Sometimes a buck needs a little nudge to put him in the right spot for a shot.
The more I studied the area, the more convinced I became that I’d found the best stand site on the property. Other locations along the creek bottom looked good but were too wide to cover.
This spot was different. Here, the creek bank sliced diagonally from tight against the west wall of the bottom to the east, button-hooking just before hitting a point on the east side. With the west wall blocking deer from skirting that side and the sharp bank greatly discouraging a creek crossing, the deer were encouraged to skirt the east edge.
Better still, a towering point on the east side tapered down sharply, only to flatten out 40 yards before hitting the creek’s sharp bank. Along with creating a coverable passageway, the point’s sharp sides further funneled deer traveling the east side through the 40-yard-wide flat.
As an added bonus, the point was a heavily used doe bedding area. When the wind came from the east, with one pass of the bottom of the point, the bucks could scent-check all the does bedded above. Finally, the point served as the easiest route for transitioning between the high and low ground. All this resulted in a killer stand location.
Still, it would be a mistake to call it good enough. Despite the high bank and sharp drop, there were two established creek crossings along the portion of creek bed slicing diagonally across the bottom. Both of those crossings would take deer out of range. To discourage such uncooperative behavior, I blockaded them with brush. Sure, it was possible that a desperate deer would still take the plunge, but it would now be much more difficult.
The next step was to narrow the funnel from 40 yards to 20. The ideal tree for my stand was just 10 yards from the bank’s bend, which would mean deer could travel through on either side of the stand. While I take odor control to the extreme, I still didn’t want to risk it. Also, I didn’t want to face a sharp-angled shot that a deer passing between me and the bank would present. The solution was a brush blockade, which I began at the bank and carried out another 10 yards past my stand. The result was a 20-yard-wide corridor that I could cover easily. All I had to do was wait for November.
Fast forward to the first early November day that offered an east wind. Craig Schuh, my friend and cameraman, and I had barely settled into the stand when a young buck came trotting through the redesigned funnel. The youngster offered numerous gimme shot opportunities, bolstering our confidence that my efforts hadn’t been in vain.
Not long after, a high, chocolate-racked 9-pointer appeared. A nerve-wracking minute and a well-placed arrow later resulted in him crumbling to a final stop next to the creek bank.
Open Your Mind to the Possibilities
The reason I chose the story of this fine buck’s demise to begin this article is because it perfectly illustrates how you can make good stands better. One of the biggest mistakes that hunters make is settling for what Mother Nature offers. Many times, we have the ability to manipulate the setting and tilt the odds a bit in our favor.
If I hadn’t blocked them, would either of that morning’s bucks have come through in shooting range? To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know that both were heading closer to my tree and were pushed out to offer a better shot.
The real key to improving stand sites and funneling more deer to within shooting distance is opening your mind to how a stand can be improved. When looking at a potential stand site, ask yourself how you can make it better. Do you need to reroute deer from a problem area? Is there a way to encourage more deer to pass your stand? How can you take advantage of existing barriers?
Once you answer those questions, it becomes a matter of reshaping the habitat.
One of the easiest ways to improve a stand is to create a natural blockade. Use fallen trees, limbs and brush to encourage and discourage deer movement.
There are two obvious examples of this in the opening story. The first was when I narrowed the existing funnel. In that case, I took a coverable travel corridor and tweaked it to make it better. The real benefit of this technique is that you can make a manageable setup in a funnel that was originally too wide to hunt.
Growing up trapping, I found that it was rare to find a perfect natural blind set for mink. It was even more rare that, with a little redesigning of a creek bank and some blocking, I couldn’t encourage their trail to cross my trap. I then began to apply that principle to deer hunting.
My first real success with this was on public land in northern Wisconsin’s big timber. Two seemingly endless tracts of woods were separated by a fresh, half-mile-wide and mile-long cutover. Conveniently, the loggers had left a 100-yard-wide swath of trees standing to serve as a connector between the two blocks. This divider was the obvious route for deer traveling from one block of timber to the other. The only issue was that it was too wide to cover with my bow.
Being young and overly energetic, I set out to change that. Dragging in nearly every remaining treetop I could find, I created a blockade across that strip, leaving a 20-yard-wide opening on the northwest corner. I took a dandy buck from that setup.
Still, I could see by the new trail skirting the other end of my blockade that running it up to the edge of the cutover wasn’t enough. To further improve it, while patching the blockade the next spring, I ran the opposite end diagonally out from the corner and into the cutover about 20 yards. Though I knew that wouldn’t stop every deer from skirting it, I also knew that most of the better bucks would refuse to expose themselves to the open for as long as it would take to circle out and around that tip.
Because of the tops rotting away, maintaining the blockade became more work with each passing year. Still, from the time the cutover was a barren wasteland through its stage of being a nearly impenetrable tangle of cover, it was a consistent producer. It wasn’t until the cutover matured to the point of offering easy walking that my funnel lost its effectiveness.
This same technique can be applied to narrow nearly any funnel. Furthermore, with permission on private land, one can use chainsaws to down trees or erect fencing to create a blockade.
Another technique used in the opening story was blocking creek and river crossings. When you think about it, these crossings are funnels. Because of lower water levels, gently sloping banks or numerous other reasons, the most heavily used crossings typically offer the easiest route from one side to the other. Stands that cover both the trail paralleling the waterway and the crossing can be real producers. But why settle for what’s offered?
Instead, walk up and down the bank and plug the other crossings on both sides with brush. You can even take it a step farther and grab a shovel to make your chosen crossing wider and even more gently tapered down to the water.
That same principle can be applied to hunting field edges. The first step is choosing the trails to hunt. Next, block the remaining trails along the field. To accomplish that, pile brush and limbs where the deer enter the field. Meanwhile, do anything you can to make your chosen trails easier to navigate.
A last step along field edges is to follow a trail into the woods. As you go, block any location where lesser trails splinter off toward the field. Unlike the trails entering the field, only use enough branches to make it inconvenient for the deer. Because the splinter trails run to the same field, it doesn’t take as much to motivate the deer to continue following the main trail.
Always keep in mind that, all else being equal, deer will take the path of least resistance.
Much like creek and river crossings, fence crossings are another type of funnel. It’s common for deer to travel significant distances to cross a fence at the easiest point.
My first attempt at improving a fence crossing occurred many years ago on my uncle’s dairy farm. I had spent a summer day walking a barbed wire fence that cut through the middle of his woods. I noticed that a trail would cut across the fence about every 100 yards. The problem was that none seemed much different from any other.
After selecting the fence crossing that was best suited for hunting, I invested a day in discouraging deer to use the other crossings. To do that, I clogged other spots where deer crawled under and fixed up the places where the top strand was broken or drooped.
Lastly, I made the crossing by my stand even better. You can lower the top wire of a fence without harming it by using a piece of wire or rope to cinch the top two strands together. Or you can shovel dirt from under the fence. I used both at my uncle’s to create an irresistible crossing.
Opening day of bow season found me perched in the tree overlooking my handiwork. I was so confident in the setup that I passed shots on the first four deer that came through. That might not sound like a big deal, but in those days, shot opportunities were rare and those were the first deer I’d ever passed.
By the time the fifth deer arrived, I couldn’t resist any longer. As the large doe paused before crossing, a well-placed arrow passed through her chest cavity.
As productive as that method is, you can make it even better. If you’re really ambitious, add a strand to the top and bottom of a fence to discouraging deer from crossing there. I like to use barbwire when adding an extra strand, but bailing twine can work, too.
I bet if you think about it, you can come up with even more creative ways to funnel deer. In hunting, I’ve always found that the more little things I do, the more big results I enjoy.
The key is to open your mind to new techniques. When hunting a standing cornfield, for example, why not buy a couple rows of corn from the farmer? Knock down your rows to create an open trail, and you just created a super highway for deer. If you were carrying a stand on your back from one side to the other, would you rather blaze your own trail or follow an existing one? A buck sporting a 20-inch spread isn’t any different. In fact, creating trails through any thick, nasty cover is a super technique.
These are all techniques that can and should be done well before the season, although you should maintain your projects as the season nears. While there is a luck factor involved in any hunt, why not remove as much luck from the equation as possible? Open your mind and learn to take advantage of a deer’s natural tendencies to take the easy route and you’ll fill more tags.
Editor’s Note: Check out Steve Bartylla’s books: Advanced Stand Hunting Strategies ($22.50) and Bowhunting Tactics That Deliver Trophies ($30). For personally autographed copies of either or both ($50 when ordered together), send a check or money order to:
1406 Saint Joseph Ave.
Marshfield WI 54449
This article was published in the December 2007 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.