Scouting can take many forms. A very important aspect of scouting is reading the California Department of Wildlife (CDFW) Big Game Hunting Digest. The statistics they provide regarding success rates for the various hunts is very telling. The way you utilize the Hunting Digest should have a significant impact upon your hunt selection
Because I had an Open Zone Tag last year, I scouted three Units. First I scouted during the archery season. I had my bow in the truck, but I wasn’t interested in hunting unless I came upon something that absolutely caught my eye. That didn’t happen and I never took the bow out of its case.
My main objective was to prepare for the muzzleloader seasons. Therefore the scouting I did during the archery season and rifle season was mainly to learn how to access the three areas.
The first step in scouting was acquiring maps and gathering information. I started with a Delorme Gazetteer. This map book is reliable, current and comprehensive within Northern California.
National Forest and BLM maps were significant, but cumbersome to use and not as accurate. Other special purpose maps were helpful for details of a specific area. I would include CDFW and 7.5 ‘ topo maps in this category.
On their web site, CDFW provides maps of every hunt unit.
Significant parts of the early season scouting were driving the access roads and speaking with people on site. Occasionally I found a hunter or rancher who was willing to spend some time telling me what they had seen recently, such as good habitat, water sources or deer sign.
One of the issues with scouting for a late season hunt is that the deer are probably not where they will be during October or November dates which likely fall during or after the migration. Learning the location of a big buck in August or September may or may not be valuable. You won’t find out until your hunt season begins.
On the other hand you may be able to find our where and when the deer migrate or where they congregate for the rut. Game wardens and biologists can be a good source for this type of information. You’ll have better luck contacting them if you do so prior to the opening of deer seasons.
Since the units I hunted last year were completely new to me, I tried to drive the boundaries of units (or close) to know generally where they were located. Last year I never got stuck, but almost. It’s a good idea to check out some of the side roads, but remember that once October and November comes there may be mud. Swamps are dry in September, but might not be later on.
A very valuable resource is a reliable hunter who has experience in the unit you are hunting. Talking to other hunters and building relationships can be a great asset. Ask your friends and acquaintances if they have hunted the unit. You’ll find that other people may have hunted several of the X-Zones regularly forty years ago. Although times have changed, good spots then are probably still good spots today. Having contacts can make a huge difference.
The most valuable information you can have is gained by personal experience. That is why hunting the same unit as frequently as possible is an asset. If you’re hunting with a party, of three or four people, you may be able to combine your scouting and contact resources. That could be very helpful.
The group I hunt with is planning a fishing trip in the unit where we’ll be hunting during the August archery season. We’ll also have our bows along so we can do some archery practice. It’s also a dry run for planning purposes. Getting the kinks out of camping equipment, trailers, ATVs etc.
Stay patient and alert. Know what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a good one, the odds tell us that you’ll be lucky to see one shooter buck.