Topo scouting for coyotes - wrap up
Now, make no mistake, studying maps is no replacement for actually going out and exploring, getting your eyeballs on the terrain and your boots on the ground. But studying maps can be a huge asset in making the most efficient use of the time, effort and gas money you put into exploring new ground. At the most basic level, even if your interest or skill level never reaches the point of actually pin pointing stand locations on the map, there is still a lot of value in simply being able to eliminate large areas from consideration based on your terrain and road access preferences.
As we’ve already discussed, when I start looking at maps of a new area, the first thing I look for is the type of terrain and road access that I prefer. Once I’ve decided that a general area looks interesting, the next thing I look for are travel/calling routes through the area. I look for the kind of primitive roads I like. I look for routes that will take me right into the terrain I want to call. I look for routes that provide plenty of terrain features for hiding the truck. I take into consideration the time of day and direction of travel that will work best in certain areas to have the sun or prevailing winds in my favor. I look at all of these things and more, trying to plan a fairly exact route that I can follow for a whole day of hunting. Often, route planning is as far as I go with my topo scouting. Leaving precise stand selection to be played by ear once I’m actually there. But sometimes I do go so far as to plan out precise stand locations entirely by topo scouting.
A whole article could easily be devoted to the tools of topo scouting and navigation - mapping software and GPS. But I’m just going to touch briefly on the technology aspects of topo scouting here. I do all my topo scouting on the computer. I always have paper maps with me in the field, but for topo scouting, paper maps can’t even begin to match the usefulness of computerized maps. The maps that I prefer, are the official USGS topographical maps. I have every single USGS topo for Utah and all the surrounding states on my computer. Both the very detailed 7.5 minute maps (“quad sheets”) and the less detailed but much larger area 1:100,000 series metric maps are included with the program I use. The program allows you to switch instantly from the 7.5 minute maps to the 1:100,000 maps or even a Google Earth view of the area. For some areas there are even aerial photos. A program like this that uses the actual USGS maps and aerial photos is more expensive than some of the other programs that don’t. But worth it to me.
A word about Google Earth… It seems to be a fairly popular tool for hunt planning. And I’ve used it, a lot, myself. But, for me, for the areas I hunt, my opinion, it’s not anywhere near as useful as the USGS maps are. Not even close. I always look at Google Earth when topo scouting and do occasionally get some value from it. But, for the most part, for my purposes, it’s just not that useful compared to the maps.
It should go without saying, that I use a GPS in the field. The mapping program and my topo scouting go together with GPS like powder goes with lead. The GPS in conjunction with good mapping software makes navigating new places really just too easy. Just as important as the ease of navigating new areas though, is the database of information about my own hunts that the GPS gives me. I always input all the GPS data back into the mapping software when I get home. A “bread crumb” track of every move. And every stand where coyotes are killed marked. Over quite a few years of doing this, I now have permanently mapped all of the travel routes that have worked well for me. As well as the patterns of good stands marked. Whenever I topo scout, all this accumulated data is overlaid on the maps. This data, stored permanently and not relying on my own faulty memory, are an invaluable tool for me. My partner Tim and I like to joke about how much I could sell my GPS unit for, with all of my public land stands marked on it – stands that have produced hundreds of dead coyotes.
At the end of the day, what topo scouting is really all about, is just getting out and trying new country on for size. Western public land hunters are blessed with the freedom to go out and explore new places seemingly almost without end. And for me, the journey, the just getting out there to see what I can see, is as much fun as the hunting itself. I just love getting out and exploring! Topo scouting just helps me do it more efficiently. I hope some of this information helps you to get out and enjoy some exploring of your own.
- Dave Affleck
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