Geographical Whitetail Hideouts and Travel Corridors (Part 1)
By Jason Smith
It’s late-September. You’ve got all of your hunting gear organized and ready to go. Your clothes are clean and scent free, and your boots are well broken in and waterproofed. You’ve spent hours upon hours dialing in your bow and honing your shooting skills through countless sessions of off-season practice. Tags have been purchased. Stands have been hung. Trail cameras have been set and checked. Deer have been located and patterned. You’re just waiting for opening day.
Then you receive ‘THE CALL’. For whatever reason, you just lost permission to hunt land that you’ve hunted for years.
Your world has been thrown into an absolute tailspin. You’re scrambling to find new land and realize that no matter where you end up, you will essentially be going in blind. There’s no time to run pre-season trail cameras and no time to do any type of thorough pre-season scouting. You’re going to be hard pressed to get stands hung, and probably won’t hang as many as you’re used to having access to.
Although a few details may vary, this general scenario plays out frequently. When it does, veteran and novice deer hunters alike find themselves at the same starting point. You’re both faced with the same main challenges to overcome in order to have a successful season. Once you’ve obtained access to new hunting land, you’ve got to figure out where the deer are (or should be), select your stand locations and hang them, and figure out how to get to and from your stands without spooking deer.
In my opinion, nothing beats actual scouting by physically walking timbers and draws when it comes to learning the lay of the land, but sometimes, such as in this case, that’s just not possible. Most of us don’t have access to a helicopter or drone to give us a bird’s eye view of our hunting terrain, but most of us have access to the internet and a handheld viewing device or a printer. Aerial photographs can be obtained for free at different websites, and many by simply entering an address or geographical coordinates. In my opinion, they are invaluable.
Google Maps, County Assessor Websites, and County / State governmental agencies and conservational organization websites are all good places to snag quality aerial shots / maps of hunting land and surrounding properties. You can use the aerial shots to spot possible pinch points, water and food sources, bedding areas, travel routes, etc. Some aerial maps mark property lines as well. This comes in very handy when fence lines aren’t maintained or are completely non-existent. If hunting public land, some aerial maps also include information about the specific area like park boundary lines, vehicle parking, what types of game animals are present, and what activities are allowed during what date ranges.
I personally use aerial shots constantly from pre-season planning, to in-the-field hunting, and post season marking and note recording. I’ve been known to carry laminated paper copies and have had buddies rib me about it, but you’d be surprised how many rural areas have poor or no cellular service. That, and non-laminated paper maps don’t stand up well to rain, sweat, friction of being carried in a pocket or a bag, and especially not a combination of all three.
So, hunting season is about to start and you’ve been lucky enough to obtain new land to hunt. You’ve located and are reviewing aerial photographs of your new land in an attempt to determine possible stand locations. If you have access to recent high quality aerial shots, taken in the winter months, (preferably without leaves on the trees and ground vegetation), zoom WAY in and tediously pick through them, inch-by-inch. With good resolution photographs, you can actually pick out high traffic deer trails. When I find these, I start humming, “I’ve got a Golden Ticket.”, to myself. Then look along those trails for good spots to hang your stands within twenty yards of that ‘Deer Highway’.
Iowa, in general, is relatively flat and is vastly covered in farm fields with small segments of sporadic timbers scattered throughout. Food and water are rarely in short supply or far away. With these things in mind, I don’t tend to give as much importance to food and water availability when selecting my stand locations. Unless we have a horrific winter, Iowa deer would have to try really hard to starve to death or die from dehydration. Obviously, field edges and creek bottoms are great places to setup, but I seldom select one field edge or creek bottom over another due to what is planted, (usually corn, more corn, even more corn, or beans), or the quantity of water in a creek.
When setting up on a field edge or creek bottom, or really any definitive separation line between timber or thick ground cover and open ground, try to target a few specific things. Initially, look around for trails that deer use for transitioning between the cover and the open space. If you find a good, well used deer trail, look for a sturdy tree to hang your stand on within twenty yards on either side of the trail, along the edge of the timber.
When hunting new land, I believe that this type of stand location maximizes your chances of seeing and having deer within shooting range. The trail is a good indication that this is a natural travel corridor for deer. No matter what direction the deer come from within the timber, there’s a good chance that they will funnel down to that trail when transitioning into the open space. Placing your stand on the edge of the timber also allows you to freely observe deer activity within the open area. There’s a good chance that deer will funnel down to the trail when transitioning from the open space to the timber as well. An added advantage of a timber edge stand location like this is that you can easily travel to and from your stand without walking through the timber and spooking unseen deer in the process.
Another good timber edge stand location is out on the end of a finger or point. These fingers usually have small ravines running down the center of them. Deer transitioning out of a timber will often follow these ravines right out to the tip of the finger before exiting. Whenever possible, deer also choose to hug any type of structure or cover over traveling across open ground. Deer traveling along the edge of the timber often walk to the tip of a finger sticking out into the open area, prior to fully emerging into the open. An open space surrounded by timbers with fingers narrowing the open gap between the timbers can be especially good spots to place stands. Deer traveling between timbers will choose to shoot that small gap over traveling across wide open ground. Overgrown fence lines connecting timbers can also be really good stand locations for this same reason. I tend to refer to these types of stand locations as ‘pinch points’, because traveling deer are pinched down to a narrow path of travel that is easily identifiable by geographical features and structure.
Mature bucks can, and often do, act differently from does, yearlings and young bucks. If you’re specifically targeting more mature bucks, there is another timber edge stand location that may not get the amount of overall deer traffic, but can produce bigger, more mature bucks. Older, smarter bucks like to exit timber edges at a low point versus a high point. This allows them to get a better smell of what’s already in and along the edges of the open area, due to the way winds can swirl and drop along the edge of timber lines. This is partially due to how atmospheric thermals dynamics and air turbulence (e.g. aerodynamics and drag) work. Cagey old bucks will walk to the edge of the timber at these low points and stand for long periods of time, sniffing the air and looking into the open area, before deciding to exit the timber. Often these low points will be an inside corner of the timber. Setting a timber edge stand within twenty yards of these low points can produce nicely.
Again, all of the stand location suggestions that have already been discussed can be initially identified by reviewing aerial photographs. This practice will save you time and allow you to scout without spooking deer. Obviously, things can look entirely different once you actually put boots on the property, but at least you’re going in with an initial tentative plan of action.
Selecting deep timber stand locations are a little tougher, as they are difficult to initially identify by reviewing aerial photographs. Unless you can pick out deep timber ‘Deer Highways’ from the aerial shots, properly selecting these usually requires physical scouting on your part. I will further discuss this in Part 2.