When I started hunting, I spent the first several years hiking with my bow. I went to a spot that looked promising and sat somewhere for a few hours or basically hiked around all day. Then I started following a few prominent hunters on social media who spent their summers scouting. This seemed like a lot of work (and it can be) but I figured if I wanted to be successful, I needed to emulate their behaviors.
A few years ago, I did just that and it has changed my hunting life. There are several benefits of scouting and they are not limited to these – you will know your territory well, you should have an idea or pattern to the animals and you will have several backup spots.
Knowing Your Spot
As a solo hunter this is especially important. You need to be comfortable with knowing where you want to be and how to get there (and back) in the dark. The benefit of having a plan and being comfortable in the place you are hunting cannot be beat. The more time you spend in your spot, or spots, you will less likely spend time feeling unsure of either where you are or if this is the best spot to sit and hide if you are waiting for an ambush or want to sit and glass.
Patterning and/or Locating Animals
Every shot opportunity or near opportunity I have had since I started scouting, I have had is due to this. Having put boots on the ground or glass to the hills has helped me find some excellent spots to wait for animals. Find a good trail and follow it, it will help you find gathering or turning points that will be great spots to sit and wait when season comes. Even though we cannot change what happens when other hunters come to the forest, we can be ready in the spots they have been and likely will be, at least for the first few days of the season. Last summer, I drove down this horrible road and glassed every peak, one day I found this with my spotter.
After I climbed this mountain, I was able to find a wallow and many great trails that gave me lots of action throughout the elk season. If I had not spent my time scouting, I would have never found this bachelor group.
Back Up Spots
One of the best parts of spending the summer scouting is that you can skim or explore a few places to see if animals are there and what they are doing. That way if your super-secret spot is not so secret come opening day, you will have other options. I had a meadow that I got literally more than a thousand pictures of every two weeks and I was saving it for last, but apparently that was the spot and I got dozens of hunters on my trail cameras in the first week of hunting. I was able to move to a spot that I had found by hiking and was still able to call elk and have others pass me because I had back up spots.
When you get to season the first year of scouting, you may be disappointed as inevitably it will change if it is public land and it is not just you in the woods, but the hours or days or months of scouting and putting the time in will always pay off in terms of being prepared for what might happen and having a better idea of where you should go.