|Pulling the Drain-Plug|
Using Funnels and Structure to Bag Your Buck
I got lucky and had chosen the right spot! In one morning, I had counted over 50 deer, several "shooters" and had killed a mature 5-by-6. Almost all 50 deer passed by within bow range of my treestand. But, looking at my set-up, I would bet most hunters would not recognize why I picked the spot. It can be as simple as picking out a funnel between two obvious restrictions like a swamp, river, open field or other obstruction. But the structure variance may be much more subtle or difficult to spot, yet to a whitetail it would probably be obvious. Learning to recognize these features can be a key to putting antlers on the wall and filling your freezer.
Much of choosing the proper stand site has to do with "structure." In the same way that an angler finds the "spot on the spot," the lay of the land and topography differences restricting or "guiding" movement are keys to stand placement. As with most animals, whitetail travel from place to place using cover and terrain to their advantage. Learning to recognize the transition areas, access points and travel corridors of whitetail are crucial to choosing your ambush location. In fact, if you choose the right funnel during the chase phase of the rut, it can seem like God just pulled the drain-plug on a sink-full of deer - just like it did for me on that day.
One of the first things you should do when approaching a new spot is to obtain an aerial photo, satellite image or topographical map. The first spots to focus on are the funnels. I don’t care if you’re hunting big timber, agricultural land or rural lots - there are funnels in your hunting area. With agricultural land and more populated areas, funnels are easier located because of the sections and man-made dividers, but there are bottlenecks everywhere. Wherever you can restrict their movement to a smaller zone, there is typically going to be more traffic. Also, when you can confine their movement to a smaller area, it’s easier to position yourself to remain undetected from their "nose."
It’s actually best if you can use both a satellite image and a topo-map. An aerial photo or satellite image won’t show you the terrain breaks, so it’s difficult to tell whether it’s flat ground or an incline. Some hunters would have looked at my spot that day and not noticed a funnel at all because the deer were free to travel anywhere. But they didn’t want to travel "anywhere," they wanted to take the path of least resistance. My funnel was created by a beaver pond on one side of the funnel, which was an obvious barrier, but the other side was a subtle terrain break. Sure the deer could have traveled anywhere on the ridge side, but they chose the easiest route.
When looking over an area, I like to imagine it without any trees, brush or blow-downs first. Look for the points, topography breaks, steeper angles, edges or turns that will force or encourage the animal to go one way over another. If you try and foretell their travel patterns, this way first, when you add the trees, brush and blow-downs back to the picture, it can sometimes seem obvious where they will pass through.
We can actually influence whitetails to travel where we want. Around the beginning of August, I will sometimes create my own trails by using a pruner through brush, and a weed-whacker through the tall grass and weeds. Mature bucks can often be found near the thickest, nastiest brush you can find. BUT, when traveling through the thick cover, they will almost always travel the easiest route they can find. Again - the path of least resistance.
You can also fell trees to force them to go a certain direction. I do this a lot around my food plots, I push dozer pilings or fell trees to create funnels. Not only do I try to force them to travel through one of my "kill zones," I also use these downed trees to block them from going downwind of me. I will actually pick out my treestand trees before I decide where to create these bottlenecks, always keeping in consideration the prevailing wind currents.
You can aid them in becoming accustomed to your man-made trail by adding some scent. I use Wildlife Research Center’s Select Doe Urine and create a trail with it. Periodically, I stop and make a scent-post with Coon Urine and some of the Select Doe Urine. I don’t mix them; I’ll pour some directly on the ground or on the base of a tree, two to four feet apart, near or directly on the trail. Many of the animals in the whitetail’s world mark their territories in a similar manner. Just like the fox, coon, cats, elk or moose, whitetails will mark territory with urine and with other visual and scent-oriented stimuli. It’s a sign to the other animals saying, "Hey, I live here, too." I’ve watched whitetail approach a sign-post created a couple days prior, sniff the ground and urinate directly over where I poured the scent.
Normally, whitetails will use the cover to their advantage. However, I’ve seen the opposite while hunting open areas. They will use the wide-open to their benefit and they seem to learn that "distance" means "safe." If they don’t have thick cover to work with, they will usually take the path least noticeable to us or other predators. Several times I’ve witnessed mature bucks travel in dried up or shallow creek beds. All you could see was the tips of their antlers as they passed by.
Common sense and the conditions play a large role in predicting deer movement. During a 40 mile-an-hour wind, a whitetail will normally use travel routes protecting them from the gale. During very warm days, whitetails will more than likely stick to the shade while moving. In fact, even in much colder temperatures, as long as it’s "mostly sunny," whitetail seem to stick to the shade. A lot of ground can be eliminated by using your brain and paying attention to the conditions and choosing the type of structure providing the animals with the most comfort and feeling of safety.
It may be advised, once you find a good spot, to set up multiple stand locations so you can play different wind directions and conditions. At a given time, I may have as many as a dozen different stand locations to pursue one specific buck. This way you won’t burn a stand and ruin your chances at a mature buck by pushing your luck and hunting a site when the conditions aren’t in your favor.
When someone mentions the word structure, fishing pops into my mind. Both fish and/or the bait they feed on, usually relate to some form of structure. You want to find the "spot on the spot" - the "something different" attracting the fish. For whitetails, it’s to a certain degree the same. You need to learn to read the structure. Identify the areas whitetail frequent and then discover the reason whitetail favor that spot and you’ll start putting more notches in your bow.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.