Geographical Whitetail Hideouts and Travel Corridors (Part 2)
By Jason Smith
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.
Selecting good deep timber stand locations can be tough, 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.
Aerial picture review can provide you with some good starting points for seeking out good deep timber stand locations as well. Recent high quality aerial shots, taken in the winter months, (preferably without leaves on the trees and ground vegetation), are preferred. Print out your maps and mark on them each of the spots that peak your interest.
Initially you want to look for well used trails. If you can spot them from an un-zoomed aerial shot with the naked eye, there’s a good chance that they are well and frequently used. From there, you want to look for thick patches, clearings and any possible water and food sources. (Note: If you can get your hands on a topography map of the area, this will come in handy as well. I’ll discuss how to use it later on.)
Now that you’ve actually got boots on the ground, it’s time to check out the spots that you’ve marked on your maps.
Trails – Sometimes trails are well used, but not necessarily by deer. Some small game trails can get a healthy amount of traffic, and an escape bovine or two can trample a trail quicker than a whole herd of deer can. So, in short, verify that the trails that you initially identified are actually deer trails.
Once confirmed, look for both new and old deer sign. New deer sign can consist of fresh tracks, scat, hair, beds, browse (e.g. nibbled off or thrashed vegetation, acorn shells, etc.), rubs and scrapes. New deer sign is great for verifying recent activity in the area. Rubs and scrapes may get your blood pumping more than tracks and scat, but try to keep in mind that many of them are often created and refreshed at Zero-Dark-Thirty. So, any new deer sign is a good indication of recent activity.
Old deer sign usually consists of rub lines from previous years. Weathering is usually a characteristic of these old rub lines. Often, good rub lines are used year after year, so old rub lines can show both weathering and signs of new wear.
Trails that have both new and old deer sign are fantastic locations to target when setting your stands. These trails indicate that they consistently receive a high amount of deer traffic year after year. High trafficked trails usually lead to and from bedding areas, food and water. Catching deer on the move between these locations without spooking them on their beds, or while they’re eating or drinking, is a highly strategic ambush point.
Thick Patches – An aerial picture taken on June 1st can make a single maple tree look like the thickest patch in an area, all by itself. This is part of the reason why I say to try and work with winter time pics. Thick patches consist of thick ground cover, such as multiflora rose and honeysuckle, or clusters of small to medium sized coniferous trees such as spruce and pines, etc.
These thick patches provide protection and bedding areas for deer. You may not want to set up stands very close to them, because it’s easy to get busted and spook deer setting up too close to bedding areas, but they are good to locate.
Once located, inspect for deer beds, fresh scat, hair, along with tracks and trails leading into and out of. Sometimes deer avoid segments of thick cover for whatever reason, so identifying ones that aren’t used is just as important as identifying ones that are.
If you find a hot bedding area, back off and look along the feeding trails for areas to set up your stands. Terrain, dominant prevailing wind, cover, tree quality, and plan of approach will help you determine just how far away you should set up. Rule of thumb: If you think you’re setting up too close to a bedding area, you probably are. Even if you decide not to set up in relation to a bedding area, since you’ve identified it, try to give it a wide berth on all sides when walking to and setting up other stands as well.
Clearings – Obviously farm fields, large ponds, and creek bottoms are clearings but they’re not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about small openings deep within timbers; areas that sunlight actually reaches the ground, where it’s usually blocked elsewhere by tree canopy. Small centralized water or food sources can often be found here, such as a fresh water spring or ground foliage that doesn’t receive enough sun amongst the trees.
Similar to inspecting thick patches, look for new deer sign leading to and from these clearings. If sign is present, this could be a good location for placing a stand or two. Unlike bedding areas, you can setup directly over these clearings, unless you happen to catch them on their feet. Just make sure you make it into your stand well before first light, or before they start moving in the afternoon.
Inner timber food and water sources don’t always exist in a clearing. Fresh water springs and creeks can be well hidden by thick cover and thick blankets of acorns can be as well. If you come across any of these while scouting, they are worthy areas of taking into consideration for stand placement, if new deer sign is present.
If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a topography map of your hunting area, the following is a good area to target for a deep timber stand location as well.
The top edge or ridge line of a local high point can act as a natural funnel, (e.g. ravine lip, ridge backbone, or plateau shoulder). Sound from these points tends to reverberate more than normal, so rattling and calling will travel further, and because you’re on a high point, even a bad wind direction will carry your scent well over the top of any deer lower than the ridge line, making you undetectable.
Now that you have located some areas that you would like to set your stands, it’s time to select your trees that you actually want to place your stands in.
When choosing a tree, try to take all of the following into consideration for setting a stand:
• Downwind or perpendicular to the deer’s expected travel route, based on predominant wind directions.
• Offers non-detectible route to enter and exit without spooking deer.
• At least 15 to 20 yards off of the deer’s expected travel route and best new deer sign.
• Within a cluster of trees, not a solitary tree. If not possible, try and set up with at least one tree between you and the expected shooting spot. Or, large forks in the center of the tree can provide the same blind-spot qualities as several trees in a row.
• Mature tree with octopus-like limbs and an umbrella-like canopy.
• Large and branchy enough to conceal your silhouette.
• 20 to 30 feet up.
• Has relatively open view of the surrounding terrain and shooting lanes for taking high-odds shots.
• Try not to over trim.
Putting these recommendations into practice should save you some time in locating deer and provide you with a higher percentage of shot opportunities, than just blindly throwing up stands on new hunting properties that you’ve gained access to. Best of luck!