(Updated) Hunt Planning: Google Earth Scouting and Files for Eastern and Western Hunters

by: Josh Shaffer


Using Google Earth (GE) for hunting excursions, both near and far, can prove to be very valuable by giving you spatial details months in advance of putting boots on ground.  This post is intended to be a hunter’s collection of GE files that I’ll update as new information becomes available.  I chose to collect these files here since I can’t seem to find a good “one stop shop” for the type of GE files that I need.  That left me with doing some data mining and scouring the web in search of good data for hunt planning purposes.  Below is a list of hyperlinks that will get you to the source files that you can download for GE.  Happy virtual scouting. 


Hint: To save files in your "My Places", move to that folder or "file, save to My Places").

(April 2016 Update): GeoMac.gov is a Wildfire tracking tool for current and past forest fire activity in the US.  You can elect to download each fire KML which are separated by state or you can use the GeoMac viewer which is a really neat tool.  For example, you can view the past forest fires over the last 10 years in White River National Forest.  This could be particularly useful if you drew a tag in an area that has been previously burned.  For instance you could more easily find new lush forage and also ID dangerous/unstable timber patches to avoid.  Either way, this is another tool for your remote scouting tool kit. 

National Forest Boundaries: These are already part of your GE library under the “Layers” section on the left side of your screen.  You can make sure that you turn on this layer by going to the last folder on that table called “More”, then click on the “Parks/Recreation Areas” layer.  This will turn on the national forest boundaries which are found under the "USDA Forest Service layer”.  Note: if there is BLM ground nearby you should see cut-outs or missing pieces in the national forest boundary area.  For BLM grounds see the below item.    

Turn on national forest files which are already loaded in GE.

Turn on national forest files which are already loaded in GE.


BLM Boundary Layer: I did a little looking and found the BLM layer located on calguns.net with the file created by member ebourqui (thanks).  The file can be found here: http://s3.amazonaws.com/blm_google_earth/BLM.kmz.  To the best I can tell, the BLM boundaries seem accurate and the source link still works fine.  This is a new discovery for me and should prove useful over the next few years as I hunt in new areas with more BLM grounds.

An example of Colorado BLM lands turned on.

An example of Colorado BLM lands turned on.

 
Wilderness Areas:
This site is a great source of info for state specific wilderness area GE files.  Additionally, if you are really GIS savvy you can download the shape files for ArcGIS.  You can find these state files at: http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/geography

An example of a wilderness area with the polygon color and opacity modified for further clarity.

An example of a wilderness area with the polygon color and opacity modified for further clarity.


Stream Layers (with Hydrologic Units): This one doesn’t give you property boundaries, but it does give you most of the stream lines in your hunting area along with hydrologic units. It’s always know where to get water when you need to fill your water bottle or cook dinner on a jet boil.  This layer has a few other pieces of information also.  Check it out here: http://www.epa.gov/waterdata/viewing-waters-data-using-google-earth

The same area noted above with the MyWaters streams layer turned on.

The same area noted above with the MyWaters streams layer turned on.


USGS Topo Maps: This can be one of the most helpful layers for you during your hunt planning.  This layer will get you the 7.5-minute quad maps for your areas.  Also note that you can fade these layers (actually any layer can be faded) by going into the file properties and changing the opacity of the file.  This fades the file and allows you to see the topo lines along with the satellite image of your choice.  The USGS topo link can be found here: http://www.gelib.com/usgs-topographic-maps-2.htm

USGS topo maps turned on.

USGS topo maps turned on.


Game Units for Western States: If you are looking for more detail on your prospective game units in the west you can find all the GMUs in one place at huntinfool.com.  Currently they have the following states on their list: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, & Wyoming.  The link to get you there is:  https://www.huntinfool.com/maps/googlemaps.php.  (Thanks to huntinfool.com for gathering these links).  

GE can be used to scout hunt units like this one in Montana (elk unit 284).

GE can be used to scout hunt units like this one in Montana (elk unit 284).


Google Earth: You can download this tool for free at: https://www.google.com/earth/
I hope this post helps your scouting efforts this winter as we get ready for all the tag draws that will occur of the next few months.  Good luck in the draws and good luck scouting your hunting areas while the snow falls.  

A small note on this post, I know that there is nothing better than actual boots on the ground scouting, but if you are several states away from your hunting area you will have to resort to other methods of scouting.  This GE scouting method can get you pointed in the right direction, but always try to further your knowledge of the area by other means.  Some methods that I’ve used in the past are: calling nearby landowners, talking to other hunters in your area, calling the nearby Fish and Game offices, calling the local biologist/game warden, talking to cattle ranchers, etc.  Just remember that every little piece of information you gain can get you that much closer to filling a tag.  Always have an open mind and seek information humbly. 

What files or sources do you use for your virtual scouting efforts?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below and I'll make sure I engage in the comments or add them into the blog post. 

Enjoy: Josh