During my first few visits to a nearby wildlife management area I’ll be hunting this fall, my goals were simply to explore and understand where the boundaries were and to get a good feel for the lay of the land. Because this particular portion of the wildlife management area is 3,200 acres I’ve been riding the trails on my mountain bike as a way of covering large areas in short periods of time (motorized vehicles are not permitted here).
Last weekend I went back out there with the intent of scouting for deer and hog signs along a two mile stretch of canal which I assumed whitetail deer and wild hogs would use for drinking water. I again brought my mountain bike. I managed to find a spot that had tracks in the mud from wild hogs, but they were the only signs I found.
At the end of the day I was disappointed for having not been able to find additional evidence of the deer and hogs I’d be hunting in the fall. However, one thing I noticed about my interaction with the environment was that when riding my mountain bike across the natural landscape I tended, for the most part, to fix my eyes on the ground in front of where my bicycle tire was about to go. I suppose I do this to avoid obstacles as they appear in my path. The end result was that while in motion I wasn’t seeing much of the area. I was only able to take in my surroundings each time I stopped, which was every few hundred yards.
Next weekend when I re-visit the area, I plan to explore a particular location that I was told is a good place for deer. It’s nearly three miles from the parking lot, so my plan is to ride the three miles on my mountain bike but upon arriving I’ll hop off and walk while scouting for deer and hog signs. I’ll lock up my bicycle to a nearby tree and leave a note in the event any wildlife officers become suspicious of it.
By getting off my bicycle and walking slow, I’ll be able to scout for deer and hog signs much more effectively and will be able to spot signs that would otherwise be missed.
This point was made even more evident to me when my wife and I went, yesterday, to visit another wildlife management area about 45 minutes north of our home. We went there merely to photograph wildlife. This management area is 30,000 acres and vehicles are permitted, so we drove the dirt roads searching for anything interesting to take pictures of.
But here’s the lesson I learned about the value of being on foot: We spotted a hawk sitting on a tree branch and stopped the car. While the car was stopped I happen to hear something splash and turned to see a family of otters by the water’s edge. We wanted to get out and look closer at the otters so I pulled the car forward about 300 feet to a place where I could pull off the narrow roadway. We exited the car and walked back toward the otters. Along the way, however, we also spotted three baby raccoons with their mother. We watched them, took some photos and then continued on to where the otters were.
If we hadn’t stopped the car to see the hawk we would never have seen the otters and if we hadn’t gotten out of the car to see the otters we would never have seen the baby raccoons.
So, my deer scouting tip for this article is – Slow Down. Get out of the car, get off your bike, walk slow and look carefully. Sure, use your vehicle to get yourself to the location you’re interested in, but once you’re there…Walk.
(Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Week #35 Worms eye View by Camera Eye Photography)