Scouting in the 21st Century
By Thomas Baumeister
Conservation Education Division Education Bureau Chief
When scouting for a good place to hunt, most hunters know it is best to avoid the places others say are "hot," and to instead find their own sweet spot.

Traditionally, scouting a hunting site and planning a hunt involved a lot of legwork. Today, some of that work can be done before ever setting foot on the land. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Internet hunting pages at are one good place to begin. Then there are other high-tech tools like maps on CD and global positioning systems.

To begin, decide on the type of hunt that interests you and whether you want to hunt in familiar territory or go farther afield.

Do you dream of pursuing mature mule deer bucks or bull elk? In that case, check the hunting regulations for clues on herd status and management objectives, and identify hunting districts that offer special permits for the big game species you're seeking. You can also identify adjoining hunting districts and the licenses available there. This gives you the choice of applying for a special permit, or hunting a bordering hunting district. Since deer and elk don't confine themselves to a single area, portions of bordering hunting districts sometimes offer similar hunting opportunities.

Another way to identify a site for hunting mature mule deer bucks or bull elk is to identify areas that are inherently secure due to steep topography, heavy forest cover or few roads.

On the other hand, if your goal is filling your freezer with delicious wild game, look for hunting districts with long-running, liberal seasons, few restrictions and generous quotas.

To tighten your focus, zero in on an area about one-third to one-fourth the size of an average hunting district; anything bigger is hard to study and hunt effectively.

Next, establish a mental picture of the area by using a Bureau of Land Management landownership map from the BLM state office in Billings, or a local sporting goods store. Now you can study the land ownership, (private, state and public), topography, road access, campsites, and waterways and how to access the area you have selected at different times of the hunting season.

Roads accessible in late October may be impassable by early November. You'll want to identify two or three alternate routes into the area and then get into your vehicle and drive them to be sure they are open.

Next, for a detailed look at my personal hunting area I use a 1:24,000 USGS topographical map and draw on the hunting district boundaries, landownership boundaries, coordinates, and other references. I go to the Natural Resources Information System website at and look for navigational coordinates for landmarks such as mountaintops, creek crossings, and section corners that I can key into my GPS. This becomes my personal hunting map.

Now it is time to field test all this research. This approach helps me become comfortable with a new hunting area, freeing me to focus on the terrain, wildlife travel corridors and clues that help me connect with the game.

Finding your own hunting "hot" spot takes some research and some legwork, but it can also be a very rewarding and enjoyable part of the hunt.
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