I remember 15 years ago when I went out to scout for a good place to hang my stand in anticipation of my very first bowhunt. To say I got frustrated would be an understatement for what I felt. I knew that I had to scout very different from the way I would when rifle hunting. This was very different, a bow is a short-range weapon and to be successful the stand has to be in a location that brings deer close to the hunter. In my case not much more than 25 yards preferably a closer.
Looking at the land I scratched my head asking myself, Where do I get started? How can I reduce this huge landscape before me to a small 25-yard circle where I could ambush traveling deer?
It took me two full seasons without ever getting my stand close enough to deer, let alone shooting one. Then finally it came to me what I did wrong. The breakthrough in my bowhunting success came after reading an article by John Sloan. In the article John explained what makes deer travel and how they chose travel routes. Once I understood the concept of the four factors that determine deer travel scouting has become easy and I was able to choose stand sites that consistently produced results.
From conversations with hunters I know that for many scouting is a hit and miss affair. After you read this and understand it you will be able to improve your hunting success. In fact the four factors of deer are such a sure thing that you can carve them in stone.
These factors are, FOOD, COVER TERRAIN and STRUCTURE and to a lesser degree you can add water as fifth factor in arid areas or during particularly hot years. These four factors are the corner stones of scouting. All deer movement is based on these factors because anything a deer does is somehow related to one or more of the four factors.
So lets look at them in detail and see what we can learn from that information. The aim here is to find the perfect stand location, and wherever two or more of these factors come together you have a dandy stand site that guaranteed will get some deer traffic by your stand.
Food is a constant factor of deer. Food dominates everything a deer does. In other words food is the catalyst of deer movement. If the deer have no food they don't travel. If deer don't travel we can't kill them. It's that simple. But food sources change almost constantly and so does deer travel. A smart hunter keeps close taps on the changing food source. A good hunter knows what agricultural and woodland food sources are available to the deer at any given time during a hunting season. Because food is the catalyst of deer travel all scouting should start by finding first the available food sources in any given hunting area. Now we have a starting point. From here we have to find the other factors, cover, terrain and structure. These three factors determine how deer travel to and from the food sources.
Of the three remaining factors cover is very important to deer movement. Deer use cover in one of two ways, either as resting place (bedding area) or to travel. Cover gives deer a great measure of security and wherever possible deer will go out of their way to be able to take advantage of cover. Cover comes in many ways. It can be a thicket, an irrigation ditch, an overgrown fence line, a hedgerow, a gully or a ravine. Also less obvious features such as a standing row of corn or a wooded finger leading into a field are cover for a deer. Anything that lets a deer travel without exposing itself to the open constitutes cover. Anybody that hunts for a year or two knows how little cover a deer needs to completely vanish from sight. So look for everything that could provide a deer with some measure of cover.
As you look at a topographical map you will notice that the terrain (topography) exists of undulations made up of hills, flatland, mountains and so on. When deer travel they are like you and me in that they prefer the easiest rout from point A to point B. Deer often will travel for some distance to walk in comfort around a steep hill rather than exert important energy to hike over the hill, provided that the easier route provides them with sufficient cover. Think what would be the easiest route for you to get from one point to another and that likely is the same route deer choose too, provided it gives them sufficient cover.
Within the terrain are things that I call structure, these can be natural or manmade features that also influence deer movement. A smart bowhunter learns to find structures that will funnelâ deer past his stand location. Structure is something that alters deer movement. Structures can be anything from a blown down tree, a cattle fence, and a shallow creek crossing to a narrow saddle over a steep hill or a bench on a hillside. Manmade structures of course can be altered in such a way that it forces deer to travel where it is to the advantage of the hunter, in effect creating a funnel. My favorite structures to hunt are cattle fences near a break in the fence or the mouth of a hedgerow leading from a woodlot into a field, other structures are places where deer cross a road or creek.
Other forms of structure are made up of edges. Edges exist anywhere where two structures meet, like a cornfield bordering onto a woodlot. Where hardwood and soft wood meet is also an edge and is the border of a thicket inside a woodlot. Deer prefer to travel along such edges because it provides them with cover. Wherever two or more edges meet could be a hotspot for deer travel.
Many years ago I had a stand placed where a cornfield bordered onto a small woodlot and a swamp. Right where the three edges joined was a shallow creek crossing and for as long the white oaks at the top of the ridge behind my stand produced mast this stand was a hot spot from which I have taken consistently deer every season. All the deer traveled along the three edges and right under my stand these three edges met leading into one huge trail leading up to the ridge top. The reason this, and many other stands I placed, produced so well over many years is because once I understood the importance of the four factors and how they dictate deer movement I was locate bowhunting stand sites that got me predictably close to where deer would be long before the deer used a given area.
In upcoming articles we will look at this topic in more detail. Everything will be based on the four factors of deer travel to locate early season, rut and late season deer ambush spots.
Othmar Vohringer is a freelance outdoor writer, seminar speaker and founder of SHS (Smart Hunting Strategies), established in 2001, from British Columbia, Canada. He can be contacted via his blog located at the link below.