Sunday, September 22, 2019

Cyberscouting Michigan Public Land

I've had a lot of great success getting on good hunting spots the last few years with very little on the ground scouting compared to years past. Thats not because I'm some kind of scouting jedi, its because of cyberscouting- specifically, using multiple online tools that go beyond just aerials and elevation contours.

The other key was finding the Hunting Beast website.  Through the Beast, I learned to look for particular things that took my cyberscouting to a whole new level, specifically in relation to predicting buck bedding areas.

I remember listening to a podcast where Hunting Beast founder, Dan Infalt, was interviewed about 5 years ago.  He said he can just look at a map and predict buck bedding. It sounded like mumbo jumbo. Everything I had been taught and never thought to question said bedding was random.  I just knew deer bedded in thicker areas.  But it is predicatable, and now, I can predict buck bedding, too, and it's almost as much fun as hunting or scouting.  Its also very rewarding to look at a map of an area I've never drove past or set foot on and say, "I think they are bedding right there," go there, and see there is a bed there in the "X" on the map.

Bedding is key.  Deer are nocturnal and if you want to see them in daylight, particularly in heavily pressured areas like Michigan public land, you have to hunt where they are in daylight- as close to their beds as possible.

My cyberscouting routine is something I'm always improving and I wanted to share in hopes it might help someone else- particularly if they're from Michigan. The cool thing about cyberscouting in Michigan is a website the DNR has made available to the public for some years now called MI-Hunt.  MI-hunt shows all publicly accessible land in Michigan. But more important are the layers it allows you to overlay on state-owned land.  You can see leaf on and leaf off aerial imagery, topo, and my favorite part- cover types. People in other states who don't have a place to view cover types have no idea what they're missing. If you watch Dan's swamp bedding DVD, one of the things he talks about that are critical to identify but are often hard to find without putting boots on the ground are internal transition lines. The MI-Hunt cover type layer shows you these in ways you can't see from an aerial, leaf on or off, or even get a sense of most of the time from the ground.  How did they do this?

GIS, or geographic information systems.

Basically, different cover types give off different color signatures that computer software can detect allowing GIS-scientists to make accurate predictions what is there without having to actually set foot there. Its pretty cool stuff I was fortunate to study in GIS and ecology classes I took in college.  But you don't need to get formal training to use these GIS tools, anyone can do it.  But I do think its important for serious cyberscouters to understand how these tools work. A great place to learn the basics is at the link below:
GIS Fundamentals

So lets put some of these tools to work.  I randomly zoomed into an area of public land I randomly found on MI-Hunt.  I have never hunted this area, and never plan to, so I'm not giving any secret honey holes away.  But I actually really like the looks of this spot, so if anyone ever reads this and then goes and hunts it, let me know how it was!

First, I turn the public hunting lands and cover type layers on. Every major cover type has a designated color- oaks are brown, maple/beech dominated hardwoods are light orange, aspen is light yellow, upland conifers (pine dominated) are green, lowland deciduous (tag alder, etc.) are pink, lowland conifer are purple (cedar, etc.), grey is field, aqua green is wetland/bog, plus there are a couple others you can learn about in the legend. The numbers in each compartment represent the age class of the cover, the higher the number, the more mature.

Next, I pull up the topo layer.

Between these two images, there is an area really jumping out at me. If you look at the topo, there is a point coming out of the oaks that transitions into tag alder before it basically runs right into the river. I can almost guarantee there is a wind-based bed on the end of that point, used by a buck in the area on a southerly wind. The perfect wind would be out of the southeast right down it, in which case I would hang a stand about where the red dot is in the picture below.

The SE wind would be perfect for the deer, and by staying just off to the west, I could have a good chance of not being winded by the buck in its bed. The only risk there in getting so close is if the thermal pulled my scent up the point towards the deer after blowing past me into the tag alders.

Couple more layers in MI-Hunt Leaf on of the same spot

Leaf off

You can see that you can learn a ton about an area without ever setting foot there.  The trick is to have an idea of what you're looking for and then find it.


The MIDNR also puts out a GIS website which shows where they're logging and where they wanna log in the future at this link, logging stuff Here is an example screenshot showing what kind of info this one has available.

This is awesome stuff for the serious deer hunter for finding clearcuts that aren't visible from the road or current aerial imagery.  Not only that, you can find out about them and exactly where, what size and shape they'll be, etc., before they even happen.

I use a couple other mapping website to cyberscout. The first is Onx Maps. Everyone knows about it, its great to be able to use your phone as a GPS and sync waypoints between your phone and computer. So after I find a good looking spot on MI-HUNT, I record the gps coordinates and add a waypoint to that spot in onx. The other site I like a lot is caltopo. It has the best resolution topo maps on the web, better than the topo layer in onx, better than USGS, etc. There are things you can see at the higher res that you can't see elsewhere. So I will always check out the same area I'm looking at in Mi-Hunt or Onx on caltopo just to see if I might be missing something.

If I don't encounter the sign I'm looking for, I keep going.  The way I think of it, is I'm hunting, not trying to get lucky.  I want to be as aggressive as possible.  Sometimes I lose a night I thought I'd be hunting to scouting, and I'm ok with that.

Its really no different than fishing when you think about it.  You don't just stand there on a rock by the access and cast to the same spot over and over again.  You move upstream or downstream until you get into fish.  If they aren't eating what you're throwing, you change it up, adapting to the conditions you're dealt.

Below is an example of a piece of public land I may hunt this year.  Red dots are possible stand locations I will make my way to from where I access, wind direction will dictate which dots I go to and in which order and where I access from, along with a feeling in my gut based on other intel gathered via aerials, topo, etc. My access route is pre-planned, but there are always audibles based on the actual wind direction of where I'm at, and what I'm seeing once I'm there.

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