April 26, 2016
While the spring and summer weeks slowly pass by as we dream of our next hunt for a big whitetail in the fall, downtime from deer hunting is typically spent shooting our bows in the backyard, finishing off a good hand load for a new hunting platform like the 6.5 Creedmoor rifle or in planting a warm-season food plot in a secluded corner of the back-40 acers.
But there's another important task that hunters should be considering as this spring and summer unfolds.
And according to Tom Miranda, host of Adventure Bowhunter on Sportsman Channel and Territories Wild on Outdoor Channel, that's figuring out where the big buck bottlenecks are located on a hunter's property.
Why is that? Because quickly locating such places has been an integral part in Miranda's success over the years in tagging big white-tailed bucks and in getting the harvest captured on film.
"For me, it's kind of like buying real estate; it's location, location, location," said Miranda.
And that's a lesson that Miranda learned many years ago when living in the Midwest.
"My background is as a trapper," said the current Florida resident. "And if I couldn't get that animal to pass through my snare, then I couldn't get them at all."
Today, the same concept applies for Miranda, even if the critters he is seeking are much larger in size.
"In bowhunting whitetails, it's pretty much the same," he said. "Being able to narrow down the target areas that a buck is going to travel through is crucial.
"I'm always on the lookout for bottlenecks that will pinch down big buck movements."
One way to discover bottlenecks on a deer hunting property is to utilize scouting aids like Google Earth satellite photos to help pinpoint such areas.
While Internet scouting aids like Google Earth can help deer hunters pick out the best big buck bottlenecks on their hunting property, there is little substitute for putting actual boot leather on the ground. And the best time to do that is now during the offseason, months before bucks realize that hunters are in the woods. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
But one of the best ways is to actually get out and physically walk an area out looking for whitetail travel corridors, old rubs and scrapes, autumn food resources (like cut acorns or leftover soft mast crops littering the ground) and even sheds.
And such on the ground scouting efforts is something best done in during the offseason months.
Why is that? Because the offseason months is the time of year when a big deer will not be spooked by hunter intrusion. And even if he is, Big Daddy has got several months to settle back down before an archer climbs up into a stand.
Whichever way a hunter looks for bottlenecks now during the offseason, what exactly are they? Nothing more than a terrain-induced or manmade whitetail funnel pinching down deer movement.
"For me, a bottleneck is a place that the deer naturally travel through, but it confines their travel and forces them through a certain spot," said Miranda.
"If you're a mink trapper, you might expect to find mink somewhere along a creek. But if you catch them going through a culvert in that creek bottom, that's a bottleneck."
While whitetail bottlenecks can be a bit more difficult to locate in arid portions of Texas, the Western U.S. and across the Great Plains, they aren't as hard to discover in the deer-rich American Midwest or the Deep South.
But wherever they happen to be located, such spots can often include thin brush lines connecting two larger blocks of timber, elbows along river beds, railroad right-of-ways, gaps between agricultural fields, fence lines or even a gentle crossing in a steeply banked creek bottom.
Other bottlenecks aren't as easy to locate, even in the heartland's big buck country where signs of deer movement usually isn't too hard to spot.
"Sometimes, (bottlenecks are) more subtle than others (are)," admitted Miranda. "Sometimes in the woods, like in Canada, you might have an area that is all spruce or pine trees and then it switches to all birch or aspen.
"That line will serve as a travel route for deer."
What's a big buck bottleneck? Simple, a terrain-induced or manmade whitetail funnel that pinches down a deer's movement from a broader general area into a smaller specific spot. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Miranda isn't the only hunter who has learned how to take advantage of big buck bottlenecks on the properties he hunts.
My Texas bowhunting pal, Jim Lillis, a longtime senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited, now retired, has become quite adept at figuring out where to put a stand overlooking such a hunting hotspot.
One of those places is on a West Texas deer lease rich with brushy draws and rocky canyons. On that gorgeous piece of Lone Star State deer country, Lillis discovered a bottleneck several years ago between a section of ground splitting the difference between lower and higher terrain.
"It was about a 50-yard strip where the deer were working through between the creek and the hillside," said Lillis. "I sat up a stand in there and made a 25-yard shot on a nice 8-point that now hangs on my wall."
Hunters with a consistent track record of big buck success like Texan Jim Lillis (above) are usually able to locate even the most subtle big buck bottlenecks that exist on their hunting property. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Subtle or not, when Miranda finds a bottleneck with food sources, escape cover, bedding cover and buck sign nearby, he knows he's not far from the right spot to hang a stand of his own.
And when he finds several trails converging through an area loaded with big buck requirements and sign, it won't be long before he'll be hanging a new set high up in a tree.
"The more travel lanes that come together in one spot, the better your chances are of setting up downwind and seeing a buck," he said.
I put such learning to good use early on in my bowhunting career, forced into finding a new stand location after flooding rains had wiped out a premium stand site rife with deer movement and big buck sign.
As I looked at a photo map of my hunting ground – yup, this hunt took place before Google Earth came on the scene – my hunting pal Randy Jones pointed to an area on the map and suggested I investigate the prospects of hunting there.
A quick look-see on the ground later that morning confirmed ample deer movement between a significant feeding location and a primary bedding area.
When I discovered a bottleneck area between the two and a collection of three deer trails intersecting each other, I was soon hanging a stand on the downwind side of the location as the peak of the rut approached.
Did it work? I'll say because on the second sit, a 152-inch net 10-point buck sauntered by at a mere 17 yards, a shot even I couldn't miss.
While there have been other big bucks down through the years, my first Pope & Young caliber whitetail still serves as proof when it comes to bottlenecks and big bucks, sometimes, “X” really does mark the spot.
A spot readily discovered in the offseason of deer hunting, weeks and months before a big buck even has a clue a hunter is after him.