The Orchard Hill
Sometimes the places where mature deer choose to bed is unlikely to say the least. As hunters we seem to gravitate only toward remote areas, maintaining the idea that the most remote, thick areas will hold mature deer. While I think there is a lot of truth to this in high pressure situations, many experienced big buck killers would tell you that there are plenty of opportunities to be had in overlooked spots that at first glance seem to provide less cover but may actually afford a mature buck more security. Whether it is because of a visible advantage, or because an area receives less human intrusion, big bucks sometimes bed where we wouldn’t expect them. If other hunters are avoiding an area, that is often exactly where you should concentrate your time.
Such is the case with a new stand location I plan to hunt this coming Fall. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I have known about this spot for approximately 10 years, but failed miserably to acknowledge its true potential until early this Spring.
During the Fall of 2005 or 2006 my father and I were walking a field edge that was adjacent to a thin line of woods that ran parallel with a side hill. This area of brush is only about 30 yards wide and is one of those spots that you would only expect deer to utilize at night, or perhaps if they were pushed. As I recall, it was late October and we were doing some last minute scouting to determine an evening stand location (we procrastinated a lot more back then). We wanted to see what the deer sign looked like in an oak flat on the top of the hill where the timber necks down, connecting the woods on the back side of the hill with the ag fields below the thin strip of brush. The cover makes a “T” and there are numerous trails traversing the top part of the hill as well as an incredibly well worn trail running the length of the strip, parallel to the side hill. At the time I assumed it must be night sign, since ag fields surround the strip on all sides. After all, the only logical place for deer to be coming from would be the larger timber block on the back side of the hill (to the West), and this strip was several hundred yards from any thick areas in that woods. I surmised that we would need to be on the top, among the oaks, to see any action.
The hillside here runs North/South and further north along the parallel strip of cover is a thick overgrown apple orchard. It doesn’t yield every year, but when it does the trees are loaded and the ground is often yellow with apples all season long. During these high yield years, deer sign through the orchard thicket is noticeably heavy. When shining, it is not uncommon to see dozens of deer bedded in and around the orchard as they feed here all night long.
As we walked the upper edge of the cover in 2006 we reached the Southern point and stopped to discuss the sign we saw. As I recall there was a blustery west wind that day coming from the back side of the hill and taking our scent down over the East hillside and into the valley below. About the exact moment we came to a stop, a white racked buck burst off the point heading at a sprint over the ag fields below and into the next timber lot across the valley. Since we could see him running for several hundred yards I was able to immediately recognize him as a mature six pointer we had seen during summer scouting. He was about 18 inches wide with tall g2’s and 3’s and had no brow tines, an easily recognizable buck.
That summer we had glassed him in the ag fields 100-200 yards below this strip of cover and I assumed then that he had come a longer distance from his bed. At that time, the idea of specific buck bedding areas was a foreign concept to me. The deer movement in this area seemed so random it was almost unfathomable that a buck was utilizing a core area with the kind of regularity you could read about in the popular hunting magazines. I read all about “bedding areas” but without the knowledge of “how” to find them, I was left assuming that this thick area or those conifers probably held bedding. So, when we kicked up this buck, his being bedded in this location was thought to be a random event. Certainly, this couldn’t be a place worth burning coveted hunting hours…
It wasn’t until this past Fall when a P&Y class 8 pointer was chasing a doe along this side hill that I began to give the area much thought again. I had always remembered that day when we kicked out the wide six pointer, and so I began surmising that possibly that point held a buck bed. In February we walked the ridge and within 30 seconds of stepping into the cover we found a large, well worn bed on top of a small mound of ground. Behind the bed was a thick brier bush, which would serve to perfectly hide the buck from the sight of any predator approaching from above. The unobstructed view of the open valley made it nearly impossible to approach the bed from below. This bed is incredibly secure even though the amount of cover around it is relatively sparse.
Not long ago I would have assumed that to hunt a deer bedded on this point I would need to wait for an East wind and hope that he traveled side hill until getting to the neck of woods that ran along the top of the hill, at which time I would hope he would transition into this area to feed on acorns before heading to the green fields further to the North. The problem with this scenario is that I believe it is less likely for a buck to select this bed on a day with an East wind. For most of the day, rising thermals will bring currents from below the buck, regardless of the wind direction. A West wind can afford a scent advantage by bringing wind over the crest of the hill, while thermal drafts bring scent from below. This makes the bed much more secure on a day with some kind of West wind. In this case, because of the incredible visibility the buck has, rising thermals don’t provide much advantage, but facing into a prevailing wind wouldn’t either, and a buck would then be leaving his back exposed to approaching danger. For similar reasons, I would expect a buck to utilize the back size of the hill on an East wind. I believe hunters often hunt the wrong side of a hill based on the wind direction. I know I have. The thought is that you must have the wind in your face, so many hunters sit along the military crest of the hill with the prevailing wind coming up the hill towards them. I believe that deer are often bedded on the leeward side of the hill to capitalize on prevailing wind and thermal drafts and so a game of cat and mouse often ensues and we are left scratching our heads while it seems like the the deer somehow know how to be exactly where we aren’t.
Its more important to play a just off wind, or set your stand high enough on the leeward side for morning and midday hunts that you are in the prevailing wind currents and your scent can be carried out and over deer that are traveling below your position. In the evening, you may need to adjust and move below the travel corridor to take advantage of the heavier, cool air falling down the hillside.
Since the spot that is discussed in this article creates multiple issues for morning stand access, it needs to be saved for evening hunts. For this reason we positioned a stand below the main trail coming out of the bedding area, about 100 yards North along the side hill. The stand is positioned where the side hill brush and the upper neck of woods join. At this inside corner, along the South edge of the neck of woods, there is a heavy convergence of sign. There are numerous buck rubs coming out of the bedding along the main trail at the top edge of the brush and the inside corner serves as a bit of a pinch point for deer traveling to the northern fields to feed at night. The main trail also continues along the side hill heading North to the apple orchard. Evening access to this location is easy and clean, and a hunter should be able to get multiple hunts here if bumping deer during stand exit can be avoided. To do this, it may be helpful to get picked up after a hunt in a vehicle. Since there are ag fields all around this location, getting out of the area in this fashion would not be a problem. Sitting in transition areas between bedding and food sources can allow non-target deer to pass by the hunter and move into their destination food sources. The hunter can then leave the stand undetected, and, in a scenario like this, completely avoid even crossing one deer trail on the way out.
This is one of the stand locations I am most excited about hunting this year. It is within 100 yards of a known buck bed and located on the edge of a staging area transition with numerous food sources, with varying attraction windows, available to the North of the stand location- which can keep the bed active all season. Hopefully we will have positive reports about the productivity of this stand location. One thing is certain, we won’t have much hunter competition for this overlooked spot.