I truly believe this may be the toughest article in the three part series to write. I say this simply because the topic is really so vast that books could be written on this one subject alone. In fact, there have been. It is also difficult in that the type of terrain can vary so dramatically in a relatively short distance. For example, I live in North Georgia and spend a lot of time hunting public land on North Georgia WMAs yet I am also a member of a hunting lease in middle Georgia. The differences in terrain in that two and a half hour drive are drastic yet many of the same facts regarding terrain and Whitetails remain the same. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Regardless of where you hunt, I truly believe that for the most part Whitetail deer are rather lazy creatures. That statement is not meant to imply that they lack intelligence or that they are easy quarry. No. What I mean is my experience has taught me that in their day to day lives, Whitetails will always choose the path of least resistance when traveling from point A to point B, unless they have a specific reason to NOT do so. With that in mind, I have developed a set of tools that allow me to identify potential whitetail hotspots from the comfort of my home or my vehicle. By the time I put boots to the ground I have a good idea where I want to focus my attentions. Some of these methods may seem ridiculously simple while others may be a bit harder to understand without trying them yourself.
Cruising for Whitetails
One of my favorite ways to scout is to simply get in my truck and drive. As simple as what I am about to type may seem I am amazed at how many times I have surprised others with this method of scouting. Once I arrive on a property or WMA, instead of just driving to an area where I want to scout I slowly drive and spend as much time looking from side to side as looking where I am going. (In fact I sometimes take a friend along to watch the road) If you try this you may even want to walk the road on foot till you get the hang of what you are looking for.
Most of these dirt roads, logging roads and foot paths have numerous banks on each side where the terrain was cut for the roadbed, there are also ditches cut on either side in most places. These are SUPEPRB locations to spot areas of high traffic. Because of their hooves, when deer travel sharply uphill or downhill they tend to disturb the earth more than when walking on a flat surface. What this can equate to is easily identified trails that can be noted on a map for later investigation. Not to mention the amount of ground you can cover in a short amount of time. This simple method has led me to some of my most successful stand locations but this is just a start. In the video below I will show you one such area that I found several years ago that helped me key in on a major travel corridor and has resulted in several whitetails over the years.
On Top’o the world
About 8 to 10 years ago I began using Topographical (Topo) maps to “pre-scout” areas I had never hunted before. I quickly found that in some cases I could identify stand locations without ever setting foot in the woods. I specifically remember several years ago I decided to hunt a mountain WMA that I had not previously hunted and there was a managed hunt that happened to occur on a day that I was to be off of work. Having never set foot on the WMA I started looking at Topo maps of the area trying to find a specific type of land formation. Since I was not familiar with the area, I waited till after daylight, parked my vehicle and hiked in with a small lightweight climbing stand to the area I had spotted using the topo map. I saw deer all day and several small bucks without having spent any time scouting the area. The land formation I had hunted that day was a “saddle”, a natural low place between two hills or knolls. As I stated earlier, deer are pretty lazy creatures and will often cross through a saddle rather than walking around or over the higher ground. This natural low area serves as a natural funnel for deer travel and you can usually count on a saddle to produce a higher than average amount of deer activity. The figure below shows an example of a saddle I hunt every year on a North Georgia WMA.
Another great terrain feature worth noting when looking at a Topo map are “Benches”. A bench is a flat area that follows the contour of a hill or even a mountain. Often times you can locate trails that follow these benches and when it starts getting cooler in the late season deer will sometime use these benches to sun themselves during the day. Benches are also much more common than saddles so you will need to put in more leg work investigating which benches are used and which are not. The image below provides some examples of benches.
While scanning Topo maps I will also look for other land features as well. Water sources, old abandoned roads, right of ways for power and gas lines and more. If you have never used a Topo map you will probably need to spend a little time becoming familiar with how to read a topo map. There are several useful resources on the web for this such as the US Geological Society and there is a great article and video on reading topographical map here.
There are several ways for obtaining Topo maps of the areas you plan to hunt. I decided to make the investment in Topographical mapping software several years ago and I have been very satisfied with the purchase. I use “Topo!” software available from National Geographic website. To learn more visit National Geographic’s website this software works really well if you have and use a GPS.
Another option is to use free topo mapping websites. One that I have used a couple of times is TopoQuest while not as full featured as having your own software it does the basics and provides a resource for all of North America. Also, don’t forget Google Earth and Google Maps. While not as good as Topo software you can get a surprising level of detail from Google Maps and the “Terrain” view.
If you would like more reading on using Topo maps for deer there is a great article available here.
Lastly, I feel that one of the most overlooked aspects of terrain is wind patterns and how terrain affects the wind. Wind will play tricks on you based on the terrain which is why you sometimes here hunters complain that “it is hard to hunt the wind where I hunt because it is always changing direction”. Well it does and it doesn’t. Typically when you have a prevailing wind or even a wind direction that is being determined by a weather system. The wind is going to pretty much blow the direction as predicted by the good ol’ weather man. What he can’t take into consideration, but that you must, is terrain and land features. As you are scouting and spending time in the woods make notes of the predicted wind direction while at the same time noting the direction the wind is blowing where you are, or will be, hunting. Maintain a written journal of these notes and call on them again in the future. Also, don’t forget thermals. Especially if you are hunting in rolling or mountaineous terrain. In some locations I have a morning stand and an afternoon stand that I may use to take advantage of thermal currents. Pay specific attention to this should you find a heavy trail located on a bench that you intend to hunt. If possible hunt above the bench in the morning and below the bench late in the day. This will prevent thermal currents from taking your scent to the deer if the wind is calm or non-existent.
There are many other topics that I could discuss but maybe I will store those away for a later article. This should be enough to get you thinking about terrain and how you can use terrain to gain an advantage. As with any tactic, terrain alone is just one piece of the puzzle. Yet when combined with factors such as food, the rut and hunting pressure, understanding the terrain can help you get “stickbow close” to whitetail deer.
In a week or so I plan to wrap up the series with the final article discussing some unique ways I hunt pressured Whitetails.
Until next time, may all your arrows find their mark.