Deer season is bearing down on us with alarming speed and, if you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of scouting to do before the opener. We can accomplish the required recon if we simply heed the advice of my father, whose mantra has always been “any job is easy if you’ve got the right tools.” Here are my top 10 scouting tools, my favorite in each category, and why you need them.
1. Time-Lapse Cam
My Favorite: Plot Watcher Pro
Time lapse cams provide most recent information about when deer are hitting food sources and where they’re entering them. Easy to program, the PWP takes time-lapse pics of fields and food plots from dawn to dusk, which you can play back like a video. I consider this the tool that taught me more about deer movement than anything I used last year.
2. Trail Cam
My Favorite: Moultrie M80 XT Game Camera
Quality trail cams give you 24/7 info on what bucks live on your hunting ground and provide clues about where to hunt them. I’ve come to love small-frame cameras like the Moultrie M-80XT, which is compact, easy to program, has multiple functions, and takes great pics. At $164 it’s one of the best bargains on the scouting cam market.
3. Antler Scoring Program
My favorite: Buck Score
I can field-judge antlers pretty accurately, but the wheels come off when I try to estimate a buck’s rack on a trail-cam pic. This cool computer program analyzes the bucks on your trail cams, then compares their antlers with those of thousands of bucks in their database. For $25, you can settle those “what’s he score?” debates and decide which bucks to target this fall.
My Favorite: Bushnell Legend Binocular
There’s no more important tool for sizing up a buck or checking out a rub from afar than a great binocular. I spent years behind a high-end 10-power, then experimented with the smaller, lighter, and less expensive Legend last year. It’s great whitetail glass at an affordable price.
5. Binocular Harness
My Favorite: Crooked Horn Binocular Harness
If you’re not strapping your binoculars to a harness, you’re probably cussing your glass as much as you’re using it. The Crooked Horn harness keeps your binocs tight against your chest, yet lets you swing them up for easy viewing. This might be the best $20 you spend all fall, and you can accessorize it with a holster for your rangefinder, too.
6. Online Map Tool
My Favorite: Google Earth
Each fall I hunt a lot of properties for the first time, and a preview of the potential hotspots that I can view before I even set foot on the spot is invaluable. Better yet, the satellite images provided by Google Earth are—get this—free! This may well be the most important scouting tool that almost everyone overlooks.
7. Spotting Scope
My Favorite: Leupold Ventana SX1-20-60X80 Spotting Scope Kit
There are times when sizing up a buck from afar is the best option, yet you don’t want—or need—to get the same spendy spotting scope suitable for Western big game. Enter the Ventana, which is not only great glass, but affordable ($500 at Cabela's) and it comes with a hard case and a tripod. Here’s a huge hint: use the tripod to mount trail cams in areas without trees.
8. Hiking Boots
My Favorite: Redhead RCT7 Boots
I love a lightweight, tough, running-shoe-like boot for scouting, hanging stands and early-season hunting. The RCT7 fits the bill perfectly; for $140 you get an uninsulated, waterproof boot with a sturdy sole, and a reinforced toe that weighs three pounds.
9. GPS Unit
My Favorite: Garmin Montana GPS
You can never have too much information while hunting, and having a GPS unit around your neck is like carrying a hunter’s laptop in the woods with you. Units like the Montana this can help you explore new territory, find your way to a stand in the dark, and create a living map of your hunting area. Oh yeah, and it can guide you down the road on the next family vacation.
My Favorite: Silva Explorer Compass
A simple compass is an essential part of my stand-hanging kit. I use it to determine prevailing winds and the best times to hunt (and not hunt) every stand. It never runs out of batteries or needs to locate satellites to function, either.