OUTDOORS: Knowledge can help lead to success afield
October 18, 2013 10:20 AM
by JEFF KNAPP

Preseason scouting is an important factor in hunting. Knowing the current population status of the game you’re pursuing, and perhaps even more importantly that of the food and cover options of the year, often has much to do with your success.

But in an age when many folks struggle to find the time to hunt, let alone scout, oftentimes it simply doesn’t happen.

What can you do to keep somewhat abreast of what to expect during fall hunts? Incorporate scouting — let’s call it cross-scouting — into other outdoor activities that take place at other times of the year, like fishing, hiking or biking.

For instance, earlier this year my buddy Art Hamley and I spent an unseasonably cold May weekend fishing several trout streams in Forest County. Much of the water was in either state game lands, Allegheny National Forest or extensive private lands enrolled in the Game Commission’s land access program. While there we found several alder flats along streambeds that might harbor flights of woodcock this fall. During the hike out of one stream we had to navigate the edge of an extensive clearcut. While the potential of ripping expensive waders on greenbriers wasn’t too appealing, we did locate several grouse. These spots will be visited within the next month.

The idea of keeping one’s eyes open for hunting prospects anytime afield isn’t exactly an earth-shattering idea. It’s pretty much common sense. But as they say, common sense doesn’t seem to be that common anymore. Everything is specialized: specialized fishing rods for every conceivable presentation; camouflage clothing patterns specific to every possible spring/fall/winter backdrop. And an overall mentality that’s very goal-oriented. A couple decades ago time afield was more general.

Those that spend much of their fishing time in boats can also scout. April and May trips often reveal the presence of tom turkeys, their gobbles ringing down from the hollows that feed lakes and larger rivers. Oftentimes the lands surrounding these waters are open to public hunting, in some cases furnishing places best accessed by boat. Even if hunting isn’t practical in a particular situation, knowing that the toms are getting vocal can help you in your own favorite haunts.

Even something as simple as taking a walk through the neighborhood can be informative. I probably spend an hour-and-a-half a day walking my dogs. By late summer these strolls divulge the status of the year’s acorns and hickory nuts, at least in that locale. The roadside berry bushes can be thick with wild blackberries, as they were this year. A visual inspection of the nearby wild grape vines exposes the condition of this important wild food source. The same thing can happen while riding a rails-to-trails route.

Cross-scouting works both ways. Last winter, while grouse hunting some thick cover in Armstrong County, we happened upon a small stream, one that looked like it had potential for wild trout. A few overturned rocks uncovered mayflies, caddis and stoneflies. During a trip there this spring my buddy Tom Fernece and I only caught creek chubs. But I’m still convinced the run holds some wild brook or brown trout, so I’ll return.

And even if I don’t find trout, I’ll keep my eyes open for what else the place might provide.

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