This weekend marked the beginning of our 2011 Mule Deer search. We drew tags for an area that we haven't hunted before, so the initial scouting trip of the area has been completed. We are now a little more familiar with the terrain and have learned some valuable lessons.
I believe that any additional planning you can do to better your game plan before opening day will increase your odds in having a successful hunt.
Listed below are a few reasons why I would highly recommend scouting out your unit(s) before making the trek to the mountains for opening day...
1. TO FIND THE ANIMALS
I know... Duh. Right? But, some tags issued in Colorado will include several different units you can hunt. If you plan on hunting in a specific unit and haven't really done your homework, you may end up in an area that has a low population of the animal you are hunting for. There are many factors that can change up the populations in a specific area, e.g., snow run-off, drought, fire, or other non-environmental pressure factors such as, construction.
It is also a good idea to check with the local Division of Wildlife office to learn additional tid-bits that may help you. For example, one year we learned that a prescribed burn was planned near our hunting area. We tucked that piece of information away and used it to our advantage by hunting the other side of the mountain at the appropriate time.
This last weekend, we had expected to find deer in a specific location based on recommendations from previous hunters and studying google maps. We were surprised to discover that the area was more heavily populated with elk than deer. Now, I love hunting elk but unfortunately we only have a deer tag for this area. (I'll post an update later on my elk encounter from last weekend.)
2. TO PATTERN YOUR ANIMALS
When scouting animals in mountainous regions, it is best to find a high vantage point where you can scan the forest floor below. Often times, game trails are easily recognizable looking down, and the lay of the land can be easily understood. It seems obvious, right? But it does take a level of commitment to climb to the next ridge when the current lower vantage point appears good enough. Climbing a little higher can bring clarity to the terrain below and is worth the extra effort.
From your perch above, you now have a better opportunity to begin to pattern the animals in the area. As mentioned before, game trails should be noted. This last weekend, I witnessed several deer making their way along a game trail that I spied from above. So, I made a mental note of where it would be best to position myself in a grove of nearby aspen if I had the opportunity to hunt that specific spot next month.
3. TO BELIEVE THE SIGNS
When we initially drove into our area, we noted that there were an awful lot of tracks across the steep rock slides. Were these game trails? Are sheep or rams in this area? Surely not. And then eagle-eyes AKA my husband, Troy, spotted them. Those dang Muleys were making their way across this steep terrain. Look close in the above picture.
Here is another view of their dare-devil stunt:
I am NOT following that game trail, no matter who dares me to! Pass.
4. TO BE FAMILIAR WITH THE AREA
Again, this sounds obvious, but it is true and I think oftentimes hunters go in "blind" on opening morning to an area they are unfamiliar with. If you can minimize the guessing of how to get from point A to point B, the better you will be in navigating your hunt out west. If you need to change your game plan and move areas due to minimal animal movement or other environmental factors, it is best to know how to do this quickly. Otherwise, you may waste an entire afternoon or day getting to another area.
For example, see the lake in the above picture? We had attempted to drive to this lake that was marked on our map while familiarizing ourselves with the roads winding through the valley below. We somehow completely missed it! It wasn't until we hiked to the vantage point from where this picture was taken that we realized our error. (We did have an interesting discussion on who was right and who was wrong!)
So, there you have it... a few of my reasons why scouting is important. What about you? Have you learned some valuable lessons from scouting prior to hunting season? Any other words of wisdom on scouting? We are heading back up to the mountains in another week for round two, so let me know if I missed something.