Don't Miss Out on Powerline Bucks

If you're not hunting powerlines, you could be missing out on some of the richest deer habitat in your neck of the woods.

By Gerald Almy

Settling into the tree stand as the first glimmer of light began to appear in the east, I surveyed the scene before me. It was dark in the woods behind me, but lighter shades of gray began to appear out front. Soon I made out a cleared strip of land amid the dense mature forest. Straining to see in the semi-darkness, I could begin to make out the various grasses, forbs and browse covering the ground.

Not everything I could see, however, was put there by nature: The large form in front of me was a huge gray transformer with cables running out of it.

The electrical equipment was ugly, but when I thought about it, I realized this clearing and all the deer food I saw would not be here without the powerline. I would not be able to see 300 to 400 yards in both directions as I searched for my quarry, but probably 40 or 50 instead. Tight cover stands can be productive, but being able to see so much potential deer-crossing territory can also improve your odds in many situations.

Within 30 minutes the first whitetail appeared. A doe eased quietly out into the opening of the powerline from my left, barely 60 yards away. Another followed her, then another. Soon the deer were feeing on forbs and browse, soaking in the warm morning sun, which now bathed the powerline in a golden glow.

Another doe walked across the opening from my right, and then more deer appeared in a bottom 200 yards to my left - does and a spike buck. Searching in the opposite direction, I made out the form of another, larger deer crossing to my right. Raising the binoculars, I counted at least six long tines and the rack was heavy, indicating an older deer.

A powerline through the woods lets sunlight reach the ground, resulting in a bounty of good forage for the local herd. Photo by Jerry L. Amos

By the time my cross hairs settled on the buck, he was halfway across the opening, about 225 yards away. The .30-06 would be dead on at that range, and I held just behind the shoulder, pulled forward a few inches for lead and squeezed off smoothly. When I climbed down from the stand, I found the buck lying 70 yards from where I had shot him.

The next morning, not wanting to change my luck, I climbed back up into the same stand. An hour into the second day, my soft grunts drew in a deer from the opposite side of the powerline. I counted nine points and the body was heavy. Steadying my aim, I squeezed off and watched the deer fall on the spot.

That hunt took place many years ago, but since then powerlines have proved to be one of the most productive types of hunting areas I've ever found. They are both great areas for finding whitetail bucks and, equally important, getting clear, open shots at them.

Powerlines are hotspots for deer hunting for a number of reasons. Part of the explanation has to do with the attractiveness of the habitat, part with the ease of finding powerlines to hunt, and part with the openness of the shots they provide.

If you've ever spent any time walking powerlines, you'll quickly see why they are appealing to whitetails. When electricity lines are erected, the land is typically cleared for 50 yards or more on each side. If the powerlines are rigged across an open field, of course, there won't be any change in the vegetation and the lines will not hold any special appeal to deer. But when the powerlines cut through heavy timber or brush, they become magnets for deer because of the forbs and tender plants and bushes that sprout up when sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

This becomes particularly important in years with a poor acorn crop. Furthermore, many powerline companies now have cooperative projects that allow landowners to plant the rights of way with deer foods such as low shrubs or even food plots.

In addition to the food they can offer, powerlines, abandoned roads and other similar rights of way provide crucial edge habitat that whitetails crave. Edges provide deer the sanctuary and security offered by the woods and the food of the openings, both immediately adjacent to each other. In many cases powerlines are also simply in the path whitetails want to travel to and from bedding or feeding areas.

These are some of the reasons whitetails are often found in powerline cuts. But besides holding an abundance of deer, powerlines also offer superb shooting opportunities when you do spot an animal. Unlike dense-forest situations, where you might see a buck for just a few seconds as it passes between trees and disappears again, deer crossing powerlines typically take considerable time to do so. This may be a matter of 10 seconds, if they're moving fast, or up to several minutes if they're looking for other deer or feeding as they go. That gives you plenty of time to study the rack and body of the deer to determine if it's one you want to take.

Powerlines are easy to locate. You can find them simply by driving around in good deer territory, or better still, by studying topographic maps of your hunting area. They are marked clearly on these. Then you can work on obtaining permission and finding the best-looking areas to try before heading out to scout. Find locations where the powerline symbol cuts through green on the map and you should be onto good edge habitat that will attract deer all season long.

Certainly not all powerlines are good deer habitat, but if they cut through forested or brushy habitat, the potential is there. Ultimately, you will need to get out on the ground, scouting for sign, once you've used maps to rule out lines that simply run through open fields or other poor habitat.

Access is also good for powerline hunting. The lines themselves are easy to walk or (where legal) ride on an ATV, and often there is a side footpath, trail or service road paralleling the line for work crews to use. These provide a quiet, easy way to slip into your stand undetected.

Stand-hunting is my first choice for powerline hunting tactics. It lets you overcome the whitetail's senses of smell, sight and hearing by remaining motionless and positioning yourself downwind of likely spots deer will appear from. I also like the extra visibility of being up high in a stand, either right on the edge of the line or back in the woods a bit if you are concentrating on one crossing point or would be too exposed on the edge of the line.

Pre-scout the area several times before choosing your stand location and find parts of the powerline with heavily used trails. Also look for trampled-down areas where deer walked around and vegetation that has been nibbled on. If you're gun hunting, you can stay 50-200 yards back from

these prime areas. Bowhunters should position themselves 20-30 yards away from the sign, concentrating on crossing points.

Grunting occasionally from your stand will seldom hurt your chances, and it may just bring in a curious deer or buck riled up by an intruder in his territory. Rattling is also good from powerline stands, because you can often catch bucks stepping out into the line as they come in to check out the sound of the fighting bucks. Obviously, on public-land rights of way you want to use caution in rattling or grunting, particularly in open or uncontrolled hunts where several other hunters might be nearby.

Still-hunting along a powerline can be very productive. Turn to this technique after a rain or light snow when the ground is damp. Also use it if there is a path or side road along the powerline and you can stay back in the cover and stalk quietly along without actually getting in the clearing itself. Besides looking into the line, watch back just inside the cover adjoining it. Often there will be a deer trail inside the brushline.

Whether you stand-hunt, rattle or still-hunt, don't overlook powerlines this fall. They're whitetail magnets.

Since powerlines are so open, never take shots at deer on a horizon or hill on a powerline where the bullet could keep traveling if your aim isn't true. Shoot only where there is an adequate backstop behind the deer. Also never shoot where you could hit a wire or support pole if you miss.

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