The greatest lesson that I have learned over the last 10 years in waterfowling is that you can NEVER scout too much. I have never found too many birds or too many fields. I have been asked how I go about scouting and trying to locate birds. Here is how I go about things, perhaps you can learn a thing or two from the way I have been taught to scout.
Now every area is going to be different due to terrrain and also in the volume of birds the terrain is holding. In the areas I hunt the biggest challenge is covering the vast open grain fields to find the ‘X’. The areas I cover in an evening can be 50-80 square miles and that is if I have a rough idea of where the birds are or are roosting. I have scouted over 100 square miles trying to track down birds a few times.
In Starts at HOME
There are only a few times where I am not knowing the general area of where I am going to hunt. I have had a few times where I have driven past an area in which I was going to a completely different province to hunt that morning. I did this a few years ago, you can read that story here. Almost every hunting trip I know at least the day before the rough area of our hunt. This brings me to my first tool in the arsenal…GoogleMaps. I just type in the name of the closest town and select the Satellite view. This gives a wonderful layout of the area. For this article I am going to use the area in Saskatchewan where my aunt lives and where I do a lot of hunting.
My Aunt’s farm (centerish in the map) is the home base in which we hunt. Every square grid is 1 square mile. By looking here I can see where the roosting waters are. Although the satellite image is a few years out of date one can see what fields are planted with crops and which ones are rough cattle land. If you zoom in on GoogleMaps you see low spots and sloughs on the fields themselves. We have used this to find setup locations. I use pin drops to mark roosts and anything else of interest. I will spend a lot of time going over these maps before I even go out on my hunt. From what you can see on this map is that there is a large roost 2 miles to the west of my aunt’s farm. There is also a slough 1/4 mile wide south east of the farm on her land.
Something else I do is call any local contacts in the area and ask what they are seeing and try and get a good point to start out from. People out our way want to see the birds DEAD so they are more than helpful.
GENTLEMEN START YOUR ENGINES
Now that you have some intel it’s time to start the Scouting. If you cannot do this the evening before your first hunt be prepared to do this in the morning. If you get some local intel on a field for that first morning hunt setup that’s great, just make sure one person in your party is going to jump in the truck and do some driving. VERY rarely do we really slam birds on the first morning hunt, that is unless we can eyeball the birds the evening before.
This may sound simple but make sure the fuel tank is full because you could be putting some miles on the truck. Binoculars are a must here as well. Now start your driving. I will start out watching a roost or holding water. I will wait until they leave the water in large numbers and follow them to where they are wanting to feed. This can involve some patience but it usually pays off. Where we hunt it is not completely flat so it is possible to have birds landing behind a rise or in a ravine. Hopefully you can have some success and find a good group of birds landing on a field (we call it a grind). During the migration we aren’t terribly excited unless we see 30,000 geese/ducks or more on a field. Now when I see birds I will drop a pin on my GoogleMaps to mark the spot. Now to acquire permission to hunt. I will never scout without a county landowner map. All counties our way will sell paper maps, some will sell a digital map as well. Here is the map for my aunt’s farm. You can see the roosting waters west of my aunt’s farm for reference.
Each section is a square mile, it it broken into 4 – 1/4 sections (120 acre chunks). It may take some time to figure out the GoogleMaps pindrop location to the county map. I use farms and the roads to figure things out. As you can see I have coloured in a few areas of family friends and marked past hunting areas. I buy a new map every 2 years since there is a lot of land sales going on these days. If you see some locals driving around you can ask if they have a contact number for the landowner. Farm houses are also a good place to visit. Most farmers in Canada are more than happy to talk as long as you talk to them nicely.
I try and find a couple of fields because some times you cannot get permission to hunt on one your first choice field. Every time you follow the birds you will see what is going on. It takes me a few days to figure out the patterns of the birds even in an area that I am familiar with.
This process can very simple some days and frustrating the next. If I do not find birds quickly I keep moving out farther out and cover more ground. If you are having a hard time finding the birds, divide and conquer. Take out a few trucks going different directions. If this isn’t working ask a local at a bar or diner. I get great tips from farmers and oil workers who drive all day long.
After I am done the driving for the day or it is too dark to scout, I continue to make the plans for the next day. There have been many times that I do not receive permission to hunt a field until late in the evening. Even if I get a denial of permission thank the person and ask them if they know of any places to check. As mentioned above most farmers want to see these birds dead up here. The more scouting one does the more back-up plans (duck ponds, flyover fields, etc..) you can have in you back pocket if your main plan craps out.
By the time that I get to the ‘hotel room’ I will still log onto GoogleMaps and get the plan of attack set. Look for decoy setup locations (if you couldn’t see any when driving around) and where you think the birds are coming from. Get out your weather aps and check winds and direction for the day. For me the upcoming hunt will burn in my mid all evening long. I know I over think things at times, I do feel responsible if the next morning hunt is not properly planned out. My problem is I care too much I guess :).
I have found that the more effort that I put into scouting the greater the results we get. When I am scouting I am not just seeking locations for the next day but more the next 2 or 3 days. Finding out the bird’s patterns is crucial to waterfowl success.
I encourage you to develop this discipline. A good scout is rarely rejected from a hunting party. Most parties do not have a good scout so put on your big boy panties and GET YOUR SCOUT ON!