I recently had the good fortune of finalizing a deal to rent a farmhouse in SE Michigan where I will be starting a new position at my company. This farmhouse is located on a 100 acre farm, on which I now have rights to hunt. The moment I even heard that this house was on a 100 acre chunk of land, I jumped online and wanted to take a look at it. Within seconds, I was on Google Maps, seeing a satellite picture of my property and envisioning where I might nail my big buck next year on this farm. The possibilities seemed endless and I excitedly started planning out my next year’s hunting adventures. This example is really just the beginning of what you can do with tools such as Google Maps and Google Earth when trying to research and scout new hunting land.

Before ever setting foot on a piece of land to go scouting, significant work should be done to maximize the effectiveness of your scouting efforts and to minimize the time that you need to be in your hunting area. The most important piece of work that you must take care of is learning the lay of the land and this is accomplished by studying maps.

Why Use Maps to Scout?

Studying high level maps of your hunting grounds allows you to accomplish several things. It can help you analyze where heavy deer traffic might be, where feeding and bedding areas are and also allow you to strategize in regards to stand placement and entry into your hunting areas. Being able to develop a high level strategy based on these maps allows you to fine tune your scouting when you actually take to the ground and explore your land. Having narrowed down your hunting area to a few core areas based on studying maps, you can now quickly scout the area on foot, minimizing the chances of you spooking deer. Seeing a piece of land from birds eye view can also allow you to see things that wouldn’t show up from the ground. For example, from the air you might be able to see a food source half a mile away, that is connected to a bedding area by a fence row on your land. This makes the fence row a lot more attractive to hunt than when you didn’t know what it connected to on the other side.

Using Google Maps and Google Earth

In the past, the most useful and accessible maps were USGS Topographic maps, which showed general topographic features of the land you were looking for. While these can still be useful today, technology has really changed the game with the introduction of free online satellite imagery and 3-d mapping tools. In my opinion the most useful tools are Google Maps and Google Earth. Both services allow you to see map data, with different layers such as roads, terrain and satellite. Just with this basic functionality Google Maps outdoes your basic paper topo map. With these mapping tools you can also zoom in and out on any area, save waypoints and get directions to different areas. With Google Earth you can also uniquely zoom into an area and actually see a 3d view of the surroundings or travel above your selected area in a flight simulator. This tool can be especially effective in helping you understand vantage points in hilly or mountainous terrain. Google Earth also allows you to measure distances between locations on your maps, which is really useful for scouting and planning your hunt. Overall Google’s two mapping tools offer the most comprehensive and interactive way to scout and study your hunting land from afar. For more information about the functionality of Google Earth, check out the Google Earth User Guide or the Google Maps Help Center.

What To Look For When Scouting With Online Maps

So what specifically should you look for when you are studying a map of your property on Google? Although the options are endless, I would first focus on finding and studying possible food sources, bedding areas, funnels between these and then stand placement and entry/exit ideas. Finding crop fields and other food sources is pretty simple with these maps, as you can see really high detail satellite images that allow you to easily see these crops. Bedding areas can be identified by looking for really thick timber or marshy looking areas and the key in my eyes is to find the natural funnels between these two areas. Whether it is a ridge line, a ditch or a fencerow, you should be able to see all of these features in Google and then adjust your strategy based on these images. These funnels are ideal stand locations. In addition to finding stand locations, you can also develop a strategy for getting to and from your hunting areas. Finding a ditch or stream that you can follow into your stand will allow you to quietly move to and from your blind. Identifying all of these key features with your maps will allow you to then go into these areas on foot and make adjustments to your strategy based on the details you discover in person.

My Online Map Scouting Example

To illustrate how to use Google Maps and how to identify key features, I think it would be useful to take a look one of the pieces of land I’ll be hunting next year.

Hunting Land 2

In this picture you can see my land outlined in red, with several key features highlighted. In the blue, you can see a possible bedding area, which I keyed out because of the thick and marshy terrain you can see in the satellite image. You can see the major food source right in the middle, being the corn and then the timber on the SW corner of the property. Deer travelling from that timber to other areas, for example the bedding area, would have to use the fencerow on the NW corner of the property, highlighted in yellow. I think this fencerow offers one of the top stand locations on this property, particularly the NW corner, where this fence row meets up with another. By being able to key into these features of the land, I can already begin devising my strategy for next fall’s hunt, before I’ve even been to the property. Now when I do get to the land, I will know that I want to explore these fencerows for the best stand location and I want to check out this bedding area to see where the deer are exiting and entering it from. With Google Maps I can zoom in and out to discover different detail of areas, I can look at surrounding properties to see how deer might be using those and I can mark all of my key points of interest for future use.

Try It

So next time you find a new piece of land to hunt, I highly recommend you try out Google’s mapping tools to develop a high level strategy for your upcoming hunt. Remember to look for key features, such as funnels, and then move into these areas on foot at a later time to fine tune your set ups. By using these tools you can learn a lot about your hunting area and  can greatly improve your chances of success.

To try Google Maps or Google Earth follow the links below:

Google Maps

Google Earth