A look at how Brady Miller e-scouts for mule deer
In the above video, I walked through e-scouting efforts using goHUNT Maps on the web for a high country mule deer hunt. I used a hypothetical archery hunt for this example, but I'm already considering putting together another video on how I e-scout for a late-season mule deer hunt. Now, even with that said, there's a lot of information in here that can cross over no matter what mule deer tag you have you have.
E-scouting is way more than just looking at maps and dropping waypoints. Let’s define e-scouting for a second. To me, e-scouting is a systematical digital scouting effort on a map where you dive into every piece of the unit before you ever put a foot on the ground in the unit. This is the pre-hunt work that will put you in the position to find animals and develop a plan. The key thing here is a “plan” because without a plan, you’re most likely just going to waste time and days on your hunt if you haven't scouted out your unit on 3D satellite imagery.
This is the process I use to hone in on spots before I ever step foot in them. This research will give me a leg up before I do any summer scouting and even if I can’t put boots on the ground during a scouting trip before my hunt, e-scouting will still put a person leaps and bounds in the right direction to find an animal come hunting season. Let's face it, sometimes depending on where you live, you might not be able to take time in the summer or fall and scout. And while actual scouting is a blast, if you do your homework on e-scouting efforts, you can still stack the cards in your favor.
If your goal is to find mule deer, e-scouting will help you do that. And even if you want to take a big old mature buck, e-scouting still plays a huge part in that. What you do right now through mapping work, will set you up for success.
In its greatest form, scouting for mule deer is a combination of learning where deer live, how they move about their habitat and why they are where they are at any given time. There's a lot of different ways I e-scout... but the video at the beginning of the article highlights a lot of what I do when preparing for a scouting trip in a new unit.
Some of the main points I'll work through in my e-scouting efforts are:
- If you have a tag that is good for one or several units, take a lot of time and analyze the terrain across the unit slowly
- Where are the groceries (feed)?
- Where are the escape routes
- Is water a limiting factor on this hunt for deer and for you?
- Distance from roads
- If you've never stepped foot in the unit before, are you e-scouting for an upcoming boots-on-the-ground trip, or will this be scouting for your hunt?
- If you're going to put boots on the ground later, don't overlook long-distance glassing areas
- Utilize Collections and have a waypoint strategy in place to stay organized
Jump over to goHUNT Maps on the web and start getting prepared for this coming season.
Step 1 - Starting at a unit level
Let’s say you’ve drawn a mule deer tag. The first thing I’m going to do is to jump over goHUNT Maps on the web and start to put a plan in place.
The key takeaway is identifying a handful of areas in the unit to start your research. Certain areas in a unit will hold more deer than others depending a multitude of factors. Finding those spots takes a combination of years in the field learning deer country and hours spent scouting on 3D satellite imagery comparing what you learned in the field on a scouting trip.
This first part of my scouting efforts is all about slowly moving across the entire unit. I'm just looking at gaining an understanding of what I'm up against at this stage. If I see something interesting, I'll mark it down. But at this point in my e-scouting, I'm not doing a deep dive. I really want to see how to land lays through the unit, what parts of the unit instantly jump out at me and so forth.
Step 2 - Organization
I’m big on organization when e-scouting. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for a scrambled mess. And luckily, goHUNT solved the problem found on so many other mapping products. This feature is extremely important, especially for a person like me who has hundreds upon hundreds of waypoints for a hunt or scouting trip.
So the first step in my process is going to be creating a Collection. I like to name my collections by Year > State > Weapon> Species > Unit. For this example, I’ll name my Collection, “2021 Colorado Archery Mule Deer” and then every piece of content I make on my map, will go into this folder. If you want to learn more about Collections, check out this article here.
Step 3 - Marking ALL access points
One strategy that I don’t see talked about too often is marking down every access point in a hunting area. I want to stress here that I mark ALL access points. This is a great way to figure out and judge hunting pressure and gives you an idea where you might need to relocate to and hike in from a different location if your Plan A spot doesn't hold deer or if you blow them out.
Also, the secondary benefit to this is while actively scouting or hunting a unit. I will take my phone and mark all places where I see hunters accessing (could be a ton of trucks, camps, wall tents, etc). When naming those waypoints I will jot down notes on how busy the access point was.
The reason I do this is there is nothing more frustrating than pulling a tag or hunting the same OTC unit for a second time and deciding that you want to try a different area because it looks really bucky. But the problem is you can’t remember if you saw a giant string of horses at access point A or was it access point B. So this is why again I mark everything down when e-scouting, so I can use that information down the road.
Step 4 - Getting away from the crowds
I didn't touch on this much in the video example, but I like to analyze and measure the distances from access points (trailheads, parking areas, etc), major towns and trails.
What I always look for is barriers of entry, something that will make it hard or miserable for someone to access a hunting spot. It's all about trying to find places where people do not want to go. It could be as simple as hunting grizzly country, steep access, no trailheads, or distance as a barrier. Also, if some roads are closed, even better as those would be a barrier of entry to dirt bikes, atvs, and trucks.
Where are the places in the unit furthest from a town? Typically hunters won’t want to drive more than an hour from a hotel to a hunting spot. So you can use that to your advantage.
As mentioned above, you need to get away from the crowds. So getting away from easy to access spots, where people will hunt out of their truck or atv, could put you in the buck zone.
If there is a trailhead and surrounding the trailhead is a bunch of terrain that is harder to hike in, most people are probably going to avoid that area and hike further in along the trail. But you can use this to your advantage and possibly find some spots that are actually areas closer to access points, but area areas that are not fun to get into.
Step 5 - Searching out that feed
While going through my e-scouting efforts, I'll mark areas that look like it holds the best groceries. What I'm trying to do is key in on places that might be the higher producer of old mature bucks. This takes some time in learning how to identify feed sources on satellite imagery and figuring out where the feed will be during the season you're hunting. But over time you will start to see a pattern of what you need to look for. And when looking for feed sources, I'm also looking for areas near cover that can hide bucks and make them feel safe while they feed.
Step 6 - Searching for water
I search for water pockets for animals, but also it's almost more important that I locate water that I'll be consuming on a hunt. There's nothing worse than hunting an area with no water and again, sometimes that is another barrier of entry as people might not be willing to pack water for long distances or drop a ton of elevation to grab water. When e-scouting, if I find small seeps or springs, definitely mark them down. This is very useful as a lot of times a small seep could dry up, but if you have that point marked on a map, it might just take moving up or down the area when you're there in person to see where the water source pops back above the ground.
Switching from a satellite map to a topo map can help you locate small hidden pockets of water in regards to a spring, marsh, small pond, etc. If I see a water source on a topo map, I'll switch back to satellite and try to really pinpoint the source before I mark a waypoint.
Step 7 - Long-distance glassing points
This is big for not putting all your eggs in one basket if you're headed to the unit to scout. If you're going to put boots on the ground scouting in your unit, you don't always have to hike super deep into the mountains just to check out one basin. This can be counterproductive in terms of trying to see everything in a unit on limited scouting time. This is why when I'm e-scouting I will mark a bunch of places that I could do some extreme long range glassing from my truck. This way I might be able to see several different basins or pockets at once and if I elected to backpack it right away, I might only get to cross off one spot a day.
Step 8 - Marking potential camp, glassing points, hiking paths
This is when the fun really starts. Throughout the earlier process of e-scouting I most likely have already started to drop waypoints, but now is the time when I will search out all those spots that deserve a waypoint. I try to mark everything once again. If I'm scouting out a basin, I'll work around it and try to add different "glassing" waypoints so that as the day moves on, I have a good idea where I might be able to check out to glass the basin from a different angle and work over the shadows.
Finding places where you can glassing a ton of country is great because you can see a lot. But at the same time seeing a ton of country at once means there are definitely going to be little folds in the terrain that you most likely can’t see from your vantage point. This is why having places you can glass from different angles or moving up or down the mountain to glass the same terrain is going to help you find bucks. And I try to do my best to search these out in e-scouting. Never… I repeat… never overlook small hidden pockets of terrain.
At the same time, I will mark potential camping spots and everything else that sort of peaks my interest.
Step 8 - Run it back
When you think you're done with your e-scouting work, take a break, give your maps a day to let your eyes rest and then run it back. E-scouting is an all year process to do it right, so don't rush this.
Step 9 - Think outside the box
You've heard this line from me forever, but I'm just going to keep hammering it home. I've always said that if you want to be more successful at mule deer hunting, you need to think outside the box. Sometimes to get away from people that might involve hiking through the nastiest timber and glassing small patches of terrain and not seeing many deer. A lot of people aren't going to want to do that. You've probably heard me say it before, but if you always do what 95% of the hunters do, then you will have success like 95% of the hunters do. If you want to take a buck that maybe 5% or less of the hunters take, then you need to be thinking outside the box and do what other hunters aren't willing to do. Having a solid plan and a great mindset while you are working through your e-scouting efforts will put you in the right position for success on a big mule deer.
Even though I have a bunch of these techniques written out in steps, it doesn't mean that you need to go through this exact same method. Remember, mule deer hunting is an art and not a science. The more you do ahead of time to prepare, I'm confident in saying that your chance of finding a buck while hunting will go up. Being prepared through e-scouting will make you mentally stronger as well.
Stay tuned for more videos on ways I e-scout, this was a lot to cover at once and there are still a plethora of other ways I e-scout on goHUNT's 3D Web Maps before I step foot in the field.
Also, I will apologize ahead of time for some of the audio cutting out on the video recording. My computer must have been overheating from recording the video and audio. We are already looking at ways to fix this for next time.
Going through a deep dive e-scouting process will give you a huge advantage. I want to do so much e-scouting ahead of time, that once I'm out in the field in person, I already know what the terrain looks like and then it's all about finding deer. Remember, e-scouting is what you make of it, but remember, there is no substitution for hard work.
Now all that is left is to make sure you have goHUNT's Mobile Map app downloaded and you're ready for hunting season!