Its hunting season and you have access to new hunting land and don’t know where to begin. Seems a bit daunting staring at the map and not knowing where to start. There are a few key things to look for and some readily available resources out there that will make you more confident in the field. But, safety first, any time you venture afield, let someone know your starting and proposed ending locations, where you will park, and the times you are leaving and returning. Also, don’t forget to give that person a quick call or text to let them know you are out of the woods. It could save your life in the future. No matter how capable you are, accidents can turn an easy hike or hunt into a scramble to regain control of the day.
Its good to own a compass. Yes, an old-fashioned compass, not something on your cell phone, remember cell coverage is not everywhere.
If you are scouting a new to you area, you may not know the coverage. Another good idea is understanding where east and west is and where your entrance/exit points are. Getting turned around and knowing where your exit point is in relation to that could be a lifesaver. Also, plan short scouting trips into new areas. Don’t head into a new piece of woods planning to spend the whole day hiking in, you need time to return, make sure to plan that. My best suggestion is to take small hikes and expand every time you head out by a short distance and learn the lay of the land. Also, be sure to take with you with a basic first aid kit, a flashlight not on your phone, water and a snack. If you get turned around or injured and have to sit tight and wait for help these things will be vital. Every time you go afield you should have a plan and a first aid kit, just in case.
Now that you have the basics, its time to head out and start scouting that piece of land you are sure will be fruitful in the next hunting season. Its always good to find the topographical maps on the location and access points. The parcel of game land I often hunt has many access points with parking and groomed walking trails, these are great starting points, I hike many of them throughout the year. Of course, like many hunters, we don’t usually stay on the beaten path, that drive to explore and go just a little further fuels us. This is the point where I suggest purchasing good, detailed field maps for your area. Now, maybe you are not a paper map person, that’s okay! One great advancement in technology is mapping programs and apps on your phone. I use a variety of them for different features in my area. There are some that provide you with detailed roads, both paved and not, as well as walking trails. There are some that also provide you with detail on water, elevation, and type of forest coverage, but remember not all areas have cellphone coverage, so make sure your maps have been downloaded.
I suggest you spend some time either marking the paper map with points to explore or dropping pins on your apps.
If you use a mapping app, most have the ability to share your location via pin drop to someone, again, it could save your life. My family knows where I go every time I go afield, they also have access to the mapping app I use with pins on it of locations I like to stationary hunt from. Dropping pins in these apps is a great tool for me to use to compare wind speed and direction on any given day and decide what area might provide my best hunting opportunity for that particular day. I also like apps that show me elevations. These are great indicators of funnels where animals will travel and allow me to scout them to find areas that may provide coverage for me along these funnels. The apps that show forest coverage also can indicate where bedding areas are to help you decide where to set up depending on time of day or season. Having access to these maps to show water sources along these routes is another key point in my decision to hunt there or not.
I invest a lot of off-season time in strategizing my next season using mapping apps. I place many different markers including where I will park, walk in and out, as well as where I think a good stand might go. I mark prints and any other habitat indicators I note along my off-season hikes on my apps as well. I also mark types of forest coverage for different species and seasons. There are a wide variety of programs out there to use, I suggest trying a few to decide what works best for you and then get out in the field and take notes. It is a great way to expand your hunting season in preparation for the next one.