Category Archives: E-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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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


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Making Sense of Swamp Ground

There is something about water that hunters hate and whitetails love.  Whitetails very well might love it because hunters hate it.  I have to admit, I’m none too fond of walking through black muck and quick sand.  In Pennsylvania and New York there is fewer places of vast swampland than places like Southern Michigan and Wisconsin.  Cattail swamps are commonplace in those locations, and understanding how to scout them can save you a lot of time.  One of the absolute best resources on this topic is Dan Infalt. Dan operates the website www.huntingbeast.com, a site dedicated to hunting highly pressured public marshes and hill country parcels.  I highly reccommend checking out the information and wealth of knowledge Dan has to offer.   The tactics popularized via the Hunting Beast forum and several videos on the subject, which Dan was an integral part of producing, can be put to use in any environment where these types of terrain exist.  Deer use the same specific types of terrain even in different geographical locations because all deer are concerned about the same two things, survival and propagation, and the terrain features they take advantage of help them with both.

Using aerial photos you can begin to narrow down the locations which have a high probability of being used for bedding, and finding a bucks bedroom is the first step.  This can help you to save time and energy in that you can begin to eliminate a fair portion of the marsh from your areas of focus.

Here’s how:

This aerial shows a piece of marshland which looks promising due to many terrain features that should provide secure bedding and its close proximity to agricultural food sources.

This aerial shows a piece of marshland which looks promising due to many terrain features that should provide secure bedding and its close proximity to agricultural food sources.

 

In the attached aerial, you will see the transition line between the marsh and the timber which is outlined in green.  The more mature timber indicates dryer ground and points of high ground jutting into the marsh are excellent places to hone in on when looking for buck beds.  Possible buck bedding areas are indicated on the aerial photograph by red dots.  While you are looking at transition lines along the marsh and the mainland, don’t forget to look for islands of high ground within the marsh.  These island can be a large piece of timber which may hold multiple beds, or it could be a lone tree on a small spot of dry ground within the marsh that one lone buck bed is located under. (This area has a few examples of both.)  Either way, all of these locations should be investigated.

The other thing you will want to zero in on when looking at the aerial photograph is pinch points and funnels created by changes in the terrain or vegetation.  Subtle transition lines (marked in yellow on the photograph) can serve to funnel deer along or around terrain features.  These can be good stand locations for the rut.  A place where the swamp encroaches on the corner of an ag field can serve to pinch deer travel down to an area just 20 or 30 yards wide, easily covered by an archer in a well placed treestand during the rut.  If these inside corners are off more secluded and remote fields, so much the better.

As you walk the transition line of the marsh and the timber, be aware of buck sign such as rubs and scrapes and large tracks entering or leaving the swamp.  These can be indications that you are getting close to a bucks bedroom.  In the off season, with snow on the ground, it is very easy to map the deer’s travel routes through the cattails and if you track a buck back to his bed, you will want to take the time to kneel in the bed and look around to determine what that buck can see, hear and smell.  You will want to choose a tree that you will be able to get a stand in without being detected by a deer bedded at that location.  This is where a GPS can come in handy as you can simply mark a “waypoint” and follow your path back to that location in the Fall.

You will also want to take note of the wind directions you can hunt this buck on.  Determining the bucks entry and exit to the bedding location is important so you can manipulate an off wind to be able to get a shot at the animal before he enters your scent stream.  A bedded buck may only move 50-100 yards in daylight, and so you need to be close to his bedding location in order to provide yourself with a chance to harvest that animal.  To do this, paying close attention to details such as wind direction, how the swamp will hold heat and affect thermal activity throughout the day, or even modifying your gear to be as silent as possible is an absolute necessity.  Likewise, determining your access route to your stand location is important.  You may need to invest in a pair of hip boots, or in some extreme cases a kayak or canoe in order to access a piece of property from an alternative route to avoid walking through bedding areas and pushing deer deeper into the marsh.

Hunting marsh country is something that intimidated me for quite sometime.  The vastness of a cattail marsh can feel overwhelming but if you begin to zero in on transition lines, points, islands and funnels you can “shrink” a large piece of marshland considerably.  There is a reason why deer grow old in the marsh, and there is a reason why swamp bucks are legendary creatures.

Have you had success in marsh country?  I would love to hear about the tactics you employ for scouting, locating and killing marsh bucks in your area, leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Clean Air Hill Country

Clean Air: Bullet Proof Set-Ups

Just what is “clean air”?  You might have heard people referencing the term in regard to whitetail hunting but it may be unclear as to just what they are talking about.  Such was the case for me for quite some time.  I could never seem to find a set up where “clean air” existed.  It seemed that in order to sit this or that stand there was no way around contaminating a portion of the woods which the Whitetails could appear from.  Now, part of my problem was that I wasn’t hunting beds and so the further away from bedding areas I positioned myself, the more opportunity the deer had to branch out on more unpredictable travel routes.  The other problem I was running into is that certain types of terrain prove easier to find locations where you can hunt with clean air.

Simply put, a stand with clean air is one that allows the wind to carry your scent into an area that the deer do not utilize, or, even better, can’t utilize.  A stand can also have clean air if the wind can carry your scent out over an area which may be utilized by deer, but this area is so far down wind that the scent is so diluted by the time it reaches the deer that it is a non-issue.

Finding Stands With Clean Air

Mature pine plantations with little under-story can provide an area that is undesirable for deer to travel.  Because the deer may not want to travel through the open pines, the change in landscape within a larger woods can create a subtle edge or even a pinch point when it converges with other terrain features.  Setting up on the edge of the pines, with your scent blowing into them can keep your air clean and increase your chances of avoid detection by the deer using the area.  Inside corners of crop fields can often work in similar ways, providing an open area for scent to flow into and dissipate and creating a natural funnel effect as deer will move around the inside corner of the timber to avoid exposing themselves in the open food source during daylight hours.

One of the most extreme and dynamic terrain features that can provide a hunter with clean air is a bluff or point in hill country.  A hunter positioning himself off the side of a point next to a deep cut can enjoy the benefit of falling evening thermals into the cut, a place where deer are unlikely to travel.  Creeks and steep ravines off the end of those points also provide the opportunity for a stand with clean air because the prevailing wind can carry scent a long way before it drops to the valley floor. Cuts provide natural funnels and points often hold bedding, so finding a way to capitalize on these features by positioning a stand that has clean air can be deadly.

A Real Life Example

For example, consider this property which a friend of mine will be hunting for the first time this year.

Clean Air Hill Country

Bucks utilize points for bedding purposes in hill country because of the security these features provide. Setting up off these points while considering the prevailing wind and thermal activity can provide near bulletproof set-ups that can be hunted multiple times because of the hunter’s ability to remain undetected by the deer using the area.

When walking the property we located what appears to be a buck bed off the point of one of the ridges.  The terrain here is very dramatic and the drop is almost a sheer 40′ cliff.  The deer are unwilling or unable to easily move across the side of this hill and so the movement is concentrated at the top and bottom.  Like the face of the ridge, the deep cuts in the side hill are sheer and in addition they are very thick with vegetation and fallen trees.  This serves to funnel the deer movement around the top edge of these cuts while the field line creates a pinch point, making the available travel corridor along this top section no more than 15 yards wide at any one place.  The trail below follows the base of the hill until it reaches a place where the bottom narrows as the hill drops off directly into a deep creek.  At this point the deer have to either cross the creek or head up the side hill at a slightly less steep angle.  The trail going up the side hill was very worn and on top of this hill was the large buck bed.  From this position, the buck can see the creek bottom below, he can here anything coming up the side-hill trail, and he can smell anything coming through the field behind him.  In two steps he can be down over the hill and out of sight, or if something is coming from below he can exit the bed via the trail along the field edge, heading in either direction.

Making a Move 

Typically in early season, you aren’t going to beat a buck to his bed, and if you do get in early enough he is likely going to bust you when he J-hooks downwind to scent check the area.  In pressured situations all this typically happens before daylight and you may never even know you blew the opportunity.  While keeping that in mind, I believe that the stand location on top of the hill, which actually overlooks the buck bed, is an exception to this rule.  Facing the treestand away from the approaching trail will give the hunter cover, and in this situation, the buck has a very limited approach to the bed.  He will be unable to get downwind from the hunter because the hunter is positioned on the extreme edge of steep drop off.  In the early morning the hunters scent will be carried by the prevailing wind out over the creek and will fall to the valley several hundred yards downwind in an open crop field.

Accessing the Stand

The hunter can access the stand via the creek and climb the deep cut on the left side of the aerial photo.  This access will leave no ground scent anywhere were an approaching deer with encounter it.  Hunting this stand in the morning would require the hunter to get to his stand and settled at least 2 hours before daylight or else he will risk bumping the buck as it comes back to bed.  I would hunt this stand once or twice at the very beginning of season when the bucks may be still in a predictable feed-bed-feed pattern before local hunting pressure mounts.  It is also possible that earlier in the season a buck will be returning to bed a little later than you would see come mid October.  After giving the stand a sit in early season, I would back off the spot and wait until the pre-rut kicked off in late October and hunt the top trail (further to the right of the aerial photo) in the later morning after the thermals kicked in.  There is a good chance a buck will be cruising from one piece of timber to the next, and this area is the only cover connecting the two pieces.  A cruising buck wishing to stay concealed will be funneled along this top edge because of the deep cuts in the terrain which should serve to provide a 10-15 yard shot.  It is possible to get several sits in at this location if access is carefully planned because of the clean air it provides and the opportunity to stay undetected by deer traveling by, even if a shot opportunity does not present itself the first time.

Do you look for stands that provide “clean air”?  Let me know your thoughts below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Oxbow

Hunting Terrain Features: The Oxbow

After doing a lot of reading and listening to the opinions of hardcore hunters on some website forums I began to start looking for specific terrain features when e-Scouting properties.  Recently, I had the opportunity to look at a property and then confirm my hypotheses about the way deer were utilizing the area by walking it with a friend.  When looking at the property one of the areas that stuck out to me was an oxbow in the creek which was coordinated with several other desirable features.  In this particular instance, there was a strip of timber about 50 yards wide going horizontally from one creek bank to the other.  In the middle of the wooded strip was a point with an elevation change of approximately 30 feet in 20 yards.  Secluded crop fields on top of the hill to the north of this point provided viable food sources and I believed that a buck would be utilizing this point to bed.  I suspected the point would be used during any West wind (SW, WSW, WNW, NW) and believed that approaching bucks would drop down to lower elevation along the creek and J-Hook around the point to approach the bedding from the downwind side.  I suspected that their route out of the bed would be slightly higher on the side hill and work upward to the crop fields above.  On a West wind, they could approach the crop fields with the wind to their favor.

While bedded on the point, any danger approaching from above would be detected by scent and the bedded deer could slip down off the point and across the creek to the safety of the woods on the other side.  Likewise, any danger approaching from either side of the point can be adverted by using the trails out of the bedded cover along the side hill.  With a couple steps in either direction, the buck could be around the point and out of danger.  Any danger approaching from below would be immediately detected visually and the buck could again utilize the escape routes to avoid it.

I was happy to find that my theory was accurate and there showed evidence of heavy deer travel off the point.  Tucked against the heavy cover on top of hill was an area that was definitively beaten down and showed signs of consistent use.  Because the area is small in size, hunting it must be done with careful consideration.  Access, both entry and exit, must be deliberately planned and stand locations must be selected to play just-off winds and consider thermals.

Here is what the set up looks like:

Oxbow

Oxbows are desirable terrain features for Whitetails. This map shows how the deer utilize this oxbow, accessing the bedding from the lower trails in the morning with higher exit/escape trails.

The next time you are scouting property, pay a bit more attention to oxbows and spend some time understanding how the deer are utilizing these features.  Undetected morning access via the creek can be achieved as the deer will be in the destination crop fields on top of the hill, and evening access through the fields can be planned so that deer bedded on the point can neither see, smell or hear the hunter.  Evening exit routes can again utilize the creek so as to leave deer feeding in the fields undisturbed.

Have you found success hunting oxbows?  Leave your comments below or email your thoughts to commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Terrain Funnel and Buck Bedding

Scouting New Areas With Topos and Aerials

A new piece of property can be intimidating.  In a previous article, I mentioned how even average sized parcels can feel expansive the first time you set foot on them.  That first time you step on new ground, it can be difficult to even decide where to start.  Still, other situations arise where you just didn’t have time to get to the piece before season and you need to scout and hunt all in the same visit.  Both of these scenarios are where topo maps and aerial photos are priceless.  If you understand how deer utilize the terrain, you can immediately begin narrowing down the locations that have potential and the places that you can ignore on a new piece of property.

First, if you haven’t done so already, head over to www.thehuntingbeast.com and read up on what many of the experienced pressured land hunters have to say.  Then go to the Store page and order the “Hunting Hill Country Bucks” DVD.  This DVD holds an amazing amount of valuable information about how mature bucks use terrain to bed and travel.  Mature deer prefer to bed in specific locations because of the advantageous conditions at that spot.  A buck will utilize specific beds for specific wind directions and bedding on points allows the buck to make slight midday adjustments to keep the wind in his favor.  Mature bucks in hill country will typically bed with some kind of structure at their back to provide cover.  This could be in the form of a fallen tree, a briar bush, honeysuckly etc.  In hill country, a good place to find beds is 1/3 of the way down from the top elevation of the hill, on the leeward side of the hill.  Meaning, if the wind is predominantly out of the North in your area, look on points off the South facing slopes for more worn-in beds.  Bedding on points can also give a buck a visual advantage to see what is approaching from below.  How far the buck can see must be taken into account when planning stand access.

While I was doing some e-Scouting recently, I found a new piece of property that had the kind of terrain features to make it huntable and also at the same time somewhat undesirable for other hunters to access.  The front of the property features a nice, attractive crop field while should serve to keep many of the other hunters along the field edge.  Because I did not get a chance to put boots on the ground prior to spring green-up, I will have to go into this property using the information from aerials and topo maps to make an educated prediction of where I need to be.  One of my first perspective stand locations is as follows:

Terrain Funnel Buck Bedding

e-Scouting led to zeroing in on this location to check for bedding on the point and a funnel created by a deep ravine in the side hill.

In this location the destination crop field/ food source is at the highest elevation.  There is a wooded point to the Northeast of the narrow finger of secluded crop field which I believe has a good chance of having bedding on it.  A buck bedded on this point during a North wind could see and hear anything below him, and smell anything coming from behind him via the open field.  He can easily escape in either direction around the end of the point.  Furthermore, a buck leaving this bed in the evening can travel along the edge of the field with a West, West-Northwest, or Northwest wind in his advantage.  He is able to scent check the entire field from the downwind side on any of these wind conditions.  Although trails are often found entering fields at the corners, in this case I believe there is a better chance of a mature animal skirting the lower edge of the field while remaining concealed in the timber.  The topography along this edge provides a perfect low-point which allows the buck to take full advantage of falling evening thermals coming off the crop field.  Leaving the field in the morning via the Northeast corner, the buck can drop down to lower elevation and J-Hook up into the bed with the wind in his face.

Terrain Funnel and Buck Bedding

A Google Earth view showing the lay of the terrain and the funnel that is created by the deep draw in the hillside.

The stand location that I plan to use will also benefit from a terrain feature that will create a pinch point for any deer using this travel route.  The deep draw on the hillside appears (from the topo maps and Google Earth view) to be extreme enough so as to be uninviting for travel.  Certainly the deer could travel through here, but the path of least resistance will likely keep them higher on the hillside.  In staying higher, they will also achieve maximum scent benefit as they will be able to smell anything in the field and rising morning thermals will allow them to detect danger below.  If I were to hunt this location in the morning, I would position my stand above the trail and hunt higher in the tree so the North wind would carry my scent over the deer and down to the untraveled draw.  The wind conditions I have described will allow me to sit this stand undetected by a deer bedded on the point.  It also allows the deer to feel like they have the wind in their advantage while traveling the edge and my stand placement is such that the wind is just off of their bedding area and travel corridor enough to avoid getting busted.

Will this setup be productive?  Only time will tell, and, ideally I would have had a chance to confirm my suspicions prior to season.  However, this location has several very good things going for it, and unless another hunter already has a stand placed in this location, it has the potential to yield dividends come Fall.  E-Scouting is the first step in piecing the puzzle together and it can saved you countless hours and plenty of energy.

Let me know you thoughts below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte