Deer Hunting: Live on the Edge
Regardless of whether you are in a well known hunting area or if you are faced with hunting a new or familiar tract of land, take my advice: Live on the Edge.
Let's make sure you understand that refers to a style of hunting and not being irresponsible!
Why not hunt the edges? This is where deer travel a great percentage of the time!
Field edges, areas where pine turns to hardwood, areas where any type of woods turns to thickets, the edges of swamps, fence rows, old logging roads - these are all areas where deer frequent and travel.
We all know how effective a bottleneck or a hot feeding location can be at funneling or bringing deer to you - these areas are foregone conclusions. Not so obvious is how effective even a subtle edge can be at doing the same thing.
Let's look at exactly those two types of areas for a moment.
In a traditional bottleneck or funnel area where woodlots are interconnected by smaller patches or woods - or perhaps a fence row or creek - deer are literally guided toward your stand. Want to make that place even more deadly as an ambush location? Stand back and take a closer look. Are there any features that might make some portion of that area more appealing to a deer (particularly a wise old buck) as a travel lane? Frequently, that puzzle is unlocked when you look for an "edge". Let's say that 2 larger woodlots are connected by a strip of woods that is 100 yards or so wide. Great ambush location, no doubt! Look for one portion of this patch of woods that may contain a thicket edge, a gully, a creek bed or some other area that offers more concealment for the deer. Find that and you may find that "special" travel route that deer prefer! Once you find that trail that leads along or in and out of that edge area, start taking a closer look for interconnecting trails, particularly at either end of the funnel area, where it rejoins each section of the larger woodlots. Find this, pay attention to wind direction, hang a stand and hold on!!
When the white oaks start dropping their bounty along your favorite ridge or that row of persimmon trees starts to get heavy with fruit, you know the deer are coming! You may not be sure when they are coming - or when - but you know they are! Again, look for an "edge" that will give you an advantage when you set your stand up. Look for areas of wood transition where pine turns to hardwoods (or vice versa), areas where a gully may lead to one of these feeding areas or areas where a dense thicket offers a protected travel lane as they work their way toward the feeding areas. Any of these type areas may well be the advantage that lies between you and a filled deer tag! Again, look for the deer trials that lead toward the feeding areas and work your way outward to where you find intersecting trails and start to look for a favorable ambush site!
In either of the above mentioned scenarios, when heavily used or intersecting trails are located, it will pay to mark two or more different stand locations. When you decide to hunt a particular location, factor in the wind direction and climb the tree that offers you the best concealment from one of the deer's most powerful weapons: his nose! In locations where you can do so, you may elect to place two hang on stands or two ladder stands in close proximity to one another - so you can factor in wind direction on any given day! If you take this route, it really helps to know the land and the patterns that will evolve as the hunting season plays out, so that the stands can be hung or placed early in the year to minimize the disturbance to the area when you are searching for "Mr. Big"!
What if there are no trails present, such as in pine forests, and you are not sure the exact path deer are taking through a bottleneck or to reach a feeding area - again, look for the edge! These areas typically offer greater concealment and will offer better escape routes, which make the deer feel far more secure as they go about their daily business!
If you are faced with hunting public land, which is often not scouted as well as you would prefer or not scouted at all, take a few moments with aerial photographs and topographical maps to see if you can define one of these edges. If these types of help are not available, a simple ride in your vehicle as you "look the place over" may well allow you to locate at least an initial starting point towards narrowing the odds a bit! Walk the edge as you look for trails, pay attention to what the woods are telling you, hunt with a buddy for safety and you may well be the hero at the check station that day!
I was fortunate enough to hunt a swamp edge early in the fall of 2007 when the rut was just really getting started in our area of the south. This swamp edge has a very dense thicket that separates the swamp area from a pine hill. Set up on the edge of the thicket, overlooking the swamp (with no overly obvious trails present, just meandering deer tracks), I watched 7 bucks chase the same doe. The bucks were spaced out in groups of one to two and all appeared within two minutes or so - grunting for all they were worth, all working along that swamp edge. The distinction was obvious! Over the course of 2.5 days, I saw 18 bucks along that same edge - and while this is private land, it is not overly populated with deer. At times, we go weeks there without seeing ANY deer! At that moment, however, that was the edge they were following and I can guarantee you where I will be late next October!
Give "living on the edge" a try and see if it does not increase your deer sightings!
Until then, be safe, hunt with a passion and make sure to take the time to appreciate all of the bounty that nature has to offer!