The Definitive Guide to Scouting for Hunting

What is Scouting?

A successful hunt starts with ample preparation. Scouting is the art of planning your hunt, becoming familiar with terrain, and learning the behavior patterns of your prey. Modern scouting is divided into two phases, e-scouting with technology and old fashioned “boots on the ground” scouting.  Get a head start on your hunting season by reading our complete guide for scouting. Whether you’re hunting elk or whitetail, getting familiar with the areas you are intending to hunt is critical to your success. Read our definitive guide to scouting for tips on how to prepare for hunting season.

Step 1: E-Scouting

Before you head out into the field, look for opportunities with the onX Hunt App. Utilize our satellite maps for a birds eye view of the areas you are interested in hunting. Look for crop fields, areas of cover, and natural funnels that concentrate animal movement to one small area. Find travel routes by analyzing faint paths visible from satellite view as well as topographic features such as ridges, creeks, and mountains that can dictate animal movement.

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onX Hunt on Desktop

Begin your scouting on onX hunt for desktop to plan your hunt on a bigger screen, in higher resolution, and with access to more tools. All waypoints, areas, and lines are automatically synchronized with your onX account across devices.

Learn more about onX Hunt on Desktop

Topographic Maps

Use topo and satellite view to pinpoint natural travel corridors, drainages and other features that can influence animal movement.

3D Hunting Maps

Get the lay of the land by investigating areas on a 3D Map. Utilizing 3D maps can help you visualize the terrain better than traditional topographic maps, and can put you in the field from the comfort of your computer chair.

Learn more about 3D hunting maps

Line Tool

See distances from tree stands, ridges, and other features by using the line tool. The line tool can show you how far game can be from where you are situated, as well as the elevation change.

Area Shape Tool

Find the total acreage and length of a parcel of land by using the Area tool. By using click to draw or free draw, you can identify how much land you have to cover, or mark certain areas you’d like to exclude. Segmenting land piece by piece can make the overall parcel less daunting to scout and help you hone in on where you are most likely to be successful.

Are you a landowner, land manager or both? Use the area shape tool for land management purposes to determine plot acreage and know exactly what percentage of food you have planted as a percentage of your total acreage or use the shape tool to mark off timber stands that need to be thinned or more heavily harvested to create better cover and food.

Waypoints

Drop waypoints on areas you’re interested in glassing from, setting up a tree stand, potential bedding areas and more. Color code your waypoints, set up custom icons, and add photos. Waypoints you set on your desktop computer will sync with your mobile device for use in the field.

Map Layers

onX Hunt Map layers are an overlay on the map that can show you more in depth information about the areas you are trying to hunt. Learn more about how to use map layers here

  • Private / Public Land Boundaries – It’s a hunter’s responsibility to know where they stand. Utilize the Private/public land boundaries layers to know if the land you are interested in hunting on is private or public property.
  • View Hunting Areas, Zones, Units, and Districts – The names of these differ by state, but the idea is the same. Learn more about what areas you’d like to secure a permit in or have successfully gotten a permit to hunt. 
  • Investigate Walk in Areas – Utilize the Roadless Areas Layer to see areas that are far from access roads. These areas can show you areas without as much hunting pressure. Learn how to use the Roadless Areas layer to get deep into the backcountry
  • Fire Layers – Wildfires can drastically change a hunting zone in a short amount of time. Know what areas are affected and how to use them to your advantage, or to avoid these areas.
  • Crop Data Layers – Utilize crop data layers to help you scout hunting land and identify food sources. Use onX hunt’s crop data layers to determine food sources for the specific species you are hunting.

onX Hunt App

Log into onX Hunt on your phone and check to ensure that your waypoints, lines, and other maps tools are synced. Download the areas you’d like to explore for offline use. 

Step 2: Boots on the Ground

Once you have established some prospective areas to hunt, get boots on the ground and get the lay of the land during the off-season. Getting perspective on the hunting grounds you have chosen can show you things that you can’t see from e-scouting.

Tools You Will Need

  • onX Hunt App – Ensure that you have downloaded offline maps for the areas in which you will be scouting, and that all of your waypoints, lines, and area shapes you created while e-scouting have synced with the device you will be using out in the field. 
  • Hunting Boots – Whether you are walking 1 mile or 15 miles during a hunt, keeping your feet comfortable, supported, warm, and dry are critical to a successful hunt. Read our anatomy of a hiking boot blog post to learn more about what makes some boots better than others. 
  • Proper Apparel – depending on what terrain you are scouting, you may need some additional apparel to explore the area comfortably. Waders, jackets, gloves, and hats may be necessary for a long day in the field. 
  • Binoculars / Spotting Scope – A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can enable hunters to see much greater distances in much greater detail. 
  • Trail Cameras – If trail cameras are legal where you are hunting, consider setting up trail cameras to tell you what game is moving through the area, when they are active, and what direction they travel.

onX Hunt Elite subscribers have access to exclusive pricing on hunting products and services handpicked by the onX Hunt Team. See the participating companies to help you get geared up for the field.

Determine Access Points

Ensure the areas you have scouted are accessible. Check for access blockers such as closed roads, downed trees, swollen rivers, and dense brush.

Utilize Waypoint Pins

Utilize the information you gathered during the E-scouting phase to determine if your prospective hunting areas are as promising as what your research lead you to believe. Add waypoints for new areas of interest, bedding locations, tree stand locations, and access points.

Check for Signs of Hunting Pressure

You may feel that the area you have picked is far enough off the beaten path to avoid other hunters, but that may not be the case in reality.

Look for signs of human activity such as boot prints, human made paths, and trail cams.

Step 3: Game Day

Now that you’ve spent the past couple of months preparing for hunting season, utilize the onX Hunt App to guide you through your big day. Before you head out, double check your onX Hunt App to ensure that your waypoints, lines and markers have updated on your mobile device, that your device is charged and you have a backup charging brick (if necessary), and you have maps downloaded for offline use in the areas you will be hunting in.

Scouting For Elk and Deer

The tactics for scouting vary greatly based on species and region. For more in depth information, visit our scouting for elk and scouting for deer pages.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Start Hunting?

Interested in hunting but not sure where to start? Read our guide on How To Start Hunting for tips on how to get knowledgeable, how to get geared up, and how to start exploring the world of hunting.

When do I start Scouting?

It’s never too early to start thinking about the next hunt. In a perfect situation, a hunter is always scouting. Late Summer and Early Autumn scouting is critical to knowing where your prey will be during the hunt, but you can study the movement of wildlife and become intimately familiar with a hunting area year round. This can help give you the advantage come hunting season.

When do I stop Scouting?

There is a fine line between being prepared, and shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to scouting. A good hunter will know when to stop entering the areas they plan on hunting in order to not alert their prey to their presence.