Map the Pressure

Mature bucks find the unhunted spots. Here's how you can find them, too.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

We scout like madmen for bucks and their sign, but few of us monitor the habits of our fellow hunters. Sure, you know Uncle Bob has a stand on the next ridge. But that's about it. Well, here's a new idea that will help you and those you share property with to hunt smarter and better over the long run. Start documenting the areas where you and your buddies hunt the most-as well as the spots you typically neglect.

Analyze Your Land
Missouri deer biologist Dr. Grant Woods and his associates use GPS technology, Geographic Information System (GIS) software and observation data (i.e., hours logged in tree stands) to produce detailed color maps of the pressure on a given property. Their spatial analysis inevitably reveals that people on a property home in on certain spots while ignoring other places altogether.

For example, the researchers found that on one large tract over several seasons, hunters spent 100 hours or more in just a few "hot zones" that made up only several hundred acres. Most of the surrounding timber and thickets received only 10 to 20 hours of human pressure, while other spots weren't hunted at all. They also use the logs hunters fill out to note where and when deer were taken. The kicker? "Once we're done with our analysis of a property, we're never surprised to find that some of the oldest bucks harvested each season come out of those lightly hunted areas," says Woods.

You'd love to get your hands on that kind of cool info, but if you're like me, spatial analysis and GIS inputting is way over your head. No sweat. Woods has come up with a workingman's way to monitor the pressure and find the big-buck hideouts on your land.

Create Your Own System
Start with a good topo map. Sketch in roads, fields, power lines, food plots, and other vital landmarks. Then, with a ruler and pencil, draw a grid across the map. Woods uses grids of 200 by 200 yards, but yours might be larger. Use a coordinate system (letters for rows, numbers for columns) and label each square with a unique number, like "Y32" or "AG38." Give everyone who hunts your land a copy of the map. Whenever one of them scouts or hunts this fall, have him jot down the grid number and hours spent there, as well as the does and bucks seen (and possibly shot).

When the season closes, tally the amount of time spent hunting in each grid. Break up the time into 10-hour intervals and select a different-colored pencil to indicate each. Color in the grids, and presto, you've got a map of last year's pressure. Since most of us are creatures of habit, it likely represents the pressure for the last five years or more.

Reading the Results
Depending on the size of your hunting land, three to six high-pressure spots are apt to jump out at you. These will most likely be clustered around fields, food plots, logging roads and ATV trails. The real prize is that you'll see a majority of grids with moderate to little or no hunting pressure. Woods calls these potential "de facto deer sanctuaries" that are hard to access or are simply overlooked by hunters. They are the first places you should scout before next season. Many of the squares will turn out to be duds-overly mature woods or the like. But it's a good bet you'll find some out-of-the-way spots, too. Hang a stand in one of those new "buck holes" where the access is manageable and where the wind will be okay most days next fall. If a giant eight-pointer sneaks in, you'll be there waiting for him.