Ginger stood on the edge of the weed choked pond, water dripping from her underside and a retrieving dummy cradled softly in her mouth, watching 5 mallards alight from the Lily pads just 20 yards from where she'd made the retrieve. We'd been doing a little preseason water work in a "ducky" looking section of the pond. I'd have sworn I'd heard an occasional quack to our left, but the well camouflaged ducks remained hidden until they decided they'd had enough of our drill. That they'd stayed put, and undetected for a half dozen retrieves somewhat amazed me. As I scanned the water, straining to spot more tight holding fowl, I was reminded of something a wildlife biologist once told me; Habitat is defined by the species that use it. I'm sure there is probably a lot of levels to that statement if we chose to dissect it, but I like to keep it simple, and in the context of finding game. Of course no one just goes out and finds game. A requisite amount of research and scouting are required, so let's take a peek at scouting, it's pieces, and many forms.
Scouting is nothing more than looking for clues that will put us closer to the game we are pursuing. Big game hunters probably get the most involved with scouting, relying on a variety of techniques and technology to help them amass as many clues as possible to put them on game. Small game, and waterfowl hunters scout with a bit less precision, but spend time doing homework, too. When it comes to scouting, seeing the actual species you are targeting, in your intended area is probably the best indication that you are in the right area. Deer hunters glassing fields at dusk, grouse hunters seeing birds along logging roads, and duck hunters seeing fowl fly into a marsh at dawn are all dead give-a-ways. You'd probably do well hunting in those areas.
Other times the clues aren't as obvious. Big game hunters will look for trails, scat, hair, and various calling posts left by game. Uplanders will listen for grouse drumming, of birds calling, as well as remnants of birds taken by predators. Yup, you may not be the only species looking for a meal in those woods and fields. With these clues the big game hunter has then got to work to get the bigger picture of what is going on, and piece together a plan. Unlike an uplander who goes to the game, usually a big game hunter will sit in ambush waiting for the game to come to them.
Identifying likely habitat is another way of zeroing in on game. In keeping the simplicity in the statement that habitat is defined by the species that use it, I look for habitat that I have learn my target species prefers. Primarily a Ruffed Grouse hunter, I have learned that the grouse have a preference, and my scouting is usually just a matter of finding habitat to fit that bill. Over the years I have begun to do the same thing with duck habitat. If I look at an area of habitat, and it looks like a place ducks would like, I label it duck cover and hunt it. I don't feel the need to get out early with a pair of binoculars and actually see ducks pouring in. Like grouse cover, my mileage has varied. Some spots have proven to hold lots of duck and grouse, and others not so many. But like the ducks at the beginning of this ramble prove, they are hard to see when resting in weedy, stagnant pools with cover.
So get out there, if you haven't already and do your homework. And in your travels, if it looks good, hunt it.