Steve Bartylla on Reading Maps

Steve Bartylla on Reading Maps

4 hrs ·


Learn how deer utilize topography and habitat changes. Once you do, learn to read topographical maps and aerial photos. Get those two things down and you can effectively hunt deer anywhere they roam on anything short of table top flat ground that doesn’t offer cover changes in maturity or types.

The other day we talked about how deer are different, for all sorts of reasons, in different regions and even from property to property. A lot of the improvements or hunting methods that are the very best to use “here” are glorious disasters over “there.” That is very true and was one of the most important lessons I’ve been able to learn.

However, from what I’ve seen and a boat load of photo eval clients have reaffirmed, deer use topography the same everywhere. They travel a ridge in E TX the same as they travel a ridge in N Alberta. The mature bucks are drawn to bedding on points, benches, knobs and humps of dry land in swamps in Georgia every bit as much as they are in Montana. When the edge of a thicket connects two locations they travel between, the deer in NY will travel it the same as a deer in OK.

To get into the DNR, I had a professor in college suggest I get a minor in Cartography (mapping), as maps are the basis for so many things one does at the DNRs. I later did an independent study course on what working for the DNR would be like, ultimately deciding that getting a masters to move rocks on trout streams for minimum wage wasn’t for me, but that Cartography minor got me into a mapping company out of college, where I was able to work on a contract for the USGS making Quad maps of Alaska from aerial photography placed in half million dollar stereo scopes. That mapping experience, combined with understanding how deer use topography (as well as how they travel edges and such) is how I’ve been able to do plans for clients in every whitetail state and province in N America, as well as how I’m able to go into previously unscouted ground with a check list of potentially killer stand setups, before ever setting foot on the ground.

Steve Bartylla on Reading Maps

I explain all that to show just how powerful learning to read topography (and aerial photos) and how deer utilize it truly is. Sure, a % of things just don’t pan out on the ground as promising as they look in photos or on a map. At the same time, some dynamite stand locations just aren’t going to reveal themselves on photos or maps. However, maps and photos can get a person somewhere over 80% of the way there, without ever stepping foot on the ground, while revealing a big picture view that you just can’t get otherwise. Those are HUGE advantages to hunters and managers!!!!

I’ve done a couple chapters on the topic in my first two books. That said, for those of you wanting to learn how to better read maps and how deer use topography, I’d strongly suggest getting a copy of Brad Herndon’s Mapping Trophy Bucks. I have nothing to do with its sales. It’s simply the best book on the topic I’ve read (and the reason I didn’t write one myself…Brad nailed it already).

I could post a bunch of pics of bucks that reading topos played an important role in tagging over the years. The one below came from a stand I’d found before ever stepping on the ground. I was so confident on that location that I packed everything in with me on my first scouting trip and hung the stand on the spot.

Learn how to read topos and aerial. Learn how bucks use terrain and edges/habitat type changes. Add the 2 together and you can successfully hunt darn near any and everywhere deer roam. Doing so really is that powerful. Some others say it can’t be done. I’ve yet to run into one of those “others” that actually know what they’re doing, as it applies to this specific subject. Those that do KNOW its THAT powerful!