By Shane Chuning

I love this time of year, whether it’s in the high country or in the lower elevations. The elk and deer by now have some descent horn growth going on. This makes for an exciting time to get out your trail cameras, put some feed out and try to see if we can track down the big boys for this up and coming season. There is nothing better to me than to get these animals patterned for the early archery hunt. They are generally in a good summer pattern, which makes it a great time of year for filming and photo’s. Let’s spend a little time talking about preseason scouting and what we can do to help maximize our opportunities.

Here is a picture of the 185 class buck I was after. This was taken through the spotting scope about one month before opening day.

I know for me, I learned a good lesson last year and that was not to put all your eggs in one basket. This would be referring to my own 2010 mule deer hunt here in Utah. I was watching a 185 class buck for about three months and I got to the point where I knew his feeding patterns to a tee. He would feed in the sage and lower flats in the morning. I was only able to see him for about an hour to an hour and half tops, before he would vanish into the thick cedar and juniper trees. The best part of this scouting was I never saw another person looking at this buck during preseason scouting. I figured it would be a good bet I could close the deal opening weekend and get to help my buddy with a premium elk tag.
Well closing the deal didn’t happen. Opening morning came and sure enough, he was with a group of about six bucks. The same six bucks I had been seeing him with, the only thing different was he was the lead buck feeding right to me. Usually he was always the trailing buck, so I figured, even better. They were feeding just as I had watched them the past three months and got to the point he was broadside at 60 yards, with a good shot opportunity. I decided to pass since they were headed my way. The funny thing is, I practice at 60 to 80 yards most of the year and still didn’t take the shot. I just told myself let him get closer, he’s coming right to me. Well, he did and was still the lead buck and closing the distance.

He was now at about 30 yards and the wind was perfect, blowing out of the south. I figured this was the time to make it happen, crouching behind some oak brush waiting for the right opportunity. I slid to my left to get a clear shot at him as he was crossing by and when I did this, a smaller, trailing buck caught my movement and it was all over. The 185 class buck never knew I was there, but being alerted by the other buck was all it took. I did not have much time to hunt this buck, but I did have one other opportunity about five days later.
It was about a 300 yard stalk that I closed the distance on and got within 60 yards, ironically the same yardage I should have taken him at opening morning. He was in some scrub oak and was the last deer to leave the sage, which was odd. I was lying on my belly at 60 yards, watching him feeding on acorns. He finally turned away from me and gave me a chance to get to my knees and go to full draw.  Just when I thought I was going to seal the deal, a doe pops out of the scrub oak that I never even saw.  Over!   After that, I never saw him again during the archery hunt. He’s still in the back of my mind for sure, because I saw him that fall and don’t believe he was ever taken. He will definitely be one to look at, but I can assure you this year I will not put all my eggs in one basket.
The invention of game cameras has made life a little easier by getting pictures of bucks or bulls that you normally wouldn’t see on a scouting trip possible. They can be a pricey investment, especially when it seems like nowadays you have to worry about them getting stolen. I’m sorry, but there are some dishonest people that can actually steal someone else’s game cameras. Here are a couple of tips that I have found to have better success with pictures in general, while not getting your cameras stolen.

When using good optics you drastically decrease your chance of headaches and make it a much more enjoyable time. Remember you can’t harvest what you can’t see.

I usually will never put my cameras directly on a water hole anymore. I find it more productive to put them at least 100 to 200 yards off the water, either on some deer feed or just on some game trails going to and from water sources. On another note, you are less likely to have those same dishonest people stealing your game camera that you worked so hard for. I have had cameras stolen even in some wilderness country that was seven hours in on foot. Talk about depressing when you hike in seven hours, only to find your camera stolen. That particular one was on a horse trail/game trail. I had retrieved some good pictures the first go around, so I figured I’d leave it there for another set. Well, it ended up being the wrong decision and you guessed it… stolen. Most companies are starting to produce lock-up boxes for their particular brands. I find the most secure set-ups are the metal boxes you lag to the tree. Game cameras can be very productive and are definitely worth looking at for your early season scouting trips. Just be cautious in your set-up location and think about protecting your hard work and investment.
Glassing is also a huge part of those early preseason scouting trips. It’s always nice to find one or two bucks or bulls by the end of July. At this point, it’s nice to keep your distance and use your optics to keep tabs on them. The least amount of pressure possible at this point will ensure you the chance they will still be there come opening day. When purchasing your optics, you get what you pay for and can’t go wrong with Swarovski, Leica, Ziess and Vortex. In fact, lately I was able to look through a set of the new Vortex Razor HD 10X42’s and compared them with my Swarovski SLC 10X42’s.   I must say, they were impressive, with a great price. Definitely worth taking a look at this year if you’re in the market for some good optics. It will make your preseason scouting that much easier.
I would have to say, topo maps are a common thing that most of us should have in our packs, but it seems they are too often overlooked. I generally will have my Garmin GPS on me, but I always will have a topo map as well. They don’t need batteries and are nicer to look at when looking at a general area compared to my Garmin. Besides that, it’s always nice to take notes directly on your topo. I like to find areas that are the farthest away from any roads or hiking trails that will likely hold water and have a decent food source. From there, I will start my pre season scouting and pound the mountains in search of a couple good bucks or bulls that I might have an opportunity to take come opening day.

Trail camera with a mound of feed in front of it.

Game cameras, optics in general and topo maps are probably the three main things that I will have in my pack during preseason scouting trips. This is a great time of year to get off your rear and hit the mountains in search of a trophy buck or bull. Trophy can vary to the individual hunting them, but it’s the journey and the memories made that are worth all the time and effort that we as sportsman put into it. There is something about the challenge and getting away from the rat race of everyday life that keeps me at it every year. It’s funny, because we wait so long for this time of year and it comes and goes so fast. By the end of the season, I always look back and say, “where did all the time go”. Some years are successful and some years not, but one thing’s for sure, I look forward to doing it all again, every year.  So as long as the good Lord gives me the ability to do the things I do, I will be somewhere enjoying every sunrise and every sunset that he created during this upcoming season. Good luck to those of you out there this season and if you get a chance, keep us posted on your success and failures at Sportsman’s News Magazine.