Hunting a new unit can be exciting and frustrating at the same time. Going into an area that has never been hunted before opens an avenue for exploration, wonder, and the thrill of discovering another wild place. Of course, the hope is to also find animals that can be capitalized on in the fall. This isn’t always an easy task to complete. Entering foreign ground can be daunting and overwhelming, often resulting in even lower odds of ending the season successfully. Over the years, I have implemented the following simple tasks before hunting a new unit, which has increased my hunting opportunities and success rates.
Ask for Information from Quality Sources
Talking to people who have spent time in an area I have never been to has proven immensely beneficial. I have gained a wealth of knowledge about new units and where game spend their time before I ever get there just by discussing with people. The first place I start when I find out I have drawn a tag for a new unit is by calling a game warden who has my unit within their district. If you contact your state’s agency, they should be able to help connect you with the game warden covering your unit. I have never had a game warden who wouldn’t talk with me. While game wardens often have large areas that they cover and are usually kept busy with calls, they at least have a basic understanding of the unit and general habits of the game within. They may not have a ton of information, but they often give me a starting point which is what I am looking for.
The next place I go for information is fellow bowhunters who have hunted the unit in prior years. If I find out someone else has hunted where I am going, I am not afraid to ask them about their hunting experience. First, I will ask if they are willing to share any information on places to hunt in the unit. I am careful about not pressing for information too hard if they are not wanting to give it away. I have hunting spots I don’t share with people—so I am respectful of others’ wishes to do the same. However, I have found that other hunters are often willing to share places to look. It may not be a honey hole, but it is a place to start.
I get information about a new unit from anyone willing to give it. This often comes from people who live near the area or know someone who does. Some of the best information I have gained about new hunting areas have come from classmates, clients at work, friends at church, ranchers, hikers, and even people at the local diner. Though not a consistent source, being willing to talk to people has led to knowing where animals hang out, the available water sources, and the terrain layout in the area. With limited time and the ability to learn a unit on my own before a hunt, I will get as many details as possible about the unit before I step foot in it.
Electronic Scouting and Maps
Once I have an idea about some places to research more, I will investigate electronically. My current go-to is OnX Hunt, which I use on my phone. However, Google Earth and other hunting apps can be just as effective. Though somewhat “out of date,” I additionally like to compare my hunting unit from OnX with a traditional forest service map. A map on the kitchen table gives me a bigger view of the unit and provides an additional reference. This also gives me a backup option if something goes wrong with my phone while hunting. I will then save waypoints or mark the places I want to check out on the map based on my gathered information. From there, I will then scour for water sources, particularly those away from roads and easy access. Those that seem worth checking out will also get a waypoint.
Next, I will put OnX on satellite mode and peruse the areas I have already marked, looking for potential vantage points to glass, feeding areas, and places animals may go to bed down. I also like to look for trails or two-track roads that can get me access to the areas I want to investigate. I mark all sites that look like potential places to find animals. This gives me multiple options when I scout in person or when my hunt starts. This saves a lot of time figuring out where to go next if my initial spots fall through. As mentioned, I also mark all these places on my forest service map.
Scouting with a map and satellite imagery from your home is convenient and effective. Though, I like to also check out a new unit in person. Being physically in the area I will be hunting allows me to make the connections between what people have told me, what it looks like on a mapping system, and the reality of my marked areas. There is such an advantage to exploring a place for yourself and determining if the places you were considering going to are what you expected or not worth messing with. I understand it can be challenging to take a scouting trip and get time off to hunt. However, preseason scouting trips don’t have to be long to be effective. If I can only get a day or even half a day to go check out a new unit, I will take it. These quick trips have proven effective in determining if the waypoints I have marked are places I want to hunt or if I should cross them off and move on to the next one. Often, I don’t even get a lot of hiking in on these trips. Instead, I will drive to different areas to get a feel for the country and the layout. This allows me to find camping spots, determine if water holes are full, and have a feel for where I want to start on opening day.
Pick a Spot and Go for it.
By the time the opening day comes, I will have already picked a spot to go based on my research before the season. Even if I have never set foot in the area, I am not afraid to lace up the shoes, throw on my pack, grab my bow, and go for it. It can be easy to waste precious hunting time trying to find out the perfect place to be. Use your best judgment based on your gathered knowledge, pick a spot, and try it. Some of the best hunting opportunities I have had were because I was willing to park the truck and cover ground in a new area. Being in an unknown area will be far more productive than sitting in camp wondering what you should do next. It is crucial, though, to be bold and move to additional areas. If I try out a spot and am not finding fresh sign or seeing game, or if there’s other hunting pressure, I will leave that area. I will then refer to the other points I have marked and repeat the process.
Putting it Together
When hunting a new unit, it can be frustrating to determine where to begin. Having open communication with people, researching units at home, making time to see the area in person, and being willing to pick some ground and cover it on foot are very effective ways to be successful. By using these simple tactics to scout for new units, I have been able to productively learn new areas and leave several hunts with a notched tag and a full cooler.