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Desktop scouting: Mapping a trophy buck

10/25/2005

On the ground, it may not have looked like much.

But from the air — or more appropriately, from an aerial photo — it looked like whitetail gold.

That's an appropriate way to describe the primo stand location Texas bowhunter Gary Kinard discovered on a Coleman County hunting property several years back after taking a look at such a photographic map.

"That place had about a 40-acre wheat field and it had a big mesquite thicket next to it," Kinard said. "The deer would bed up in that thicket and then travel to that wheat field."

Specifically, they would travel along a creek drainage that contained scattered oak trees raining down acorns.

As the creek neared the grain field food source, a brushy draw jutted its way up to the wheat.

And that's where Kinard, the proprietor of All Star Archery in East Dallas, recognized a honey hole of a stand location if he had ever seen one.

After putting up a stand, the results spoke volumes.

"We eventually killed four or five bucks out of that stand," Kinard said.

Tom Miranda, host of the popular ESPN Outdoors TV show "Advantage Adventures," also is a believer in the use of topo maps and aerial photos.

Miranda makes a point of trying to view such maps and photos of each property where he hangs a treestand.

Such study often will allow the whitetail-hunting veteran to gain a good feel for what the deer are doing on such lands before Miranda even steps foot onto it.

"I try to draw myself a little picture in my mind on how the deer are moving through (an area)," Miranda said.

Miranda and Kinard aren't alone in their use of topographic and aerial photographic maps in trying to gain a deer-hunting advantage.

In the big-buck-rich Midwest, Indiana deer-hunting expert Brad Herndon also is a believer in using such tools to find deer-hunting hotspots.

"You can get a topographical map of that area and figure out several places to kill a big deer in a place like Iowa before you ever leave home," Herndon said.

He knows from experience, having learned how to use topo maps and aerial photos, he said, from Jay Mellencamp, a fellow Hoosier State deer hunter and the uncle of singer John Cougar Mellencamp.

"I was at Jay's house in the 1970s and had heard that he had killed a lot of nice deer," Herndon said. "Well, he had killed a lot of nice deer, bucks in the 130s, the 140s and the 150s.

"That was unheard of in Indiana at that time; I had never even seen a deer like that."

When Herndon asked Mellencamp how he had killed a particular buck, he got an unexpected answer — a map pulled from a drawer.

"He had looked on the map and saw a saddle that he knew deer would come through when the wind was right," Herndon said.

"I thought how in the world can a guy look at a piece of paper and kill a trophy whitetail?

"I thought, 'I want to be able to do that.'"

Over time, Herndon has gone on to do just that.

Today, as an expert with such tools himself; Herndon routinely uses such maps to knock over trophy whitetails or to put his wife, Carol, in the right spot for her own trophy buck.

Even to this day — after years of map reading and on the ground hunting experience — Herndon admits that something new will leap off the printed page at him.

That occurred one night a few years back as Herndon sat reviewing a topo map of a favored hunting locale in Indiana.

Suddenly, the hunter noticed a subtle saddle on the map that he hadn't noticed before.

Herndon admits that it didn't look like much on the map.

And having already skirted the area, he acknowledges that the whitetail sign in the surrounding vicinity was hardly encouraging.

Still, knowing that deer often take the path of easiest and least resistance, further map study in his easy chair convinced Herndon to hang a stand in that location.

It turned out to be a good choice — sign or no sign.

"It was December when I first hunted it," Herndon said. "I saw 11 deer on that first hunt."

In fact, Herndon actually ended up shooting at — but missing — the biggest buck of his hunting career. The 12-point giant was run over the next year on a nearby highway and ended up netting 182 inches.

That experience and others just like it have helped to cement in Herndon's mind the fact that hunters can always learn something more about their hunting properties through desktop scouting.

"I still study maps of my hunting areas to see if there's something I've missed," Herndon said.

Now a nationally recognized deer-hunting expert, outdoor writer and photographer, Herndon's study of maps and photos has led to a wall full of Hoosier State trophy whitetails and the credentials necessary to write the book "Mapping Trophy Bucks."

Filled with nearly three decades of Herndon's hunting expertise, the book is practically a college course in using maps and aerial photos to unlock a property's deer-hunting secrets.

"That's the whole idea, to learn how to read a map and look for such things as choke points, inside corners, saddles or things that will serve as travel corridors that deer would use," Herndon said.

According to Herndon, locating such terrain works throughout deer country because whitetails — even big mature ones with serious sets of headbones — can be somewhat lazy at times.

That means they'll often try to take the easiest travel route possible from "Point A" to "Point B."

While admitting that the American Midwest he hunts is a bit different in topography and agricultural practices than other deer hunting states are, Herndon still believes his principles will work anywhere whitetails roam.

That's because in his mind, a deer is a deer is a deer.

"The deer in Indiana and the Midwest, they're obviously a lot bigger bodied," Herndon said. "But when it comes to movement, their nose and their intelligence, I don't think there's any difference in a deer in the Midwest, Canada or even Mexico."

"The principles are still the same," he added. "Deer will use choke points during the daylight hours to avoid being seen and they'll try to travel from one place to another in the easiest manner."

That being said, the author admits that even with an armful of topo maps and aerial photos, it still isn't easy to tag a mature old trophy buck anywhere.

"An old deer is a sharp deer and is hard to kill" … but not impossible, Herndon said.

Today, with plenty of such wise, old bucks under his belt, the author admits that, sometimes, the hunting journey is just as rewarding as the big-antlered destination.

"It's great to kill a great, big deer, but that's almost anticlimactic at times in terms of figuring out how to do it," Herndon said.