Category Archives: Scouting

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3 OnX Maps Features You Shouldn’t Overlook

OnX Maps has a great reputation with public land hunters in the western half of the United States and they continue to build on that presence as more and more Eastern hunters employ the features and advantages provided through this innovative mobile app.  Often the most discussed and frequently utilized feature of OnX maps is that the GPS function, (coupled with parcel boundary outlines), let’s you know exactly where you stand. So much so, in fact, that OnX has started a campaign around the hashtag “know where you stand”.  This is certainly a hugely beneficial feature when hunting public land or private lands you are less familiar with. No one wants to find themselves on the wrong parcel or deal with the potential problems that can even accompany what are truly innocent mistakes. As valuable as this feature is, it is hardly the end of the plentiful list of benefits OnX can provide to whitetail hunters across the eastern half of the United States.  The following are three features OnX provides that you may be currently underutilizing.

1.  Desktop Mapping- Perhaps I am the only one, but it wasn’t until after I had been using OnX for a good bit that I realized a desktop version of the application was available.  When I would scout with a hand held GPS I would always mark waypoints and then plug the GPS into my computer and look at my track and pins on a larger screen in order to evaluate how different areas of sign and travel interconnected.  This would allow me to fine tune my stand selection and choose advantageous areas that allowed for better entrance and exit routes, as well as locate places that would lend themselves to playing the wind. OnX Maps for your desktop isn’t much different, except it is so user friendly that I now employ it as my starting point for scouting, in addition to it remaining an evaluation tool after my time in the timber.

So, I now plan my scouting trips via the desktop version of OnX maps.  By taking advantage of a larger screen I am able to look a bigger area and more quickly zero in on potential food sources, high percentage terrain features and vegetation transitions that warrant a closer look.  I can quickly drop pins on each hill point, marsh island or pine transition I want to investigate and progress through the parcel in the same way I plan to walk it. Because OnX waypoints are connected to the user’s account and not a device, the map on my cell phone is updated essentially in real time.  The ability to more quickly drop my cyber-scouting waypoints via the desktop version and have them transfer to my phone without a cord or a memory card is an incredible time saver. Likewise, if you lose your device in the field, you haven’t lost your valuable intel!

When I get to put boots on the ground, I am able to walk from waypoint to waypoint, and either confirm or eliminate the area based on my findings.  I never name the waypoints I drop when I am on the desktop version, but I do relocate them when I am on the parcel and determine the exact location of applicable sign and I name those waypoints.  Afterward, I go back in and eliminate the unnamed points that were initially placed as my guideline, leaving only the labeled waypoints for future reference. This system makes my scouting incredibly efficient and keeps me on course and focused on getting through the property with purpose when I am in the field.

2.  Possible Access- This map layer is often turned off, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t be.  Ask anyone what the worst part of hunting public land is and the vast majority will say its the amount of other hunters one must inevitably deal with, especially in the more densely populated parts of the eastern US.

The Possible Access feature is a phenomenal way to find parcels that may be overlooked by other hunters. Some of these parcels are available to the public for hunting purposes but they are often not physically as well marked and as such are easily missed by the average passerby.  One example of this type of property is conservation lands that may be privately owned but open to the public. I use OnX Maps on my desktop to quickly pan across a large area and locate these parcels. If the piece looks promising, I dig a little deeper. Often these properties come with some level of restricted access or weapon limitation.  It takes some additional homework and internet searches to determine if the parcel is indeed open to hunting, and sometimes information is hard to come by. However, the way I see it is that this extra work creates additional barriers to entry. A certain percentage of hunters aren’t going to be willing to take the time to properly research access restrictions.  Furthermore, weapons restrictions serve to weed out some of the traffic during hunting season and typically allow for older age classes of deer to survive and reside on the property. Both of these factors make it worthwhile to further research these potential hunting destinations.

3.  Off Grid Mapping- A lot of the areas I hunt have little to no cell service.  If you hunt in such an area, you may have concluded that the OnX app isn’t worth your while.  In that case you would be missing out on one of its most valuable features. The Off Grid mapping feature allows you to trace and load a hunt area to your mobile device.  This allows you to view map layers within that area, in addition to toggling between Topo, Satellite and Hybird map views even without cell service. The OnX app still interacts with the GPS feature on your phone, so you will still know where you stand.  Waypoints that are dropped when utilizing an Off Grid map are still saved to your account profile and will be there for you when you return to civilization. Always make sure your Off Grid map is properly saved and loaded to your phone before you leave home or camp.  You don’t want to get to that remote piece of public ground and find out the map imagery you thought you saved isn’t there and have no cell service available to retrieve it! Areas with low cell reception are also a huge drain on your battery because your phone is constantly searching for signal as you go in and out of the coverage area.  The Off Grid feature allows you to put your phone on “airplane mode” and keep on mapping. The battery conservation this provides is significant; and it is a bonus in terms of both convenience and safety. Even so, I almost always take an external power cell that gives me a couple extra charges on my phone as an additional safety precaution.

There is a lot of hunting gear, tools and gadgetry that is specifically developed and marketed toward the casual user.  Plenty of other items perform to the extent to which a hunter chooses to utilize all of their available features. OnX is one of the latter.  The OnX Maps app will assist your hunting and scouting efforts to precisely the level you ask of it. If you utilize all that it has to offer, it will quickly earn a spot amongst the most valuable weapons in your arsenal.

-Reuben Dourte


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How to Hunt Hill Country Draws

Maximizing your time on a large piece of public land requires that you understand how deer utilize certain terrain features for both bedding and travel.  Natural funnels can be productive spots during hunting season, especially considering the limited range of archery tackle, and so you should be zeroing in on these features during your post season scouting.  There are a lot of things that can serve to funnel deer movement, or cause them to want to bed in a certain area, but for the purpose of this article we will be discussing draws.

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.

Scouting Draws

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.

Access

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.

Conclusion

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


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buck rub

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.

History

orchard

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.

pope and young buck

We watched this Pope and Young class eight point tending a doe along the brushy side hill in early November.

Hunting

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.

buck bed

A View from the buck bed looking down over the valley below.

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.

-Reuben Dourte


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The Pasture Stand

In an effort to pin down some additional stand locations for the upcoming season, we spent time in the off season scouting both new parcels and new areas of properties we have hunted in the past.  I have for some time wanted to learn more about the deer movement on a small parcel we have permission to hunt that is part of a larger piece of timber and is bordered on the West side by a cattle pasture.  The transition that is created where the mature woods changes to earlier succession growth, then meets the edge of the pasture, is a popular travel corridor.  This parallel, transition trail is heavily used and is a direct connection between multiple bedding areas to the South (both on and off the huntable property) and evening food sources.

(click to enlarge)

Additionally, the contour of the hill creates a distinct bench higher up the hill, which is about 30 yards wide. The deer use this bench and bed on subtle points overlooking the bottom flat area of timber.  They also traverse this bench as it wraps around the point of the hill and connects with what I believe are likely bedding areas on the adjacent parcels.  Trails can also be found dropping off these benches heading down into the bottom and then eventually out into the Alfalfa field to the North.

Some of the bedding is only 150 yards off the destination food source, and so access is delicate.  To reduce noise, we have cut a route through the thicket so that the vegetation and weeds can visually shield our approach while not costing us unnecessary noise.  Often these small details can make a significant difference in success levels.  The stand site (indicated by the blue ‘X’) was selected for multiple reasons, the first being accessibility.  This is essentially as close to bedding as we can afford to get for an evening hunt without being busted by the deer bedded on the bench.  Any closer and we would position ourselves on the open timber side of the transition edge, visually exposing us to the bedded deer utilizing the elevation of the point for secure bedding.  Where the stand is located, a shot is available 15 yards above to the South of the hunter’s position, should the deer stay higher along the hillside.  This stand location also allows for a fairly clean entrance/exit route through the cattle pasture that will leave both the woods and the Ag fields mostly undisturbed- an important detail.

This transition zone is also where a concentration of deer movement occurs as they use this primary trail on their way to the food sources to the North.  When the deer bedded on the point are leaving their daytime cover to move to food, it is highly likely they will utilize the trail dropping off the point of the bench and move within easy bow range of this tree.  Furthermore, deer which are bedded to the South and West of the stand on the neighboring parcels are also likely to use this area to enter the alfalfa field.  This is a popular trail because it enters the field at its lowest elevation, and any deer who is transitioning through the creek bottom on the way to the alfalfa can take advantage of falling thermals in the evening and scent check the entire field, regardless of the wind direction.  This feature naturally draws deer to this area.  It also makes the spot harder to hunt as we may find it becomes more susceptible to wind swirls.  If that is the case, we may need to save this location for hunts on calmer wind days when falling evening thermals will stabilize our scent stream and carry it East, down the creek bottom and away from the direction of the deer movement.

Falling thermals provide the third justification for this stand location in that they will help facilitate an evening hunt where the hunter will be able to remain undetected by deer approaching from nearly any bedding location.  For an evening hunt, setting up on the lower side of the most probable travel route will allow for minimal ground scent and keep airborne scent away from approaching deer.

Though not a complex set-up, this stand will require carefully timed access and likely only a few October hunts.  During early November, rutting bucks could certainly move through the location on the parallel transition trail, scent checking the bed-to-feed trails to see if any estrous does have moved through the area, headed back to their daytime bedding locations.  However, as the morning thermals begin to rise, I would expect most of the movement to take place on the upper bench trail as the bucks cruised at or above the bedding elevation and allowed the rising thermal drafts to bring up scent from the bottom of the woods.  Sitting this low stand in the later in the morning would be ill-advised and for this reason I located a better rut stand along the upper bench to the South of this stand location.  The bench serves as a connecting travel corridor between multiple bedding locations and can provide productive all day sits.  The rising thermals, coupled with any Westerly wind can serve to keep the hunter undetected.

The trick is to not over hunt this stand in early season, but instead choose timing carefully in conjunction with favorable weather patterns.  The temptation when we find a stand with a good bit of sign and above average promise is to hunt it as much as possible.  Many times this has the reverse affect and we are left puzzled as to why our opportunities diminish as the season progresses.  Saving this spot for high value sits should help to increase its yields and keep it productive for seasons to come.

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com


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Six Point Buck

When You Need to Hunt the Neighbor’s Deer

Ok, it sounds pretty bad at first, but sometimes you need to hunt your neighbor’s deer.  I’m not talking about trespassing, but I am talking about getting as close as possible to known or suspected bedding areas on neighboring parcels which you may not have permission to hunt.

If your lucky enough to have a neighbor who will let you shed hunt his or her property, you can use this as a valuable reconnaissance mission to determine how the local Whitetails are utilizing the food and cover on adjacent properties.  In other situations, like in hill country, you may be able to observe deer bedded across a valley or ravine from an elevated vantage point when there is snow on the ground and the foliage has dropped.  Other times, you may be able to (or have to) justify drawing a reasonable conclusion about bedding habits based on a topo map, known travel patterns, food sources and trail camera pictures without ever ground-truthing a neighboring property.

I’ve written before about the ethics of hunting property lines, so I won’t get into that now, but I will take the time to say that I’m not a big proponent of it if it can be avoided.  However, some circumstances force your hand and the only way to take advantage of a prime location is to sit on or near the line.   In these situations I think it is advisable to face your stand into the parcel you have permission to hunt, especially if you plan to hang a stand and leave it for the season.

In some situations, bedding may occur on the neighbor’s property while your parcel consists of a travel corridor, or even staging area, on the way to food.  You may have other options, such as using a chain saw to create bedding opportunities on your own parcel, but still, terrain and vegetation can limit you.  This was the situation I found myself in last fall.

Several features come together at this stand location (blue X) to funnel deer onto the huntable property.  (White lines indicated terrain change.)

Several features come together at this stand location (blue X) to funnel deer onto the huntable property. (White lines indicated terrain change.)

In my situation, the deer were bedding to the South of the property line in a overgrown wild apple orchard.  The food sources they utilized during the night were on our property, but finding a stand location that could take advantage of several features that funneled the deer while still being close enough to the bedding to capitalize on daylight movement proved difficult.  It seemed like the deer were managing to get around me and passing my prior stand locations via different travel routes than those I expected them to take, so I used the post season to determine how they were accessing the food sources on the other side of the CRP to the North.

I knew the deer were bedding along the top edge of the apple thicket along the transition with the hardwood timber, further up the hill to the South.  I was able to observe them on numerous occasions from across the valley during late season when there was less vegetation and snow covered the hillside.  As I walked Westward along the property line through a dense, near impenetrable mess of briers, I finally came to a place were the steep incline below the bench that contained the old barbed wire boundary fence tapered more gradually, allowing for an easier access to the flat of the creek bottom.  At this very location the three strand fence was broken down, allowing for an uninhibited crossing onto our parcel.  To the West of this break in the fence, the creek had caused further erosion into the hillside and created an even more dramatic incline that funneled the deer along its edge as to avoid going down over the steepest part of the creek bank.  If pressured, a Whitetail could easily navigate this terrain, but left to move at their own pace, it was obvious they preferred to cross into the creek bottom at the fence gap where the terrain was less aggressive.  Sitting on the property line was a mature maple with numerous low hanging branches which will provide adequate cover even when it loses its leaves early in the fall.  I angled my stand away from the property line and cut a shooting lane to the west of my access trail in order to be able to shoot a deer before it crosses my ground scent.

I’m aware that some people may forego this stand because the access involves crossing a known deer trail, but I believe I can capitalize on this stand location early in the year and then utilize it as a rut funnel stand later in the season.  Since there are so many terrain elements that come together to funnel deer past this location, and it is located adjacent to bedding, not hunting this location would, in my opinion, be a missed opportunity.  Because of the elevation change between the creek bottom and the bench (which contains the stand tree), I can easily access this location without any bedded deer observing my approach.  Likewise, the North facing slope will cool  faster in the evenings and the thermals will begin to fall and carry scent down the hill earlier in the evening, allowing for a more adequate amount of time to get into position and quiet without the risk of rising thermals carrying scent up the hill to bedded deer.  Falling thermals in combination with a WSW wind will wisk scent away from the direction of deer travel.

It should also be noted that deer certainly have the option of continuing to move East along the South side of the property line, and some do.  However, the perennial scrape that is located under an apple tree along the CRP field to the North is an added incentive to draw them into the creek bottom and through the shooting lane on the huntable parcel.  Buck activity at this scrape has historically increased during the last week of October, making this stand a great choice for a pre-rut hunt during an October cold front.

Just because bedding happens to be located on the neighbor’s property, doesn’t necessarily mean that the deer that utilize it are unhuntable.  Determining how and where the deer are entering the property you hunt is the first step in intercepting them on the way to their evening food source.  The next task is determining how you can manipulate the wind, thermals and terrain to your advantage.  If the deer you are hunting are bedding within 100 yards of the property line and have a clearly defined direction of travel, high value sits can still be obtained on the farthest outskirts of your parcel boundaries.

-Reuben Dourte


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Whitetail Buck

Pushing the Limits

When setting up a treestand on the edge of a bedding area, how close is too close?  Simply put, if the deer can hear, see or smell you, your stand is either too close or in the wrong location. There are plenty of additional considerations to be made, however. These include but are not necessarily limited to, time of year, your access route, and the area that you hunt.  For example, if you find yourself fortunate to hunt an unpressured deer herd in a low pressure state, you may be able to hunt field edges for much of the early season and expect to see a buck feeding during hunting hours.  In this scenario, there may be little need to push into thicker bedding cover to catch a mere 100 yards of buck movement at last light.  Likewise, if you are hunting during the pre-rut or rut, you may be able to take advantage of travel corridors that funnel both bucks returning to or leaving their beds during daylight, and daylight walkers cruising for the next receptive doe in November.  At this time of year there may be less to gain from hunting a buck’s bed and so getting close may not be as much of an issue.  If your stand access is such that you cannot effectively push into a bedding area without detection, or the vegetation in the area is not conducive to providing an adequate visual barrier, you may be forced to hunt further away from a known bedding area than you would like.  Still, timing is key, and early season may be an easier time to strike when a higher level of vegetation is available for concealment.  If noise is the issue, choosing a rainy or windy day can help to conceal your movements.  Furthermore, if you find yourself in hill country and your evening access requires stand entry from below a bedding area, it may be necessary to time your approach after the evening thermals begin to drop down the hillside.

With all of the above taken into consideration, our scouting efforts this spring yielded a new stand location with plenty of potential that proves to be an aggressive approach to hunting a buck bed on our property.  Here is the bedding stand that we plan to utilize this year during early season:

Buck Bed to feed

The Bedding

The concept of this stand location is fairly simple.  Here we are cutting off evening travel from bedding to food by getting approximately 85 yards from where the deer spend their daytime hours.  The deer utilize the transition edge of the brushy thicket and the mature hardwoods for bedding cover.  Several seeps keep this area wet enough that few large trees grow and the lack of canopy provides sunlight for woody browse and native grasses and forbs to flourish and make the area a tangled mess.  What is not evident in the photo is that in addition to a cover transition between the mature woods and the bedding area, there is also a terrain shift where the hillside becomes steep.  At the transition line on the right hand side of the photo, the terrain flattens a bit and provides ample areas for deer to bed.  Along this transition is also where the majority of buck sign can be found.

The Approach

Entering this stand for an evening hunt requires a slow and methodical approach.  Although it is a short walk, I will be certain to give myself ample time so as I can walk quietly and the noise of my entry will not push deer out of the bedding area.  By coming across the Ag field and small food plot, I am able to keep my path from crossing deer trails and my ground scent is limited to areas that deer are more accustomed to experiencing human intrusion or interaction.  While it is impossible to see in the photo, this stand location sits atop a small bench; the elevation change is about 4 feet.  This slight terrain change allows me to hide my approach from bedded deer less than 100 yards away.  I may have to walk fifty yards or so in a hunched position, but this is better than having deer see me and ending the hunt before it has a chance to begin.  To further hide my approach, I hinge cut the small trees and vegetation that was next to my stand to provide a thicker visual barrier to the deer that will be bedded uphill.  This will allow me to get to the base of the tree with greater ease and even climb into position undetected.  Scent detection will be of little concern since I plan to hunt this location on a Northern wind, and will wait to access the stand until the thermals have neutralized and began their thermal shift in the evening.  Once the cooling air begins to fall down the hillside, there is no chance of my scent rising to the deer bedded above me.  Shortly after this shift, I expect the deer to be on their feet and beginning to move and browse through the staging area around the bedding, making timing a very delicate calculation in this scenario.  Hunts in this location will be very few, and very short, but they have a high potential for rewarding yields.

The Stand

At approximately 8 feet off the ground, this stand provides more cover than a platform positioned at 20 feet in this tree and the thick vegetation around the area can conceal the hunter's approach.

At approximately 8 feet off the ground, this stand provides more cover than a platform would if positioned at 20 feet in this tree and the thick vegetation around the area can conceal the hunter’s approach.

I selected the tree primarily based on location, but I was also looking for enough cover.  I was able to trim out just enough vegetation to allow me to draw my bow and have a small lane to the one trail I can shoot to.  Interestingly, I also have chosen to position this stand just 7 feet off the ground.  Because most of the vegetation around this location is short thorn trees, going higher than this would actually have limited the amount of cover this stand would afford.  Setting a stand twenty feet up the tree would also potentially allow for deer in the bedding area to “skyline” me and see me climbing into the treestand.  Hanging the stand lower actually provides a better scenario for remaining undetected by both bedded animals and those traveling through the small shooting lane we cut.

After the Hunt

Since I am positioned between bedding cover and destination food sources, theoretically I could leave my stand after dark and get out of the area via an exit route through the woods.  The presumption would be that the deer have transitioned into the nighttime destination food sources by this time, allowing for a deer free exit through the timber.  Normally, this would be the approach I would take, however, in this case, it becomes very easy for the hunter to be picked up with a vehicle and additional ground scent does not have to be left or deer trails crossed.  Deer are less likely to associate a vehicle with hunting pressure than they are a hunter walking on foot, or worse yet the scent of a hunter in their core area.  In this area they routinely experience farm equipment in the fields so a quick vehicle pickup will leave the area less pressured than if the hunter were to exit the stand location on foot.

During your scouting sessions, determine how close you can be to the bedding areas you locate.  Being too aggressive and pushing deer out of the area upon approach is counter productive, however highly pressured deer may not travel far from their beds in daylight.  Setting up on the outskirts of a bedding area, just out of sight, sound and scent is the best way to intercept a whitetail during shooting hours.  When you are determining how to hunt a new spot, be sure to consider stand access and how you can use terrain, cover, wind and thermal activity to your advantage.  Aggressive hunting tactics can make for exciting hunts, but carelessness and the lack of attention to detail can end a hunt before it begins.

-Reuben Dourte


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treestand

Early Is Better

Labor Day Weekend was for many years my target for scouting and hanging stands.  It seems somewhat naive now, but at the time it seemed like getting fairly recent information while giving the woods about a month break before season would yield the best of both worlds.  The problems with a happy medium hunting approach is that it requires compromise, and when you begin your hunting season with compromise you are likely going have to continue to do so throughout the Fall.

Sometimes a hasty last minute decision requires a stand to be thrown up in September, but your goal should be to make this the exception rather than the rule.  Likewise, there is nothing wrong with moving a stand or hanging a new set in season to adapt and conform to changing deer movement, or if you see that a slight adjustment will provide a better harvest opportunity.  However, what should be avoided at all costs is invasive, pattern altering scouting and stand setting immediately before the season.  The majority of your scouting efforts should be relegated to post season and your stands should go in early, and here’s why:

  1. Deer patterns have an historical element.  The same concept that keeps too many hunters returning to the same over-hunted stands year after year is what makes post season scouting the most valuable weapon in your hunting arsenal.  When the foliage is down, and regeneration has not yet begun, the woods will be laid out like a Whitetail map.  Trails, rubs and scrapes are all highly evident (and from longer distances) and most importantly, post season is one of the easiest times of year to find beds.  The deer sign that was laid down during the months of hunting season, (sign which you found last December-April), is highly relevant in determining what the deer will do this year.  Things like natural food sources and crop rotation can certainly affect deer movement from year to year, but at worst you will be able to establish patterns over a longer period of time, knowing how deer will react given predictable changes in their environment and food availability.
  2. Deer patterns are seasonal.  If you are reserving your scouting sessions for September, chances are you are scouting fresh Summer sign.  Hanging stands based on Summer feeding patterns can lead to immense amounts of disappointment and frustration come October and November.  As food sources are either harvested or depleted, deer patterns will change and adjust.  A heavily used trail heading to a bean field that shows consistent buck travel in August can prove to be one of worst places to sit on October 1st.  Additionally, its widely recognized that bucks will often have different Summer and Fall ranges.  Why this occurs is up for debate, but what is known is that a buck living on a property in August may not be there after velvet peel.  A few game camera pictures of a buck using a specific trail in the Summer is probably not enough intel to confidently hang a stand and expect a shot at that buck, unless you are able to relate the deer’s movement to bedding; which is information you would have gathered while post season scouting.  Its very possible that the buck on your trail camera has moved on to a different Fall core area and the inventory and movement of the bucks on your property will have changed between September 1st and October.  If you aren’t relating your stand positions to bedding areas that are historically utilized in the Fall you are going to be spending a lot of energy to place stands out of range of your target deer, and because food sources are rapidly changing in late Summer and early Fall, hanging a stand simply based on current deer movement can be a recipe for some dry sits come archery season.
  3. Four weeks isn’t enough time.  It might seem contradictory to say that four weeks isn’t enough lead time when hanging stands after we’ve just discussed how much can change in the whitetail woods in less than four weeks.  However, when you enter the woods, you are applying pressure to a property.  I prefer to have my stands hung approximately 75 days prior to the opening day of hunting season.  After I hang my stands I stay out of these locations until I am ready to hunt.  Because I am hanging treestands based on the findings of my post season scouting, the locations I choose have little to do with Summer deer patterns.  I may hang different stands for early season, the rut and late season, but they will all be related to in-season deer movement and not Summer sign.  Hanging stands at least 75 days out gives the woods a chance to recover from the noisy intrusion of carrying stands, sticks and steps into the timber.  It also allows me to capitalize on any range shifts that may occur after the bucks shed their velvet.  A buck that has a Summer range off a property will be none the wiser when returning in late summer if the human intrusion and scent has long dissipated and the shooting lane cuts you’ve made are no longer fresh.  The beauty of post season scouting is that is allows you to utilize information you gathered that is relative to the time of year you will be in the woods trying to kill a buck.  For this reason, stand selection becomes a much easier task in summer as you will have already had a chance to select the tree in the winter months when the foliage and deer travel resemble the upcoming conditions.  The Summer guess work becomes limited and July simply becomes a month of sweat equity instead of turning September into a month of indecisive stand selection.

Avoiding the idea of compromise when it comes to scouting and hanging stands can yield much more successful results later this Fall.  Concentrating your scouting efforts in the post season, while eliminating unnecessary pressure on your hunting property immediately prior to the season is the best recipe for both a stealthy approach and positioning yourself in the most advantageous locations once hunting season rolls around.  Hang your stands early and reap the rewards of preparation meeting opportunity.

-Reuben Dourte


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deer antler

Confessions of an Unsuccessful Shed Hunter

Category : Scouting

Over the years, my ambition level has been pretty hot and cold when it comes to shed season.  The first year I ever decided to look for sheds, I remember the article I read (that inspired me to start shed hunting) made it sound incredibly easy.  All you had to do was walk along a late season food source, or better yet, check a fence crossing or two, and there would undoubtedly be some white gold lying there for the taking.  Over the years, between Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, I have managed to find 3 sheds.  That’s right, 3.  Even though these numbers seem pretty dismal, I’m not too worried about it.  And here’s why.

Its About Scouting

Shed hunting is a great reason to get into the woods during a prime time of year.  Even though deer season seems far off, these late winter months are absolutely the most important months on the whitetail calendar.  Even if I’m not finding antlers, next to hunting, this is the most valuable time for me to be in the timber.  For deer, these months can be the most critical in terms of nutrition.  Many of the Winter food sources are depleted, forbs and browse are chewed down, and Spring green-up has not yet occured.  Because of the lack of vegetation, the whitetail woods is laid out like a map.  Trails, rubs & scrapes are all highly visible.  Most importantly, beds are more evident during late winter when the deer begin to shed their long winter hair because of the longer daylight hours.  Hair, fresh tracks or droppings in a worn in bed is indicative of a bed receiving regular use, and recently, to boot.  Late season is about the only time of year when bumping a target deer will have little-to-no effect on your chances of harvesting that animal come fall.  Once you locate a bedding area in the post season, you can take the time to thoroughly scout the general vicinity to find the trails leading into and out of that location.  You can also that that opportunity to locate an ambush site where you can set up just outside of the deer’s range of scent, sight or sound.  Sheds or no sheds, this is absolutely invaluable information to gain.

Beds are often found on points and spurs overlooking steep draws or side hills.

Beds are often found on points and spurs overlooking steep draws or side hills.

It’s About Math

The second reason I’m not getting exercised about shed hunting success is that I stay realistic in my understanding of what is actually out there to find.  I hunt in pressured states that experience high percentages of buck exploitation each year.  Even in Pennsylvania, where there is a mandatory antler point restriction, I know that the shed hunting opportunities will pale to those available in midwestern states.  While a 100 acre property with a winter food source in Iowa may likely hold a half dozen 2.5 year old, or older, bucks.  The same piece in NY may have one survivor over 2 years old, and he may, or may not have dropped his antlers on that property.  I’m looking for a much lower number of antlers because of the reality of how many bucks get harvested each gun season.  That’s not even to mention that I am looking for a much smaller percentage of antler.  A 70″ side laying in the middleof a picked bean field is a lot easier to spot than a 20″ fork horn.  The odds are never in your favor when shed hunting, but if you plan to shed hunt in high hunter density states, you better have a quick meeting with reality before you head out or you are in for a dissapointing day.

Its About Habits

Deer are creatures of habit.  Even in areas where movements are hard to predict, deer have some semblance of a routine.  Typically it revolves around security and food and that’s why you hear a lot of people simplify the Whitetail’s needs into categories of food/water and cover.  The thing that amazes me about myself is that when I scouted a property in the past I was so keyed in on the perennial use of primary trails, yet failed to consider the use of individual beds year after year.  I believe a lot of hunters fail to realize that a buck bed is likely in a location for a specific reason, whether that is wind/thermal advantage, topography, cover or for lack of human activity.  If these elements remain consistent, it is extremely likely that another deer will take over that bedding area if the deer who had been using it is killed.  I believe that too many hunters’ mental approach to buck bedding is that it is random and therefore they overlook a specific bed in favor of hunting over a well used primary trail along a food source.  Years ago, I bumped a large buck from a bed at the end of a brushy point between two ag fields.  I assumed that the deer just happened to be bedded there that day and would probably never return again.  I never thought much more about it until this year when I decided to scout that point more thoroughly.  Within 30 seconds I located a worn bed that had been there long enough to create a slight divot into the mound of ground it sat on top of.  I have little doubt that this is the exact location that buck was laying in so many years ago.  He has long since been killed, but the bed is advantageous for a reason, and over the years, subsequent generations of deer have utilized to their advantage the terrain and cover features that this spot provides and have kept the bed open.  This concept alone makes scouting and locating beds during the off season so much more valuable to me than specifically shed hunting.  A shed can tell you where a buck was, while a bed can tell you where he lives; and likely where another buck will live after your target deer is harvested.  These beds, and the stand locations you select to hunt them, can be fruitful for years to come.  Conversely, you probably won’t find an antler on the same trail year in and year out.

Beds are sometimes located where we least expect them. Deer use the same beds year after year for a reason; they provide security and scent or sight advantages.

Beds are sometimes located where we least expect them. Deer use the same beds year after year for a reason; they provide security and scent or sight advantages.

Conclusion

Admittedly, it might sound like I am making excuses and looking for the silver lining of a unsuccessful shed hunting season.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be the first to tell you that I would love to be picking up a thousand inches of antler per year, but it is just not realistic in the areas I hunt.  I have walked nearly 20 miles already this year and have yet to find a shed.  I did however find several dozen beds, of which a handful were buck bedding.  Because of this, I have 5-6 promising brand new stand locations for next year and was able to tweak a few existing stands to hopefully be more effective during the upcoming season.  If a buck comes by that meets my standards, I will harvest that animal, regardless of whether or not I have his sheds sitting on my bookshelf at home.  Don’t be thrown off by a lack of shed hunting success, instead, use this time to establish your movements for next Fall, when it really counts.

-Reuben Dourte

 

 


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Planning a Micro Food Plot

If you have the ability to do land improvements on the property you hunt, you may be able to give yourself an increased advantage when season rolls around.  Although I’m not a property consultant by any means, we have been planting food plots for over a decade, and going from rocky, abandoned pastures with incredibly wet, acidic soil to small fields of clover, corn and brassicas has taught us a few things, (mostly through failure).  Although weather and soil conditions from year to year may differ in our location so drastically that the success of food plots can be extremely variable, over time we have learned what plantings can sustain the level of browsing the plots will receive and what species are hardy enough to do well in the conditions and parameters we must work within.

The way I see it, there are a couple different kinds of food plots; namely, hunt plots, and destination plots.  You can throw ag fields in there somewhere, too, however, they often serve the same purpose as a destination plot, i.e. keeping deer fed (usually after dark), and in the general area.  Most of what is on our property would be considered a destination plot.  Although a few plots are secluded enough to give deer secure feeding in daylight hours, they aren’t close enough to buck bedding to be productive as hunting locations.  To that point, in all the years that we have hunted this piece of ground, I believe one buck has been killed off a food plot.  The pressure these deer receive and the locale of our current food plots is just not conducive to hunting success.  The purpose they serve for us is keeping doe family groups in our area, making the rut a good time to be in the woods close to those does’ bedding areas.

Because of our lack of huntable food plots, I made plans for some projects this year.  One of those projects is to attempt to create a food plot that is huntable in early season, while bucks are still on a bed-to-feed pattern.  For this reason, this blog is going to be more focused about the location selection of a hunt plot than the actual installation process.  While I’m not a huge fan of hunting over food plots, my plan is to create a secure plot within a bucks transition area between bed and food.  A buck choosing to use this plot will have to travel less than 100 yards from his bed.

To accomplish this, I first needed to determine where deer were bedding in the timber on the south facing slope of the property.  I suspected there to be some doe bedding lower on the hill, closer to the existing destination plot, and hoped to be able to locate some buck beds as well.  I assumed I may find buck bedding higher on the ridge.  A subtle point created an advantageous bedding location and I was able to locate a lone bed along this higher elevation with several decent rubs leading into it along the side hill.  Slightly lower and to the east of this location was a doe bedding area with multiple beds facing in varying directions.  Both of these bedding areas were positioned in a way that the deer could take full advantage of both a North wind coming over the top of the hill and daytime thermal activity bringing scent up from the valley below.

Because of the terrain, the two options for food plots are either at the base of the hill, or on the flat at the top.  In time, ideally, I would like to position a food plot above the buck bed on the top of the hill.  This will require some additional planning, and possibly some heavier equipment than I have available to me at this time.  So, for this summer, my plans are to position a hunt plot between the bedding area and the larger destination food sources located to the South and the West.

The proposed location for a micro hunt-plot that capitalizes on known bedding areas and food sources for early season success.

The proposed location for a micro hunt-plot that capitalizes on known bedding areas and food sources for early season success.

With the proposed location of the new hunt plot, in picture above, I will be able to gain access to the stand location in the evening while staying completely undetected by the deer I am hunting.  It is very important when getting below deer in hill country on evening hunts than you are waiting to get into your stand until the thermals have shifted and begin to drop off the side hill down into the valley below.  When these thermals begin to fall I will be able to come off the road and approach my stand silently and scent free.  Because of the thick vegetation, any deer bedding on the side hill will not be able to see my approach.  One of the most important considerations when planning a stand location is how you will go about getting into it without pressuring the very deer you are attempting to hunt.  Waiting until later in the evening is imperative when hunting a spot like this.

My other main concern when hunting this location is how the deer move through this area.  Typically, the deer bedded on the side hill will drop down after leaving their beds and travel along one of the lower trails in the evening to be able to take advantage of falling thermals.  For this reason, I have chosen a tree on the south side of the plot.  Greedily, I would like to chose a spot on the north side of the plot so as to be able to shoot a few yards into the timber and thus cover an additional trail when hunting with archery gear.  In doing so, I would risk my scent blowing over the plot and any deer looping to the southeast corner of the plot, (to use this lower elevation to their advantage), would smell me without ever giving a shot opportunity.  By selecting the tree marked by the red X, I will have a 35 yard shot to the bottom edge of the woods, and less than a 20 yard shot to either of the other trails.  Because of the potential for the deer to approach from the East, it will be important to hunt this spot on a NNW wind.  To further ensure that no deer walk below my stand location and catch my scent or cross my access trail and ground scent, I plan to pile all of the brush that is cleared from the area to make the plot in a row along the southeast corner of the clearing in a in order to funnel deer up into the food plot from this lower trail.  The falling thermals and the manipulation of the deer travel will enable this spot to be hunted a few more times than other typical stand locations on a food plot.

The last consideration is the shape of the plot.  The shape I’ve laid out here creates a natural funnel for any deer who enter the plot to move through on their way to the destination food source to the West, giving the hunter an easy broadside shot.  Because I don’t expect the deer to spend a lot of time in this plot, but rather move through it on their way to the larger food plot, an evening exit becomes easier.  There is enough of a vegetation buffer between this micro plot and the large plot to the west that a visual barrier will keep deer from seeing a hunter leaving the stand.  This will also help this stand to stay good for a couple more hunts than usual.  Because a vegetation screen is both critical for entrance and exit routes, I expect to only hunt this plot a few times during early archery season.

Monitoring the plot is the last piece of the puzzle.  Because of the small size of the plot, one trail camera is enough to monitor all of it.  Putting the camera on video mode will help me determine the direction of access the deer use to enter the plot.  Correlating camera data with weather history will also give me a good indication of how and when the deer are using the plot in conjunction with the wind and thermals.  Checking the camera will require the same careful entrance and exit as when hunting and I will be careful not to contaminate the plot with human scent during summer monitoring.  Keeping tabs on the deer activity in the plot through the use of a trail camera will let me know when the time is right to move in for the kill.

Even with a game plan in place, staying open minded is key and if the trail camera shows deer entering the mirco plot just after sundown, I will know I need to push into the timber and get a little closer to the beds, within the bucks staging area.  This becomes an additional challenge and a higher risk, higher reward type of hunt.  It is unlikely that more than one or two hunts in this location, per season, will be possible if this becomes necessary.  The stand on the micro plot will be beneficial from an observational standpoint, with the ability to also produce kill.

Hopefully I will have good things to report in 9 months about this new property improvement project.  I would love to hear about your successes or challenges with implementing food plots into your hunting arsenal.  Leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Buck Rub

Boots on the Ground

If you’re like me you’ve been getting antsy ever since hunting season has ended.  Hopefully you have been satisfying the itch by doing some cyber scouting and maybe, if you’re really motivated, you have already started knocking on some doors to secure shed hunting permission or better yet, bowhunting permission.

Sometimes, due to the logistical problems of schedules, distance and time in general, it is hard to set foot on some of the properties we want to hunt in the fall.  But, in short, right now is the most important time for your whole hunting year.  This is when plans are made and promising areas are located.  Although some experienced hunters can look at a Topo or and Aerial and go into a parcel “blind” and set up at the right spot, I feel it is almost always preferable to put the boots to the ground and verify your hunches during the late winter and early spring when there is no need to fear spooking the buck you are trying to hunt.  Its also a lot easier to get around the woods without all the vegetation of late summer, not to mention the bugs.

One of the most rewarding things in hunting, aside from connecting on a mature whitetail, is getting confirmation that the hunches you developed during your cyber scouting sessions panned out to be true.  This Winter I had a chance to put myself to the test on a fairly sizable piece of public swamp.  I previously wrote about narrowing the property down by eliminating much of from consideration and focusing on high percentage areas.  Not all of my areas of interest wound up containing deer sign, but much of what I believed to be true about the deer movement on the property was confirmed.

Although I didn't get a chance to fully investigate the small island in the swamp due to heavy rains and the water being higher than usual for the time of year, the sign coming off the island via the points and the rubs indicate that a buck is traveling this area regularly. Because no beds were located on the point, it stands to reason the buck is bedding on the small island of trees and coming onto the point to stage amongst the red oaks on the mainland.

Although I didn’t get a chance to fully investigate the small island in the swamp due to heavy rains and the water being higher than usual for the time of year, the deer sign coming off the island via the points and the large rubs all indicate that a buck is traveling this area regularly. Because no beds were located on the point, it stands to reason the buck is bedding on the small island of trees and coming onto the point to stage amongst the red oaks on the mainland.

Although I was a bit unprepared for the depth of the swamp and need to go back with hip waders, I did find some promising sign off of the points of timber protruding into the swamp.  These peninsula points and several pinch points were some of the main places I wanted to investigate, and while I wasn’t able to make it to some of the small islands in the swamp just off of those points, the fact that I found trails entering the swamp in the direction of these points coupled, with several good rubs nearby, leads me to believe I am very much on the right track to locating the buck bedding in this area.

Buck Rub

This buck rub was located just off a point that has a small island of high ground 50 yards beyond it into the swamp. See the aerial photo included in this post for where the rubs are located relative to the suspected buck bed in this area.


 One of the other areas that excited me was a prospective rut funnel on this parcel.  Some large trees that showed up on the aerial made me believe that there was a small portion of high ground running through the swamp for about 50 yards, which served to connect two larger pieces of timber (one with a destination food source beyond it).  When I got to this location it was even better than I suspected.  The woods necked down to only 10 yards wide with deep swamp water on either side of the high ground and the amount of deer travel through this area over the years has created a furrow in the soft ground.

Swamp Funnel

Here is the deer trail running along the narrow strip of high ground which connects two larger pieces of timber.

Additionally, there is another thin funnel connecting a third piece of high ground to the other two and there is a good chance that any bucks cruising for early estrous does will naturally walk this path of least resistance.  A North wind will give the opportunity to set up in close proximity of the convergence of all the trails and this should offer a productive sit with all-day movement once the time is right.

Swamp Funnel

Three pieces of timber connected by two narrow funnels which allow the deer a natural path of least resistance through this area. It will be important to be patient and not burn this spot out until the rut starts to kick off and bucks are cruising later in the morning looking for the first estrous does. Waiting until the latter part of October/beginning of November will also provide more Northern prevailing winds for this area, which typically experiences many SW/SSW winds earlier in the year. Accessing the stand from the south for a morning hunt will allow for an undetected approach from deer feeding in the destination food sources.

Needless to say, I am excited about the potential this area holds for both early season bowhunting and the rut.  While these are spots I would key in on even if I were going in blind and hunting the first time I set foot on the property, putting boots on the ground allowed me to confirm some of my suspicions, select some stand locations and pinpoint where other hunters’ stands where in order to avoid those areas and not waste a hunt come Fall.

Are you finding some promising areas for next year?  I would love to hear about your post season scouting successes in the comments below, or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte