If you aren’t familiar with hill country you may not be experienced in reading topographical maps. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there to assist you with this, but in short, the closer together the elevation lines are the steeper the incline. Keeping this concept in mind, the areas that look like a deep ‘v’ into the side of a mountain, with close elevation lines, are deep draws. Draws are a pretty simple terrain feature to locate and some of them can be fairly easy to set up on for a hunt. Others can come with more complexities.
A property I had the opportunity to scout this past weekend had several terrain features that drew me to it. It had points with deep draws cut into the mountain, along with transitions created by vegetation changes, and several areas of early succession timber yielding to larger areas of brush patches consisting of saplings and red brier thickets. Generally speaking, the vegetation and terrain diversity is what drew me to the area, and I mapped out areas that I assumed would have both deer travel and deer bedding and hit the timber.
The two main draws on this piece were among my first scouting destinations. Although deer are agile creatures that could very likely traverse just about any terrain, animals in nature require the conservation of energy for survival. More exertion equals more calories burned and thus the potential of depleted reserves when energy is needed for survival. No, I don’t think a deer consciously thinks about its caloric intake, but meals aren’t guaranteed in nature and I think animals naturally conserve. If there were ones who didn’t, they’ve been taken care of by natural selection at this point. All this means is that a deer, left to its own choice, is going to use the path of least resistance. Think about how you would prefer to navigate a draw; likely you will gravitate to the bottom or the top instead of traversing a steep bank, littered with blown down trees, halfway up. Sure, you might find a flatter crossing somewhere in the middle, but the one thing you can count on is that the very bottom and the very top are usually going to be much easier walking. This is why deer traversing around the point of a hill will often take a longer route around the top side of the draw. You can almost bet on a well worn trail being present at the first easily-navigable crossing toward the top of the draw. There is often a worn trail at the bottom as well, but winds can be unpredictable at lower elevations and finding a situation with a wind exception, where hunting low in this terrain is possible, is a good subject for another article.
Bedding and Stand Locations
(In the photo above, the red lines are deer trails, the yellow circles are natural funnels or pinch points created by the terrain and/or vegetation change, the red X’s are beds and the yellow dots are buck rubs. The diagram shows one bed on a point and another bed on a micro point on the side of a bowl that has been created by the convergence of multiple draws.)
The tops of a draw, or even a minor erosion cut, are often a great place for a tree stand, but, there are some exceptions. One frustration the public land hunter in the Northeast may find is that just as the deer like to use the top edge of these cuts, the DNR or Game Commissions also like to put people trails at or near these areas. After all, if its easier walking for the deer its going to be easier walking for the people too. Many of the trails also wrap around, or drop down, points that might other wise hold good bedding potential. Most people will tell you that hill country bedding can be found on points and spurs along the 2/3 elevation. While this is true in many scenarios, human traffic can and will alter these bedding locations, especially around the population centers that can be found in the northeast.
If the people trails on a piece of public seem to be eliminating bedding on the points of hills, I look to the draws. Often, you will find a small micro point, or secondary, point that provides just a bit extra vantage along the side of the draw. This can especially be true if the more abundant vegetation (that is often present on the sides of draws) can create some back cover for a bedded deer. They will still have an excellent vantage with multiple escape routes should danger present itself, and they are able to avoid the higher human traffic areas out on the points. The small points are often so subtle that they can’t be seen on a topo map, so expect it to take some leg work to find these areas.
Field Edge Pinch Points
In agricultural areas, a draw may continue out into a crop field or open CRP. The draw may be creating a low spot, or bowl, in the field that acts as a thermal drain. Because of the scent advantage created by this thermal effect, deer may utilize this area before committing to the field to feed in the evening. The field edge may also create a more pronounced pinch point with the top of the draw, pushing deer travel above the draw but still inside the cover of the woods. It can be tempting to hunt right over a pinch like this, but not all are created equal. Depending on the elevation and the topography surrounding the draw, the winds can be unpredictable in these areas and have a swirling effect. You may often be better served to hunt just off those pinch points, along the side of the ridge spur at higher elevation, where the wind can be more predictable. Also remember that thermal currents can pull your scent into draws in an advantageous way, allowing you to “cheat” the wind. However, draws can have a profound effect on wind currents and wind swirls can jettison around a point to a bedded buck if you aren’t aware of the thermal activity on the property you are hunting. Some of this comes from experience, and it is admittedly one of the most challenging things to map and learn as a hunter. Its also a great reason why using milk weed seeds to map the wind and thermal currents should be considered non-optional.
Draws also can provide great stand access options. Any deep cuts or drainages offer visual barriers for access. As we’ve discussed, they are often mostly void of deer travel so your ground scent becomes less of an issue. If you have the opportunity to clear them of any downed trees or brush, they can also be a silent access option. Often, runoff water washes crunchy leaves out of the center of the ditch and the terrain itself can help to confine some of the noise of your approach.
Make sure you key in on a draw if there is one on the property you are hunting. They are great places to narrow deer movement and to catch deer on a bed to feed pattern, as well as cruising bucks in pre-rut. They can provide some of the most productive stand locations in the woods.
-By Reuben Dourte