Looking for land can be a time consuming process. On an average day of scouting for land, you can spend more time staring at your windshield than you do actually looking at land. After burning countless gallons of gas and wasting untold hours of my life, I was determined to find a way to go look at a piece of property without actually going to look at it. I finally figured it out a few years ago when my wife said, “I don’t know why you spend so much time in your truck, when you have all of these maps laying around. In fact, there has to be a way you can use all of the information on the internet to at least qualify a property before you invest so much time going to see it.”
Since that moment of enlightenment, I have come to rely on maps as a method for what I call stationary reconnaissance. Now, many sportsmen are familiar with maps as a scouting tool, but many are not, so let’s take a quick tour of the four basic maps I use on a regular basis.
The first is a survey. It is a dimensional drawing of a piece of property, which is prepared by a licensed surveyor who physically measures the distances around the property, using a meets and bounds description (a fancy way of saying distance and direction on a compass). The surveyor takes this information and creates a two dimensional drawing of property. In addition to physical shape, a survey provides a legal description, determines exact acreage, and identifies and documents any boundary line encroachments.
The second map is called a topographical map. A topo map gives you a visual representation of the lay of the land, providing a three dimensional look at land in a two dimensional image. Contour lines within the boundaries show changes in elevation in increments of anywhere from 2 to 200 feet. Contour lines drawn very far apart represent a gentle slope, while contour lines drawn very close together means there is a more severe or a steeper slope. Topo maps also identify where the high points on property are, as well as lowlands or wet lands. A topo gives you a better feel for not just the dimensions of the property, but also the physical “lay” of the land.
The third map is an aerial map. These are available at the county tax assessor’s office, but are also readily accessible through a variety of online sources, as well. Aerial maps are just that – an aerial photo. It’s simply a photograph looking straight down at the property, and it allows you to visually inspect not only the boundaries but also the physical characteristics of the land. You can see timber, open areas, creeks, ponds, and wetlands. Most aerial photos are taken during the winter when pines (being evergreens) are still green. So from an aerial you know that the green areas are probably pine, and the gray or brown areas are typically hardwood. In infrared aerials, the pines will appear red. With an aerial you can make some distinctions now about what is physically on the property, and just as important, you can see what is around the property. You can see if the neighbors have six chicken houses located adjacent to the tract and upwind of the exact spot where you were planning to build your retirement getaway or your weekend retreat.
The final map is a timber type map. Timber type maps are usually prepared by a forester as part of a timber cruise. While not typically available through public sources, many land owners, real estate agents, and foresters can provide timber type maps. They are routinely available for any property owned by timber companies. These maps show the boundary lines where the types of timber change on a tract. Acreage, timber type (species), and age class is usually provided for each area or “stand” of timber.
Try using maps for a little stationary reconnaissance. You can learn a tremendous amount of information about a piece of property having never seen the land, without spending a penny on gas, and without wasting any time staring at your windshield.