animals head back into the timber for the day and then (you got it) mark the map where they went back into the timber and the time. That same day I will go to that exact same spot around 3:00pm, depending on weather, and do the same thing only in reverse. What I’m hoping for is to catch those animals coming out of the timber to feed. With the info you gather from that morning and evening you can partial see a pattern for the day. I will normally do this for two days and if I have seen a lot of animals that I’m looking for I will go for a third day. But if after two days I’m not seeing a lot of animals, it’s time to move on and find another spot.

During the day I will have already picked out the closed roads, walking trails, and game trails I want to look over from the many hours of poring over all my maps at home. This is where I start looking for tracks, droppings, water, food sources, good thermal cover and escape cover. Remember this one big thing for food sources: just because its green does not mean the animals will eat it. If you have an ATV and there are designated roads for ATV’s, you can cover a lot of ground in a few days. If a road says closed to all motor vehicles STAY OFF OF IT, there’s a reason it’s closed. Start walking and I’ll put money on it you will find some sign not very far from the main road. When I’m hiking around I’m not walking in bedding areas. I’m in areas that are in between their feeding and bedding grounds. I do not want to spook anything by walking into those areas.

Here’s the biggest mistake a lot of elk hunters do. They bring their elk calls. Leave them at home; a scouting trip is just that, a scouting trip. That’s not the time to be practicing. Even if you are a good caller and you’ve called in tons of elk during season, it only takes one mistake and you have now educated that animal. When you’re scouting you’re not in hunting mode, so you’re not paying close attention to the wind or other elements as you would be when you’re hunting.

I hope this helps you with your next hunt you have coming up. If it’s impossible for you to get out and physically scout, those maps and Google Maps are going to be your best friend. Maybe if you can get out a couple extra days before opening day you would at least get your bearings and the lay of the land which is better than nothing. 


Mark Campagnola

Hunt Hard and Shoot Straight