By Mark Kenyon
A few weeks ago, as many of you know, I got permission (by knocking on doors) to hunt several properties in Iowa. The total acreage of those farms totaled about 1,250 acres – and I only had the next morning available to scout before I had to head home to Michigan. Scouting that much ground in that short a time was a daunting task, no doubt, but I was able to pull it off with a reasonable degree of success.
Here’s how I did it.
Obviously there was no way I’d be able to physically scout and walk over 1200 acres in a single morning – so that very first night after I got permission, I knew I’d need to narrow things down using maps. To do this, I used aerial and topo maps to get a better idea of which areas of my farms had the best cover and terrain.
With this in mind, I eliminated an entire 250 acre section that didn’t seem to be as high potential as the two other pieces I had. Next I looked at each of those remaining two farms and looked for ridgelines, points, saddles and other funneling terrain or cover features that would likely see especially high deer use during the rut. My goal was to identify these areas with my maps that first night, and then spend the next morning walking only these best looking spots. Below I’ve embedded Hunterra map images of the focus areas I chose for each of these two farms and an explanation of why I chose them.
(If you’re interested in learning more about what these terrain/cover related features might look like – check out “Using Terrain and Topography To Deer Hunt New Properties Fast“)
Farm #1: This farm is huge, and so right off the bat I decided to ignore the entire northern region, and instead focus my time on the southern reaches where a creek/river system and several ridges all came together. I noticed several large points that would be ideal bedding areas, as well as the three long ridges that would obviously be destinations for cruising bucks during the rut. On top of that, the stream to the south would add another pinching feature that I could use to my advantage. In the yellow circled areas below, you can see what I determined to be my focus spots when scouting the next day on the ground.
Farm #2: This farm had large sections of crop ground both on the north and south ends of the block, but a large creek running through the middle created an area of dramatic terrain features and thick cover. It was this middle section I decided to key in on, as I immediately noticed several different topographic features that would funnel deer movement during the rut. Knowing that bucks would be cruising these ridges to search for does either bedded on the points or feeding in the fields above, I looked for areas where the steep ridges or creek would pinch off an area and force deer movement through a narrow stretch. In this focus area, there were several such potential pinch points that I could see on the maps and that I knew I’d want to check in person the next day. Those points and that creek bottom are shown in the circled area below.
On the ground: Now that I’d identified some focus areas with my maps, I was ready to venture out on foot the next day. And with limited time, as soon as I got to each property, I headed right towards those focus areas – rather than wasting too much time trying to scout the other less promising looking sections.
Once I got to my hot-spots, I was looking for several things; heavily used trails in likely pinch points, bedding areas, old rut sign (rubs/scrapes), and signs of other hunters (treestands, flagged trails, etc).
When it comes to the pinch points, these came in several forms. There were many spots on these properties were a large finger extended out off a ridge towards the creek bottom, and these points had such steep ends that no deer could go up or down them – this would result in the few less steep sections being where all the deer travel was, or all the travel would be up high closer to the fields in those sections, as there were no other alternatives. This was different with each point and ridge, so I had to try and verify how deer were influenced by each of these different terrain features in each instance.
As I walked through the farm I would constantly be referencing my maps to match up what I was seeing on the ground to the features on the map. And as I did so I was able to confirm or deny whether my virtual scouting focus areas were on point. After a few hours on both properties, I had a high level idea of how the terrain laid out, where other hunter activity seemed to be focused, and how deer likely would be using the farm.
Of course, there’s only so much you can learn in this short a time – but I felt that after this speed scouting session I was prepared to at least begin my Iowa hunting season with a good starting point, from which I’ll then adjust based on deer sightings and other experiences I have while on the property.
If you have a big new property that you’re trying to learn fast – follow this basic process and you’ll have a much better chance of learning something valuable rather than wandering around aimlessly across hundreds of acres. Use maps to eliminate unlikely sections, narrow down your focus to the areas of best cover or terrain, and then efficiently use your time on the ground to check these likely hot-spots.
(If you’re interested in using maps like those I included in this post – that have aerial imagery, a 3D terrain model, and topographic lines – check out Hunterra Maps. As you can see, they’re incredible.)