Five Secrets to Spotting Game Animals

It's no secret that if you can't find game animals, you can't shoot them. Which is why having a good game spotter in your party is imperative. Don't despair if you hunt alone -- there are ways to improve your game spotting techniques.

Over the years, I've been the primary game spotter of the family. Larry spots game well, but many times I've located critters that he's missed and others have passed up. For this reason, I'd love to share some of my secrets for seeing game animals.

Get a Good Set of Binoculars

I say get a good set of binoculars, but quite frankly, even a cheap set will beat the human eye when it comes to seeing long distances. If you don't have--or don't use--binoculars, get them and use them. You'll be amazed how much more you can see even over areas where you swear there aren't any critters.  Glassing is crucial toward finding animals, or at least, determining what kind of animal you saw.

Scout and Keep a Record

 Because you're a locacarnivore like I am, I suspect you hunt fairly close to your home. In this case, go to your hunting area frequently and glass for animals, even during the off season.  If you're able to, go during different times of the day, different seasons, different weather conditions, and different phases of the moon.  Have a pocket notebook handy and take notes when you saw your game animals, what game animals you saw, the weather conditions and temperature, phase of the moon, and what the game animals were doing. Having a record will eventually tell you if there is a pattern to your game animals' behaviors and may give you a clue where they might be when you're hunting them.

Go Slow

When you're looking for critters, you need to go slowly.  I can't tell you how many times Larry and I have found animals that someone else missed because they blew right past us while on a road.  We purposely drive slow in our hunting area so we can see animals.  Then, it's just a matter of putting the stalk on the critter and shooting.  When you go slower, you make sure that you see what is going on around you. You just might find an animal you didn't expect to be there.

Look for Shape, not Color

I remember the instructor at my hunter's safety course telling us to look for parts of the animal, and not just the whole animal or the color of the animal. Our quarry often has perfect camouflage that makes them almost invisible in certain light conditions, and they can nearly vanish in thick timber. The trick to spotting them is to look for shapes.  Something that looks like an ear, or maybe the butt of a deer. Maybe the animal is partially hidden by a tree.  I've found plenty of critters this way.

If you look at the pictures of the deer I've included, you'll see what I mean. Their shapes are broken up by the forest surrounding them.  What drew me first to the doe picture was the telltale eyes and nose combination, and secondly, the tail and shape of the rump. On the second picture, the buck's rounded antlers and head shape are dead giveaways, as is the horizontal shape of the back.  Even if you were to not see the buck's head, it's very seldom that you see a completely horizontal log suspended that far off the ground (it does happen, but not often).  If you see such a shape, it bears further scrutiny to determine if it's a rare deadfall or if it is actually an animal.

Look for Movement

Naturally, animals are going to move.  Although it's normal for critters to freeze when they see you, some may not, and catching movement with your eye is important.  This is harder when it is windy, but if you know which way the wind is coming from, you can catch movement that is in a direction different than the wind.

Animals are cagey, which is why you need to develop an eye for seeing them, even when they are mostly hidden. I hope you try out these tips and I wish you good luck in spotting and stalking your animals, as well as a successful hunt.

--MH Bonham

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