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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org