GH 5: Scouting the Area You Plan to Hunt

Do You Have a Plan?

On today’s podcast we will focus on scouting the area you plan to hunt. This is Step 4 in the 10 step strategy I use to help new hunters learn how to hunt. Would you like to read the book and learn more tips and strategies for becoming a successful hunter? You can go to and download your free copy. This resource was created with the new hunter in mind. It can also help experienced hunters get focused on skills they need to improve to increase their chances of success.

So let’s get into the subject of scouting and how to plan your future hunt.

In episode 3 of this podcast, we broke down the hunting regulations and chose the area we plan to hunt. Now to build off of that plan I will teach you how I go about scouting such a large area. Again, the goal here is to break this down into bite-size pieces so we can simplify the process. So let’s first create a list of steps for scouting an area.

  1. OnXmaps – app on my smartphone
  2. Google Earth – app on my home computer
  3. Field glasses or binoculars – with me every time I visit the areas I’m considering to hunt

First, I look for private land in the Unit I want to hunt. Is there anyone I know that I could contact and ask for permission to hunt? Private property can allow me the opportunity to hunt an area with less hunting pressure. Some states have programs that connect hunters with landowners who want people to access their land and manage wildlife. In Idaho, this program is called Access Yes. We will discuss these programs in more detail in a future podcast.

Next, I consider public land in the unit I’m going to hunt. But in Idaho, we are blessed to have millions of acres of public land. So later I’ll explain what I look for when I’m scouting for the right piece of public land.

I look for an area with terrain that is within my physical ability. I also look for a habitat that should be ideal for the animal I’m going to hunt.

Don’t be afraid to have conversations with others. Ask other hunters for suggestions. Tell people that you hunt. It will surprise you how many people don’t mind helping you out. Especially if they find out you are a new hunter.

Lastly, you need to put boots on the ground. Investigate the places you want to hunt and look for signs related to the animal you are going to hunt.

Scouting Tools

Let’s start with learning about a couple of tools that are not required, but definitely game-changers. 

I use an app on my smartphone called OnXmaps. This application shows me way more information then I can even begin to explain in this short podcast. But, let’s keep it simple for this discussion.

OnXmaps will show you boundary lines between private lands and public lands. It can give you landowner contact information which may help you get access to a piece of private property. It shows you detailed updated aerial maps of an area with topographical lines. This helps if you want to know how steep or flat an area is. This app will cost you a couple of dollars on an annual basis, but easily worth it.

Google earth is the next tool I enjoy. It provides aerial photos of a particular area like OnXmaps, but google earth is free. The 3-dimensional aspect of the area I’m considering to hunt is powerful. It helps me get a better understanding of the lay of the land.

Lastly, the most important tool you need is your field glasses (binoculars). You want to scout from a distance sometimes and not tread on the area you plan to hunt. So having the ability to see animals and evidence that they are present is best done with your field glasses.

Start with Private Land Scouting

So I’m going to start by looking at private land in Unit 10A. Without giving any secret contacts away I want to explain how I find private land to hunt. It really just boils down to asking. So I created a document I call “Private Property Access Guide“. This document tells you everything you should consider when locating and asking for permission. If you would like a copy of this document, you can get a free copy by going to

My favorite way of scouting private land is to take my field glasses, my OnXmaps app and go for a drive. When I see animals or trails that interest me on a piece of private property, it’s time to do some research. I’ll use OnXmaps to search for the landowner’s name and make notes of the location. This will be a reference when I start trying to find private lands to hunt.

Idaho Fish and Game have partnered with landowners throughout the state to help them manage the animals on their property. This program is called Access Yes. The great part about this program is you simply follow the land owner’s instructions and you can hunt their land. You may only need to call them or stop by their house. You can check out Access Yes on the Idaho Fish and Game website at

If you live in another state, check out your state’s wildlife management website. Check to see if they have a similar program. The Private Property Access Guide at has links to several state websites and their landowner programs. 

Public Land Scouting

Public land is the best option for most hunters. You don’t need permission to hunt because the land belongs to you the citizen, not the government entity. Now, I expect that statement will get me some feedback. See, I grew up in an area that taught me that the public land is owned by the public. But I will leave that conversation for a future podcast.

Back to public land and why it’s a great hunting resource. So you can hunt public land that is accessible and open for the current hunting season. Caution! Some public land is closed to hunting such as parks, wildlife refuges, and areas near federal facilities just to name a few. It’s your responsibility to know these areas. 

Scouting Secrets

So when it comes to hunting public land, where should you focus your scouting efforts first? With a tool like OnXmaps on your smartphone, I suggest you look at public lands near areas that you can’t hunt. OnXmaps tells me within a few feet where the boundary line is for instants between a piece of private land I don’t have permission to hunt and a piece of public land I can hunt. 

The animals on that piece of private land that I can’t hunt may not experience any hunting pressure and they don’t know where the boundary line is. So when they cross over on to public land, they won’t be looking for me. But another word of caution. 

Hunting close to a boundary will increase the possibility of shooting an animal and it turns around and returns to the private property before it expires. In a situation like that, you would need to contact the landowner or a conservation officer and ask for permission or get help retrieving your animal. This is not an ideal situation, so I suggest you hunt far enough from those boundaries to avoid this happening. Posting a 100 yards or more from a boundary would be my suggestion. You definitely want a buffer.

Consider the Terrain

When I’m helping people work through a scouting plan, one big consideration is the terrain. Don’t invest a large amount of time researching an area and then start hunting it and discover you physically can’t get to the animals. You also don’t want to kill one and risk having the meat spoil before you can get it into a cooler. 

Be honest with yourself about your physical condition and hunt in an area you can not only find an animal to kill but you can also get that animal out of the woods when you kill it.

Now if you are like, “I want to be more physically fit and able to hunt in places this fall that you couldn’t see yourself hunting in today”. In the next podcast, we will be discussing physical conditioning and getting yourself ready to hunt.  

You should consider things like access to your prospective hunting area. Sometimes on public land, we are allowed to access an area while we are scouting, but when hunting season comes, that area’s roads are closed to limit access. Do some research and ask the agency managing those public lands, “will roads in that area be closed come hunting season?” 

In a future podcast, we will talk about ways to get deeper into some of these types of areas and the tools you might want to consider investing in. 

Talk to Other Hunters

One way to find hunting opportunities and gain access to potentially good hunting areas is to talk with other hunters and non-hunters. Have some good old conversations with people you know and people you don’t. Strike up a conversation with the guy at the sporting goods store that is looking at a new gun to buy while you are doing the same. Visit with people at church, work, or athletic events and share how you are learning to hunt and you’re just not sure where to go hunting. You may be surprised at the willingness of others to help you find a good honey hole as we call it. Maybe they would even give you permission to hunt their private property because they have animals and nobody ever comes to them to ask for permission.

Lastly, is the part of scouting that everyone thinks of when I ask “have you been scouting?” You must get out and spend some time in the woods looking over and learning the area you plan to hunt when possible. Months before the season opens I’ll spend time walking those areas and learning the lay of the land. I’m not too worried about disturbing the critters until it gets closer to opening day. About 2 weeks prior to opening day is when I try to spend more time watching from a distance with my field glasses rather than walking through the area covering it with my human scent.

It’s different when I’m planning to hunt an area that is many miles from home. I may not get to investigate it prior to the hunting season. So in that case, I like to get there at least a day or two prior to opening day. This gives me some time to take my digital scouting plan and go over the area. I’m looking for animals and recent activity. That will either verify I’m in the right place or tell me I need to quickly find a new location. This form of scouting is much riskier, but the reward is gratifying. You took the knowledge you have acquired and turn it into a successful hunt.

On the next podcast, we will discuss how to get physically ready for your next hunt. Will you be going on a rocky mountain hunting adventure come October? Maybe you will be hunting on the neighbor’s farm after work? Hunting is for everyone who wants to experience it. I don’t want you to think that your current physical condition should stop you from enjoying hunting success.   

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