Pressure is the No. 1 enemy of success when bowhunting for deer. The key is staying away from the competition, as deer do as well.
Identifying the right ground, and the hotspots within that ground, maximizes your chances of tagging out.
What if you don’t have a spot to hunt? Find one.
There are mapping services, like Onxmaps.com, that will show every landowner in your county and every parcel that is public. Unlike 15 years ago, you can scout these spots digitally thanks to aerial photos long before lacing up your boots.
But what should you look for? For most of us, the best places are those that other people don’t, or won’t, go. This is most obvious on public land, but the dairy farmer who lets you hunt his place probably lets a few other bowhunters in as well. Hunting pressure is the No. 1 enemy of success. The key is staying away from the competition, as deer do as well.
When evaluating a piece of property, look for access points, such as old logging roads that will allow for easy hunter access. At the same time, check out swamps, rivers, great big hills and anything that might discourage the average hunter from working too hard. If there is a spot that isn’t near an easy walking path, one which looks thick and gnarly — you’re onto something.
Special Bow Tactics Coverage
This month, Game & Fish contributor Tony J. Peterson takes a look at effective tactics while bowhunting for deer. Previous posts:
- How to Be Smart, But Aggressive This Bowhunting Season
- Boots on the Ground: Trail Cams Only See So Much
Take your time, use the 3D view on aerial photography, and start planning out a few spots. The goal with this initial step is to develop a base understanding of a specific property and to truly start working out its possibilities.
This is imperative with new ground but is also something that can be done with a property you’ve hunted for years. In this case, consider using OnX, or another app like ScoutLook, to give you fresh eyes.
Sadly, most hunters are creatures of habit. We get into a rut and hunt the places that are easiest to access. And while we often imagine deer patterning other clumsy hunters, deer in many instances have patterned us, too, as we roam the same ground season after season.
Consider this: Is there is a ridge you just don’t hike to because the bluff leading up to it is steep, or is there an island of high ground in the cattails that is a pain to slog to? The average fawn can get to those places without breaking a sweat, and you can bet a mature buck or two has figured out those lesser-used spots as well.
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Think Like a Deer
Think about each area you digitally scout from a deer’s perspective and envision it in the fall. What may be a jungle in the middle of the summer might be pretty open come October, which means the deer traffic from July won’t matter much.
This is why overgrown homesteads and five-year-old clearcuts prove to be such reliable bedding areas and deer sanctuaries. Anytime you’ve got a couple of acres or more of cover that isn’t going to thin out too much throughout the season due to the natural nastiness of the shrub and tree population, you’ve got a solid starting point.
Oftentimes these areas are somewhat visible via aerial photography, and if you’ve got a few on your deer ground, make note. You’ll want to visit them or watch them during scouting sessions as the days near the season’s opener.
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It also pays to look for areas that feature secondary edges of cover. Pressured deer learn quickly that if they get too close to fields and openings during the season they encounter hunters. Those same deer, which the field-edge hunters will deem as fully nocturnal, are often just staging at some point of delineation between cover off of the main food source.
This might be a point of poplar slash at the edge of a wetland, or it might simply be a hillside patch of multiflora rose in a typical deciduous forest. Pay attention to those spots that might serve as staging areas because those will be your best bets to take advantage of deer movement during mid-season.
You should take a look at brushy fence lines, necked-down woodlots that are obvious funnels, and anywhere you might want to sit from Halloween on. Rutty bucks are predictable, and if there is a terrain feature that funnels movement far away from where most people will hunt, you’ve got yourself a killer November spot.