If you don't have regular access to your hunting properties, family or business commitments are keeping you from scouting, you do have another option.
I fall into all of the above categories, most of my properties are more than 3 hours away, I have a young family with a one year old boy keeping me on my toes, my wife expecting twins later this year and I work full time throughout the week. I only really have two opportunities to hunt Fallow this year being late May and early June so I have to do my scouting virtually.
Where to Start
I’ve used Google’s Maps Engine Lite a few times now on a couple of client jobs (I’m a Front End Web Designer) and find it really simple to use. You can add labels and pins to mark locations of interest and customise each pins icon to represent different types. You can add lines to mark tracks in and around your properties and this can also be used to mark out boundary fences, possible food plots and hunting areas. These areas can also be colour coded to represent different areas to make them easily recognisable at a glance.
Tip: If you zoom into the map it will outline property borders which can be easily traced around with the line tool. I found using the arrow keys to move the map and using your mouse to click on corners the best approach.
Areas of Interest
Google Maps allows you to overlay satellite imagery over the top of your map. This imagery can help you identify pinch points, ridges, open areas and other areas of interest. I have been taking particular interest in pinch points, possible bedding areas and dams as I believe these are worth checking out first.
Once you’ve identified your areas or interest you can then export the map as a .kml file and upload it to most GPS unit’s via their upload software. I have a Garmin eTrex 30 and use Garmin’s BaseCamp which allows me to upload the .kml file and customise it further with Garmin’s specific place marker pins (they have hunting related ones). It is then uploaded to my GPS via USB cable and I’m set for my next up coming hunt. This same technique can also be used to upload the Hunter Exclusion Zones under the new New South Wales DPI R Licence regulations.
You can also use Google Earth to open the .kml file and this will allow you to take a 3D view of the terrain you wish to hunt. This is an impressive and powerful tool giving you not only satellite imagery but it is used in conjunction with topo map information to brining the terrain to life.
Because Google Maps Engine can also overlay your custom map with a topo layer, then you can print the map out on A3 and have it laminated so it can be rolled up and taken out with you. I laminate mine not only to keep it from getting wet but it allows me to write on it with a whiteboard pen if needed. The only downside to printing the map is it doesn’t have a scale and Map Engine Lite doesn’t have a print function. What I tend to do is use a tool like the Windows Snipping Tool (Win 7 and up in Accessories in the menu) or FastStone. This allows me to position the map where I want on the screen and do a screen shot. I then either save the screen shot as an image or print it out directly from the tool.
Once I have the map printed and uploaded to my GPS, it’s time for the fun to start by hitting the road and heading out to the property.
One the Property
The thing with virtual scouting is you really have no idea if these locations will bear fruit. It’s better than just rocking up to a property and walking around aimlessly. But, if used in conjunction with the local knowledge of the land owner cross referenced with your virutal scouting, this can cut down on a lot of walking and hopefully increase opportunities of finding game.
Once you’re out on the property you can hit your predefined areas and check for sign using your GPS. This could be anything from rubs, scrapes, wallows, rooting or bedding areas depending on what game you are chasing. Once you are in an area scout around looking for sign and take notes in either your GPS or on your printed map. Mark any sign or spotted animals by placing a pin on your GPS or write the latitude and longitude coordinates in the rough location on the printed map or in a notebook. This can then be added to your custom map when you get home.
It Doesn’t End There
Now that you’ve been out to your property and have first hand information, you can add in any new areas you found, remove inaccurate information and build up your maps to reflect what you find. Developing your map will hopefully help you pattern game travel and locations, and when used in conjunction with game cameras this information can be invaluable.
While virtual scouting will never replace the hard yards ‘boots on the ground’ scouting, it can give the time poor hunter a good starting point and increase your chases of success when you finally get into the field.
Until next time, happy hunting.