Find potential hunting hotspots before you ever get into the woods, even just to scout
I spend several hours every week looking at maps online, because when I’m not in the woods, it’s the next best thing. Learning how to find oak trees from the internet is a trick that can be learned by carefully studying aerial maps. My passion of map hunting has resulted in harvesting many deer and hogs under specific trees I’ve first found on my computer or phone.
Before I take any trips to new areas, I always study the official maps for boundaries and public roads. Then, I scour the area using Google Earth or the satellite feature on Google Maps for potential hunting locations such as pinch-points, funnels, logged areas, ridges, water holes and sloughs. Most important, I compare and contrast the tree tops and their colors to locate food trees.
Nuttall oak trees
My favorite riverbottom tree to hunt is a Nuttall oak, Quercus nutallii; Nuttalls are large red oaks that drop large, striped acorns throughout the fall and winter and even into the spring. Deer visit various food sources at the start of the hunting season, but as these food sources dwindle, the Nuttall acorns become a favorite snack for all woodland critters.
Several years ago, during my first year of online tree hunting, I spotted two isolated Nuttall oaks using Google. They were in a section of woods I had never visited. After an initial scouting trip — I found many chewed up acorns — I knew it was the perfect spot for a hunt.
Later that winter, I climbed up next to those two oaks for the buck’s-only season toting my .454 Casull revolver and rifle. Just minutes into the hunt, a big hog came out from behind me to feed on the tasty striped acorns. I filmed smoking that big pig with the pistol.
An hour later, I saw a deer moving through in the distance. I zoomed in with my scope and noticed it was just a spike. While watching him walk off through the scope, I heard a noise and spotted another hog under the other Nuttall. I quickly blasted that boar with my .270, and it dropped in its tracks.
I was testing new copper bullets in both my pistol and rife. Both made huge holes, passing through the hogs’ thick shoulder plates. I had more than 400 pounds of pork using non-toxic ammo. To this day, the bones from those hogs remain under that big Nuttall tree where I cleaned them.
Finding Nutalls online is fairly easy once the correct shade of lighter and brighter green is found on treetops that look taller and fuller than nearby trees. The bright, green color shows best on aerial photos taken during winter since most Nuttalls hold their green color much later into the year. This makes them pop into view when most trees nearby are bare of leaves or have dull colors.
The historic feature on Google Earth allows users to view older maps from different times of the year. Some of the older maps don’t have great detail, but it’s useful to see how river levels and drought conditions affect an area. Also, seeing when a cutover was logged allows me a good estimate of its age.
The easiest way to learn a specific type of tree is to stand under one of interest and then see what that treetop looks like on your phone, next to your location icon. Next, correlate historical map dates to find any distinguishing details to find others of that tree type.
I search maps, seeking lone, isolated Nuttalls or small groups of them near a cutover or natural funnel. Then, I translate the GPS coordinates into Garmin’s GPS format and plug the points into my unit before a scouting trip. I can walk directly to each new tree, so I can visit more planned locations in less time. When not using a GPS unit, I use my phone in satellite map mode to track my location as I walk towards a desired treetop on the map.
In the field
These trips are exciting to see all the spots I have found online really look like. Boots on the ground is the only way to know for sure if a tree is worth being hunted. Some years, a Nuttall will be full of tasty acorns, and other years, the deer and hogs won’t be feeding at the same tree even though it’s dropping many acorns. Even if the spot isn’t productive one year, acorn crops rotate in cycles, so it may have a better acorn crop in the future.
When the acorns are numerous on a ridge filled with dozens of Nuttalls, careful inspection of each tree will reveal the best one to hunt. The animals will prefer a few particular trees to eat under. To figure out which has the tastiest acorns, I look for mostly cracked shells, turned up leaves and numerous animal droppings under one tree. A hot oak will be filled with deer droppings, old and fresh.
I have my best action under large, giant oaks or small, young oaks near or in previously logged areas.
Two seasons ago, I visited a new patch of small Nuttalls I saw on the internet in a place I hadn’t hunted before. My wife went stalking hogs, while I grabbed my bow to scout the area. I toted in my climber, unsure if I was going to use it or not.
After seeing the ground around one of the smallest Nuttall trees filled with animal sign and turned-up leaves, I knew I had to get elevated right there. The only problem was, the best tree to hunt from was a tiny honey locust only 10 yards downwind. I remember getting all poked up and bloody as I climbed that tree to sat at an uncomfortable downward angle.
The discomfort didn’t last very long. An hour later, a group of does started making their way to me from the thick cutover nearby. They were coming in to feed at that hot tree. I was able to down the biggest doe from the group with a 15-yard shot.
My wife shot a hog, and was wondering why it was taking me so long to get back that night. I had cleaned and quartered my animal in the woods, so I didn’t have to make two long hikes to that new deep spot. That was a good thing since we still had to look for her pig.
Seeking new hunting spots is always more fun than hunting the same boring locations each season. With millions of acres of public land to scout, online tree hunting has endless possibilities making it a type of sport in and of itself.