Five Scouting Dos And Don’ts
By Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor
“Well, this isn’t good,” I said, gazing across an expanse of land recently stripped of its PLOTS sign.
PLOTS, or Private Lands Open to Sportsmen, is a North Dakota Game and Fish Department program that pays landowners to open their property to hunters. My group relied on PLOTS for years, accessing a discretely hidden, perpetually duck-laden puddle a few hundred yards from the road.
But this year, the choice little honey hole was off limits. Had we scouted the day before – a mandatory ritual somehow overlooked – this could have been avoided.
Scouting seems simple, and if taken on the premise of driving around until locating waterfowl, it is. But there is a lot that goes into successful duck seeking, much of which occurs ahead of time. Scouting efficiently involves knowing the land and landowners, understanding migration patterns, and ultimately keeping an eye on the sky.
Here are five scouting dos and don’ts to remember during this fall’s flight that may stifle any last minute surprises, especially if you’re traveling out of state.
Scouting either for a field or pond begins at home. Make a game plan by utilizing computer programs and Internet web browsers that offer free mapping tools and satellite imagery. Although it is difficult to tell how outdated the images may be, general geographical information and large bodies of water should remain relatively unchanged. Look for tracts of land with high concentrations of ponds and sloughs – the likeliest locations for finding huntable numbers of ducks and geese.
Don’t: Count on Internet help
There are hundreds of outdoors sites online, and dozens that specifically cater to waterfowling. These forums offer species-specific tips and tactics for nearly every situation, state and province. Almost any question can be answered online – except where to hunt. There is no faster way to get ridiculed than to ask for even general areas to find birds. At best, you’ll be told to put on some miles and scout like everyone else. At worst – well, let’s just say the Internet can be as angry a place as it is helpful.
Do: Collect maps
Maps come in all shapes and sizes. Thanks to today’s Internet-synched world, they’re easy to come by. Even though GPS units are key for marking locations, having a large sheet of paper in your hand still puts things in perspective. Check your state’s wildlife department for resources. In North Dakota, for example, the Game and Fish Department puts out a PLOTS Guide that shows almost every acre of huntable land. Pick up a county plat book, which lists names of landowners, and indicates exactly who owns what.
Do: Bring a buddy
They say two heads are better than one, and when it comes to scouting, this certainly rings true. Driving back roads while keeping one eye peeled for ducks on the wing is difficult and dangerous. Bring along a buddy to help watch the passing countryside, man the binoculars, and keep up general chitchat (preferably about hunting) when the long hours on the road get monotonous. Who knows? They might help pay for gas, too.
Do: Plan your time wisely
Knowing how and what you are hunting also means knowing when to scout. If you’re looking for a transition slough to set up a puddle duck spread, consider scouting late morning after birds have fed and are loafing on water. If looking for a field feed of hungry geese or ducks, the first few hours after sunrise or before sunset are best. Just remember that while waterfowl are creatures of habit, their flight patterns can change on a dime because of shifts in weather or hunting pressure. When in doubt, scout both morning and evening to make sure the birds you found earlier in the day are returning later, and not simply one-hit wonders. This might also give you an idea of how many other pairs of eyes have seen the same ducks you have. You might have to get to the field right before shooting time, or spend the night in your blinds.