Topo Maps Are Invaluable Scouting Tools

topo map scoutingTopos can help find bedding sites, feeding locations, deer travel routes, and low-impact routes to stand sites. Even more so, they really pay dividends in locating terrain features that produce killer stand sites.

My trip to Sugar Creek Outfitters was no exception. With nearly 5,000 acres of prime habitat, I could never cover it in the two spring weekends that I had freed for scouting and stand hanging. My goal was getting all my “in-woods” stands up for fall.

The most important scouting step I took to achieve that goal was logging on to TerraServer and downloading free topos and aerial photos of the property. Studying the maps at home, I was able to pinpoint nine promising topographical funnels. In each case, the combination of terrain features appeared to strongly encourage deer traffic through relatively constricted passageways.

The stand from which I took my Illinois monster was no exception. The map showed a rectangular open area on the high ground next to the road. Both common sense and the photo indicated it was a farm crop. The field butted against a section of woodland that eventually dropped sharply off to a creek bottom only to rise sharply back up and open to another field.

At one location, a creek that ran north-south meandered from the east to west side of the bottom, intercepting a cut formed from years of runoff dumping down from the western high ground to the creek. The contours indicated that the banks of the creek were sharp and likely over 10 feet high, but flattened out temporarily at the cut intersection.

This meant that deer traveling the bottom would be pinched to the west side of the bottom.

topo map deerFurthermore, the sharp erosion cut would also funnel deer. Many wanting to get from one side to the other would either travel to the top or bottom to cross at the relatively easier locations. Additionally, points offering more gently tapering terrain dropped to the bottom on both sides of

the cut and created natural routes between the top and bottom. Finally, an old skid trail paralleled the southern side of the cut, midway up the ridge, and eventually wrapped around the tip of the southern point. This bench feature also served as an easy travelway.

Adding these features together—plus a stand placed on the tip of the southern point, covering the creek crossing, the bottom end of the cut and the skid trail—this site appeared to be a slam-dunk. Luckily, foot scouting revealed it to be all it appeared to be on the map. The same held true for seven of the other eight promising locations.

In four days topos enabled me to effectively scout 5,000 acres and prep eight great stand sites. No doubt other stand sites existed that weren’t revealed by the maps. However, if it weren’t for the maps, I’m sure I wouldn’t have found half as many great stands in that time.

Topo Maps Limit Disturbance

As beneficial as locating stands in the off season is, a topo’s ability to minimize in-season scouting disturbances may be even more important. The more you pressure mature bucks, the harder it is to arrow one. Blindly stumbling around the woods looking for stand locations during the season can be disastrous.

Luckily, topos can help you avoid that. That was the case several years back after I gained access to some hard-hunted land in my home state of Wisconsin.

topo maps deer scoutingStudying the map, I knew I had found a killer stand site. A deep cut sliced uphill through the woods, stopping 50-some yards short of the field located atop the ridge. Furthermore, just inside the wood line, the ridge transitioned into a tabletop. The combination of features formed a potentially great funnel.

Even better, further study revealed the high likelihood that it separated does bedding along the crops from the bucks that lurked in the bigger woods. I was confident this would be the best rut stand on the property. The question was whether the location had been taken.

From the map, I selected the lowest impact route, grabbed a stand, and headed in. Passing two existing stands en route worried me. Luckily, my prized area had been overlooked because of the combination of hidden funnel features and limited deer sign.

Several sits later it all came together. As I was still climbing in, I heard the first buck approach. With little light, I barely made out the silhouette of a young buck grunting his way toward my stand.

Moments after passing, the chase began—the beginning of nearly nonstop action. Several hours later, coming in fast was the nicest buck of the morning. Having little time to react I quickly came to full draw. He came to a sudden stop, then his lip curled in the odor of the Special Golden Estrus I had hung from a scent wick on my way in. Focusing on a spot behind his front shoulder, I sent the arrow on its way. The wide racked 8-point was mine. That experience illustrates the benefit of low-impact scouting and reaffirms how well topos can unearth stands otherwise overlooked, but it also reveals other important factors. The first is that the most-promising funnels lie in the paths that deer naturally want to use. In the case of the Illinois buck, the converging funnels separated food from bedding. In the Wisconsin example, the stand served as a doorway between the buck and doe concentrations. Outside of the rut it received very little usage. That factor brings up the other point. Just because a funnel holds little sign doesn’t mean it isn’t a great stand. Many of the best funnels during the rut are positioned between doe bedding areas or buck and doe bedrooms. When bucks are searching, these gems are great action sites, but are commonly quiet during other phases. Because of the lack of sign, they are often overlooked when foot scouting. But on topos they can stand out like sore thumbs.

I have no doubt that the ability to read topos has allowed me to arrow over twice as many bucks as I otherwise would. Deer relate strongly to structure. Even minor changes in elevation can have significant impacts on deer movement.

Topos provide the key to unlocking many of the most productive stands in the woods.