Category Archives: Scouting

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PA Whitetail Buck

Hunting Parallel Trails

When I started bowhunting, my methods for scouting were usually to find a well used trail, or intersection of trails, and post up for numerous sits once October rolled around.  Although I wasn’t, at that time, relating any of this sign to bedding, I was still convinced that the only reason I wasn’t killing a mature buck was because of my limited time in the woods.  In reality, its likely that that first time I sat the stand was my highest percentage chance for success.  However, I didn’t understand the concept of “parallel trails” and how bucks are using these trails, when, and why.

Recently I was watching a hunting video that briefly discussed parallel trails and how bucks use them.  Parallel trails are something that most people who hunt in mixed terrain likely have encountered, whether those folks were aware of their significance or not.  Where timber meets agricultural fields, there will usually be a well defined path that parallels the field edge.  Likewise, there will be trails that are perpendicular to the parallel trail, heading from the timber (and bedding) to the food source.

The video suggested that bucks use the parallel trails to scent check a field before entering it in the evening.  They maintained that a buck may walk the length of a field only to enter it with the wind at their back, confusing many hunters who may expect a buck to walk nose to wind or at least quartering into the wind.  In their example, the buck was already able to scent check the entire field via the parallel trail before entering the food source on the upwind side.

Parallel Trail

Here is an example of how some describe deer travel and usage of parallel trails. In this scenario, the buck is walking the edge of the field scent checking for other deer and/or danger by walking quartering into a south west wind. The entry point into the field actually has the deer quartering WITH the wind, but the thought is that the deer has already checked the field prior to reaching this entry point.

Not long after watching the video, I was discussing some hunting properties and tactics with an extremely well versed and experienced hunter who gave a slightly different perspective on these parallel trails which I felt was interesting.  In his opinion, bucks walking nose-to-wind is a bit of a misnomer, so a buck scent checking a field this way isn’t necessarily the way he sees bucks using parallel trails.  He feels strongly that bucks will use these trails to cut the tracks of does entering or leaving destination ag fields to see if there are any does in the area who have entered estrous.  Taking the route of the parallel trail allows them to efficiently check a larger area for potential estrous does by crossing their bed-to-feed trails.  Therefore, his strategy is to take advantage of a parallel trail when the bucks are likely to be cruising and looking for does.

Parallel Trail

Another real life example of a parallel trail put to use on a cruising October buck.  A friend of mine used this stand location to harvest an eight point this year in archery season.  As the aerial shows, the buck was traveling SW with the wind to his back, cutting the doe trails coming out of the CRP field and heading into the bedding cover. However, even if the buck had been traveling North East on this parallel trail, the NNW prevailing wind, along with the warmer thermals rising above the CRP field, which draw the air away from the parallel trail, keep the hunter undetected.

This school of thought that a buck will often travel wind-to-back also maintains that a buck’s entry point into a field has less to do with scent checking the whole length of the downwind side of the field via a parallel trail, and more to do with manipulating terrain features; namely slight depressions and low spots along a field edge where cool air thermals naturally drain the scent of the field into these lower elevations.

Parallel Trail

This example of a parallel trail follows the edge of the field along a wooded side hill. The approximate topo lines placed on the aerial show a subtle point that a buck would use for bedding on a northern wind. Obviously, a buck heading to this field after bedding on this point would walk quartering with the wind and would not have the prevailing wind advantage to scent check the field while moving along the parallel trail. Instead, the subtle depression at the bottom corner of the field acts as a thermal drain and pools scent from the whole field in the ate evening hours when this buck would begin to venture out of security cover.

This doesn’t mean you can post up on a parallel trail with disregard to bedding and expect a cruising buck at any moment, however.  It remains important to know where both buck and doe bedding are so you can plan your access and stand location accordingly, in order to minimize the pressure you put onto a piece of property.  If you know where a buck is bedding on a particular wind, you can then take advantage of the just-off wind and set up on the parallel trail where you are located just out of the scent stream so you can remain undetected while the deer stills feels like they have the scent advantage.  Like I’ve mentioned in the past, this is where milk weed seed can be an invaluable tool to give you a detailed visual map of the wind and thermal currents.  Places where a trail has a slight curve can be excellent spots to take advantage of when hunting a just-off wind.

Whether you are hunting parallel trails hoping for a cruising buck cutting doe tracks, or hoping to intercept a scent-checking buck entering a field in early season, its still important to know where both buck and doe bedding areas are on your property.  I feel strongly that much better success can be had when hunting a parallel trail vs. a field edge stand, and access to and from the stand can prove easier to remain undetected, whether it is leaving the stand in the evening or entering the stand in the morning.  However, I have noticed that other hunters pick up on parallel trails more regularly than they do an individual bed which could hold a mature buck, and therefore, public land hunters may need to consider the realistic probability of success (or lack thereof) along parallel trails in high pressure areas.  If the deer have had a chance to pattern other hunters from the scent they leave after sitting along these trails for 4 weeks before the rut kick-starts, you may still need to push closer to the buck’s bed to capitalize on daytime movement.

Have you found some killer stand locations along parallel trails? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Ground Scent and Access Routes

For many of my early archery hunting years I failed to consider several of the smaller details surrounding archery hunting success.  One such detail was ground scent and stand access.  A lot of times the easiest access to a stand location is the same travel path that the deer routinely use.  Deer are lazy, and the secure path of least resistance is often where they travel.  And so it happens to be that we hunters can tend to be lazy as well.  Not coincidentally the path we often choose is the same path the deer walk.  I believe that many times the reason that we fail to see deer while on the stand is that the deer which would have come through our area are alerted before they are within sight (or smell) of a hunter in a treestand by the scent that hunter leaves on the ground.  That deer trail you crossed 100 yards to the west may be the tip-off a mature buck needs to head back in the direction he came from instead of continuing through your area.

I’ve started to consider my access routes to stand locations and have begun to tweak my approach in minor, subtle ways in order to avoid detection by deer.  When possible, I cut access paths through the woods in the spring so that the least amount of vegetation comes in contact with my clothing.  This also does a lot to reduce noise during your approach.  Secondly, when I am cutting these access lanes, it try to steer clear of known deer trails.  Sometimes this requires my access to the stand to be significantly longer, or a tougher walk.  But the results justify the additional effort.  In hill country, it can be almost impossible to avoid crossing some deer trails when you traverse a hill side to your stand location.  Getting creative about your access can solve many of your problems.  Perhaps you need to access your stand from the backside of the hill and drop down to your hunting position on the leeward side from the ridge top above.  If you are hunting later in the afternoon, your approach may need to be from the bottom of the hill and you may position your stand below the travel corridor you are hunting to take advantage of thermal currents than will pull your scent away from aproaching deer.  In these scenarios, it may be possible to never cross a deer path you expect travel to occur along.

Still, I seem to find situations where it is almost impossible to avoid crossing some deer paths on the way to my hunting location.  In these circumstances, it becomes even more important to have an idea of where the deer you are hunting is likely bedding.  If you have a good idea of the bedding that is being utilized on a specific wind direction, you can appropriately plan you access to both avoid bumping deer from that bedding area during your approach, and avoid having your scent entering the bedding area during your hunt.  If I have to cross a deer path, I will do it on the side of my stand opposite of where I expect the deer to travel from.  This way, by the time the deer are able to detect any ground scent, they will have already walked through several shooting lanes.  Keep in mind that the way you approach your stand can, and should, likely change depending on whether you are hunting that location in a morning or an afternoon.  Several of my stands should be accessed from the East in the morning and West in the afternoon, or vis-a-versa.  Below is an example of just that:

access

Hunting this stand on a N wind requires different access for evening vs. morning hunts. A wind with too much West in it can be problematic if deer are traveling from the Southeastern bedding area in the evening. However, splitting hairs can be necessary to position yourself in range of a mature deer and this stand can be successfully hunted on a NNW wind. This spot worked perfectly for an evening hunt that ended with a mid october mature doe kill.

If you are hunting on private land, another option may be to create an obstacle to deflect deer movement away from your access route.  This can be beneficial for changing a movement pattern just slightly enough to avoid wind detection as well.  If the trail you are hunting is below the only tree that can hold a treestand in the area, hinge cutting a line of brush to angle the trail above the tree can manipulate deer movement enough to allow you to access your treestand from the lower side and not have to cross the heavily travel path.  While this option is not viable for public land hunters in many states, those controlling their own piece of property can reap the rewards of a little sweat equity.

Paying attention to intricate details like access routes and accepting that it may take a little work to optimize your hunting situation can land you in a better position to capitalize on those precious opportunities at a savvy whitetail this year.

Leave your thoughts and comments below or email be at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Maximize Your Trail Cameras

The vast majority of hunters these days are running trail cameras for at least part of the year.  Just having a camera out in the woods doesn’t mean you are going to unlock the mystery of buck movement on your property.  As I mentioned in previous blogs, cameras are primarily inventory gathering tools.  When used correctly they can supplement your scouting and observations with additional concrete evidence of the caliber of deer in your area.  But can they be used for more?

Honestly, I think using cameras to pattern deer is an incredibly hard endeavor.  Unless you have a cellular camera, sending pictures remotely to your phone or email, the level of intrusion required to check cameras that are set in places where mature bucks travel in daylight would be so counterproductive it is unlikely that you would leave the area unpressured enough to capitalize on any of the intel the camera provided.  Furthermore, the patterns of deer change so quickly in the fall, your camera data may be out of date by the time you come back to check it.

I sill think there is value in using the data cameras can provide, however your camera photos need coupled with post season scouting in order to provide the most value.  Knowing where the deer are bedding is a key piece of the puzzle that cannot be ignored.  Secondly, you have to realize you are playing the long game.  The data you collect this year is not necessarily going to be able to be used on the bucks you are capturing photos of this hunting season.  The good thing about whitetails is that much of what they do is instinctual and will repeated by the next deer that takes the place of a harvested animal.  Buck bedding areas are located in specific spots because of the certain characteristics of terrain and cover.  When one buck vacates the location, another will often fill it.  We know enough about beds (partially due to trail cameras) to know that different bucks will use the same bed at different times during the year; and archers adhering to bed-style hunting tactics can attest to the fact that worn in beds receive perennial use.  All of that to say that the information you are gathering now doesn’t have to be used this season in order to be valuable.  Realistically, unless you are hunting in the area, your cameras should be left alone all season if they are placed within a bucks core area.

In a previous blog, I spoke about using historical meteorology data to determine what weather conditions aided in making a hunt successful.  Logging wind direction, speed, temperature, and moon data can help show trends in deer movement.  The challenge with this tactic is that it takes a while to see results.  You may be able to log the weather data for a few memorable hunts, but you will be somewhat limited in the number of hunts you have the date and harvest times for.  It may be a few years from now until you have enough data compiled from stand observations to begin to put together any kind of behavior analysis pertaining to the local deer.  Trail camera photos that provide a time and date stamp can help you accelerate your deer log.  Assuming you have kept your cameras up-to-date with the correct date and time, you can use an historical weather data site to look up the weather conditions when a buck passed your camera.

Positioning your camera for maximum data collection is important.  Its somewhat simple to determine direction of travel when a camera is placed over a trail, however, you may place your camera over a scrape.  This is where a video function on your camera is a worthwhile feature as it can show you more about the direction of approach a buck uses when coming into the scrape area or a bait pile (where legal).  Once you have a good read on the general direction the buck is traveling from, you can use the date and time data to look up weather and moon data for that day.  You can also do this with prior years’ photos.  This information, coupled with post season scouting efforts can give you a good indication as to which bed the buck was likely using on what wind condition.  If you notice the buck moving in daylight on specific days and these happen to be “moon days”, (where the moon is overhead within an hour of last light), you may be able to ascertain that this moon position does in fact give you a better chance at intercepting the buck in daylight hours.  If you find no correlation between your data sets, you may be able to dismiss this consideration altogether.

Stealth is always key when setting cameras in a bucks core area.  Good batteries and a camera with a low resting draw (longer battery life) are necessities in order to be able leave the camera for long periods of time.  The toughest part is having self control.  Its tempting to go back into the area to check the camera but, as mentioned, you are just burning out your spots unnecessarily if you do this.  Some people employ extreme trail camera tactics and will place a camera above a buck bed once they have located it.  To do this, a black flash camera with silent operation is imperative.  The camera should be placed well above the bed, angling downward, and needs to be set during post-season scouting.  Make sure you have a large memory card, and preferably lithium batteries for longevity.  The camera should be set for longer intervals between photos so as not to use excess amounts of battery and memory when a buck is bedded in the location all day.  This camera set up should only be checked after season is over.

If you move a trail camera onto the edge of a bucks area, you will be best served to place the camera at least at your head height and use a bracket to angle it down toward the target.  This will help avoid bucks from becoming spooked by the camera and altering their travel route.  If the deer discontinue using a trail or a scrape because of your camera’s presence in the area, your goals will not be accomplished.  For this reason, I have begun to purchase only black flash cameras from brands that I know have silent operation and fabricated several economical home made mounting brackets to angle to cameras downward.  I have had far fewer deer avoid camera traps since I have converted my sets to new micro black flash cameras and positioned them in ways that are less ostentatious.

Once you have collected the picture data from your cameras, it is important to go back and log the information in a spreadsheet format the same way you would do with stand observations.  Using an aerial and topo map in conjunction with this camera data can help you understand a deer’s likely travel route from its bed to the camera location.  Because you will know the direction of the prevailing wind based on historical weather data, you will be able to pin point possible ambush sites along the travel route and be able to better determine how close you need to get to the suspected buck bed.  For example, if a buck is consistently hitting a primary scrape a half hour after dark when the wind is from the North, you may use this information to determine he is using a bed on the South facing slope during these conditions.  Primary scrapes are visited by multiple bucks and can stay active year round.  Even if that particular buck is killed, there is a good chance that another buck will utilize the bed and hit the same scrape with regularity.

Trail cameras are not a golden ticket, and a trail camera alone isn’t going to tell you where to be in order to kill a big buck every time you step into the woods.  But, when we are playing a game of odds and working percentages, trail cameras can revolutionize how you stack the chips in your favor.  Using trail cameras for more than just “antler envy” should be on your list of things to do this fall.  Start to treat your camera as a tool, not a toy, and begin to maximize its potential by partnering it with historical weather data sets.

What are some tactics you have used to help pattern mature whitetails using trail cameras?  Leave a comment 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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Corn Funnels

Last week I was walking a piece of property we recently obtained access to archery hunt.  The property is comprised of mostly open pastures and fields with a few narrow draws and thick fence rows that provide some cover for traveling deer.  There are a few bedding areas on the property although the majority of bedding occurs on neighboring parcels.  The crops tend to rotate from year to year.  Last year, much of the ground was planted in soybeans which were harvested at the beginning of archery season.  Since there was only one field of standing corn in the near vicinity, the deer literally flocked to this location.  It was easy to predict deer movement because the destination food sources were few.  Not having access to this property last year limited our chances at the deer utilizing the corn field until it was harvested and the deer moved to the Rye fields on the property we could access.

This year, much more of what I’ll refer to as the “new” property, is planted in corn.  The deer movement is not as concentrated in one area this year, but it quickly became apparent that the additional acreage of standing corn was, for the time being, providing both secure travel corridors and bedding cover for the local deer.  So how is it that a hunter can zero in on early season patterns while the deer are still in the standing corn?

First and foremost, funnels within the corn fields are, in fact, present.  Secondly, by using aerials you may be able to zero in on locations within corn fields where contour rows have historically come together and the planter does not drop seed.  These areas often become grassy patches within the corn fields and can be spots that hold bedded bucks in the late summer and early fall months.  Just like deer will often utilize a path of least resistance when walking through thick cover, they will often use field breaks and contour lines as ways to traverse a corn field with more ease.  These areas are no different than terrain features within a section of timber that manipulate deer movement through a specific location.

Here are a few examples of the funnels I located in relation to the standing corn on the new property:

  1. Field Edges-  This is an obvious one, and at first glance capitalizing on field edges seems to go against pressured ground tactics.  However, the edge of a piece of timber and a standing corn field creates an edge funnel which deer will utilize.  During the first few days of the season, it is not impossible to catch a buck using this edge in daylight because of the security the corn field provides.  I was able to arrow one of my best bow bucks a few years ago by situating a stand along a funnel created by a standing corn field and a timberline on the edge of a swamp.  In the aerial photo included in this article, the corn field butts up to an old pasture and the fence row is impenetrably thick and provides complete concealment to any deer moving between it and the standing corn.  There was plenty of evidence of deer movement along this edge, including some large tracks at a low spot in the fence the deer were utilizing as a crossing.
    This aerial photo shows the how the deer utilized the secure travel corridors created by the standing corn field. These corridors connected several pieces of small woodlots that are utilized as bedding areas.

    This aerial photo shows how the deer utilized the secure travel corridors created by the standing corn field, both along the edge of the field and through the center by way of a field break. These corridors connected several pieces of small woodlots that are utilized as bedding areas.

     

  2. Field Breaks- In this particular situation, the aforementioned field edge joined with a natural break in the corn field.  These breaks can be created by property lines, or different varieties of corn, or because  half of the field was planted earlier than the other half.  In midwestern states, the paths that the irrigation tracks make cause this same effect.  Likewise, farmers often have a narrow drives through the field accessing the irrigation pivot.  Whatever the reason, this corridor usually proves to be a bit wider than the rows of corn and provides easier travel for the deer.  If the corridor connects two pieces of cover, you can almost bet on there being consistent travel while the corn is standing.  Because these areas get more sunlight to the ground, more grasses and forbs grow here, providing additional food source variety and bedding for the deer.
  3. Contour Breaks- In hill country, most farmers will use contour planting methods to minimize run off and erosion.  Corn rows planted across the face of the hill will keep soil in tact while rows running down the hill will allow washouts during heavy rainfall.  Often you will find that a steep section of hillside may have contoured rows going across it and part way down the hillside may become more gradual, letting the farmer plant rows following the hill, which allow for longer passes and more efficient harvesting.  Where the contour rows meet the long rows, there is often a break, similar to a field break, where the planter may skip as the farmer avoids double planting.  While this is less common with precision agriculture and GPS enabled planters, it can and does still occur.  These contour breaks provide perfect travel for deer to move along the side of the hill through the standing corn.  On the property I was scouting, this contour break led to a lone tree that was positioned on a high island knob in the middle of the corn field.  The area around the tree was grassy, the tree and the brush surrounding it provided excellent shade and cover and the knob allowed bedded deer to survey the surrounding area below them for approaching danger.  There were several large beds around this tree and I suspect that it is utilized by doe family groups, making the funnel into this location a good spot to sit over in late October, provided the corn is still standing at that time.

    This aerial displays the deer movement in conjunction with a contour break in the corn field. In this situation, the deer used this contour break to access a bedding area around a lone tree in the middle of the field. Because of elevation advantages they are able to use vision as well as scent and sound to detect approaching danger from this bedding location.

    This aerial displays deer movement in conjunction with a contour break in the corn field. In this situation, the deer used this contour break to access a bedding area around a lone tree in the middle of the field. Because of elevation advantages they are able to use vision as well as scent and sound to detect approaching danger from this bedding location.

The patterns you witness when the corn is standing will inevitably change when the crops are harvested.  However, zeroing in on these funnels within a large ag field is a good way to capitalize on early season movement.  Have you been able to pinpoint and capitalize on the funnels that are created by standing corn fields?  I would love to hear about you experiences, leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Creek Access

Water Access

Creeks and ditches provide great access to stands for morning hunts when deer are feeding in the crop fields above.  If there are steep banks along the creek this can help to shield your sound and movement as you enter your stand.  Walking slowly through a creek isn’t silent, but it is often a better option than dried leaves in late fall.  Creeks allow you to enter a stand while leaving a minimal amount of ground scent.  Utilizing creeks for access and hunting the right wind for the area you are accessing can lead to less evidence of human presence and perhaps provide you with a “free” hunt or two.  The problem is that depending on the creek, it can be a harder walk or may require you to wear hip or chest waders.  Secondly, the creek is almost always going to be a longer route depending on its course.  If you are willing to put in the extra work for clean access that can avoid educating the local deer of your presence you may be able to close the distance on a mature buck this fall.

Here is a situation where a creek provides a great morning access route.

Creek Access

This picture shows a birds eye view of the steep terrain along the left side of the creek. This helps to shield a hunter visually from deer feeding in the crop fields above.

Creek Aerial

An aerial view of the same location showing the deer paths and hunter access routes.

Begin looking for creative access points to your stand locations that will avoid alarming nearby deer to your presence.  Morning access which conflicts with nocturnal feeding patterns can negatively impact your chances at success.  Often hunter’s don’t even realize the pressure that they are putting on the deer they are trying to hunt.

Have you used creeks and ditches for stand access?  Let me know your experiences with this tactic in the comments 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


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Field Edge

Feeling Low

I don’t know how many times I have watched deer come out into a field in the evening at the same location every night, only to have them mysteriously change their course the night I moved in to hunt them.  There is a couple things wrong with the approach I was taking.  First and foremost, I would often wait too long to move in on the deer I observed using the food source.  Patterns can change quickly once hunting season arrives and gathering the most recent information and then acting upon it immediately is a must.  Secondly, I failed to consider why the deer entered the field in the location that they did and I didn’t note how subtle changes in wind direction could alter this approach.  Whether the wind was out of the Northest or the Northwest, the deer still wanted to use the destination crop field, but they would shift their entrance to the field by a couple hundred yards depending on how the wind was blowing that day.

One thing that seemed to almost always remain consistent was that the mature deer entering the field would hang up at the edge of the cover and survey their surroundings.  Without fail, the spot they chose to enter the field was where the topography dipped lower, allowing them to take advantage of the falling thermals that were dropping into this low area at the edge of the field.  By choosing low spots, the scent advantage is greater and a larger portion of the field (sometimes the whole food source) can be checked from this location.  If the wind had a subtle shift, they would move accordingly and enter the food source at the next low spot further down the edge.  Hunters need to keep low spots in mind when they are considering a deer’s travel from bedding to food in the evening.

Recently, while scouting a new piece of property, I discovered an example of this type of movement pattern.  The bedding area to the North would have deer bedded there on a Southwest/West Southwest wind.  It was evident that the deer using this area were moving south along the ridge at about the 2/3 elevation line.  Several very steep, deep cuts in side hill coupled with points that jut out serve to funnel the deer activity so they moved across the points and along the top of the cuts so that their travel is less resisted by the terrain.  Any deer approaching the Southern food source from the North during a Southwest wind could scent check the whole field before entering it.  Along the East edge of the field one of the draws continued from the wooded hillside out into the field, where it created a natural low point in the field.  A heavily used path entered the field at this exact point.

field edge aerial

The deer in this area are using falling thermals in the low point of this crop field to scent-check the food source before they enter it in the evening.

The trail along the ridge line continued to the Southwest where it wrapped around the Southeast facing point (bottom left in attached photo) and entered land I do not have access to.  I suspect beds would be present on this south facing slope and would expect them to be used on a Northwest wind.  The deer bedding on this South facing slope can utilize the entrance to the food source in the same way, scent checking the whole field as they move from West to East and enter the field at the lowest point with the wind and thermals both to their advantage.

The stand selection for this location allows me to access the spot using the creek system so as to minimize noise and ground scent as well as avoid visual detection from deer in either bedding area.  Placing the stand on the downhill side of the trail for a later evening hunt allows the falling thermals to take scent away from the travel corridor and down into the steep draw where the deer do not typically travel.  Likewise, any West wind (Southwest, West, Northwest) allows this stand to be used without the hunter being detected by deer coming from either direction.  A NW or SW wind presents a near perfect situation where the deer will feel that they are traveling with the wind to their advantage, but the hunter’s scent zone is just off of the deer’s path.  It is important to note that it may become necessary to move the stand location further north in order to be positioned closer to the deer’s bed.  In this scenario, moving Southwest of the current location is not an option because of property boundaries, however, in another situation, adjustments to move the stand closer to bedding may become necessary if the deer you are pursuing is not reaching your initial location before shooting hours end.

Begin to pay close attention to how the deer in your hunting area relate to the food sources they use.  While hunting field edges may not be the most productive approach in heavily pressured areas,  hunting travel routes that relate to those edges can still be successful.

Shares your thoughts below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte