Image of big game hunter scouting terrain with binoculars

7 tips to make the most of your preseason scouting

August 1, 2019

Desktop scouting, trail cameras and 5 other scouting tips

It’s not too early to begin your 2019 big game season with some preseason scouting. Spending time learning the terrain and surveying habitat before your hunt can make you a more efficient and effective hunter.

Travis Schultz, ODFW A&H Coordinator and big game hunter, offers these 7 tips to make your scouting more successful:


Use satellite images such as Google Earth to cover a lot of area and make quick decisions about where to focus your on-the-ground scouting efforts. Look for water sources, food supplies and cover habitat – places where deer and elk might hang out.


Cover the most promising areas on foot. You’re looking to see how the satellite images relate to actual landmarks on the ground.

  • Locate the hunt and/or property boundaries. That line on a map or computer image will look a lot different in the field. Remember, you must be able to both shoot and recover your game. Avoid situations where a wounded animal could run onto land where you don’t have permission to enter and retrieve it.
  • Identify difficult terrain or hazards. Satellite images don’t show elevation changes well. Adding a topo map to your computer scouting will help, but actually climbing up and down the hills will help more.
  • Look for suitable campsites so you don’t have to think about this as you’re starting your hunt.


Carry the same gear on your scouting trips as you’ll carry on your hunt. Might as well start getting into shape for the hunting season.


Look for animal signs and likely habitat.

  • Use satellite images to identify clearcuts, meadows and other openings where grasses, forbs and browse are available to deer and elk. Also, look for streams, springs and other water sources.
  • Spend time on the ground looking for signs that animals have been using an area. This could be game trails, tracks, signs of grazing or browsing, scratch marks on young trees, bedding areas, etc.
  • Consider putting up a trail camera in a promising spot to see how many animals are using the area, whether they’re does/cows or bucks/bulls, and if there also are predators around. Secure you camera and memory card against theft.


Anticipate future conditions – pre-season scouting is only valid until the first shot is fired. Once the season starts, hunters in the area will start pushing animals farther away from roads and well-established trails. Conditions on the ground also will change as the season progresses or weather events occur.

During the hot, dry early season, the better forage (and more animals) will be on cooler north-facing slopes near water. As the season gets cooler and wetter, animals will look to warmer south-facing slopes with good cover areas and food sources.


Increase your chances of seeing deer and elk by scouting early and late in the day when animals are on the move. Try to find a spot where you can be still and the animals are moving. This could be a high ridge, or good cover near a water source or game trail.

Practice the same skills you’ll use when hunting – move quietly, stay still and be patient.


Talk with the local ODFW wildlife biologist. They’ll know more about the habits of the deer and elk in the area, and where and when hunters have been successful, than anyone.

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