December 02, 2022
Gaggles of geese fly overhead. Glancing skyward, I see the honkers pass through openings in the cottonwood canopy. But the sun is bright and warm and the glare forces my gaze back to the ground around me. That’s when I see it—a big mainframe 10-pointer with a split brow ascending from the drainage below.
I slowly reach for my bow, clip my release on the D-loop and wait for an opportunity. The buck just stands there, surveys the scene and turns toward the cut cornfield. I draw, settle the 30-yard pin and turn the arrow loose. That hunt was a product of understanding how whitetails frequently use low spots to access open areas, especially in the afternoon and evening. Low-lying areas that bridge heavy cover and open areas where deer don't feel as safe serve a big purpose in the whitetail world.
Oftentimes, whitetail deer enter fields, food plots and other open areas in the lowest spot possible. These locations play a vital role in their survival, especially in terms of daylight deer movement. This is something that hunters can take advantage of, and even manipulate, if they plan correctly. Before making your hunt plans, it's important to understand why deer behave this way. Simply put, it's their nose—their primary line of defense. Deer know that air currents, especially thermals, carry scent downward into the lowest areas, so that’s where they go to get a sense of nearby danger.
Naturally, topography matters with all of this, and it impacts exactly where these low places exist. There are numerous boxes to check for such spots to be consistently used by deer. For example, they need to be located right on the edge of cover. It might not be a bedding area—perhaps it's a staging area or other strip of cover between bedding and open fields—but these low spots should be direct bridges between cover and openness.
There are numerous land and terrain features that can serve as low spots. Generally, these also double as funnels, which concentrate deer through narrow areas. That said, these should be relatively unpressured spots or else deer will avoid them. In the absence of heavy or moderate pressure, there are many different types of low spots that attract deer from which hunters can benefit. When considering this concept, the first things that come to mind include ditches and drainages. These are common throughout the whitetail world and exist where most people hunt, no matter the location.
Another classification of low spots includes features like ravines. Generally, ravines taper down toward the lowest areas and have hills on either side. Scent cascades down into the ravine from each slope and pushes down into low-lying areas. Other low areas include creeks, streams and rivers. These are generally located at the lowest elevations, where scent commonly settles. With these waterways, two thermal forces are in play.
First, in the afternoon, general thermals pull scent downward. Secondly, water sources have their own thermal drafts due to water temperatures, which are typically cooler than the ambient temperature above them. Therefore, air columns (and scent) fall toward the surface and flow with the current. In some instances, hanging treestands over waterways can be effective. More obvious terrain features aside, don't forget something as simple as the lowest point in a food plot or field. Gently sloping terrain pulls scent to the lowest points, too, regardless of where that occurs or the degree of elevation change. Even a small decrease in elevation can make an impact.
Once you find a low spot that deer frequently use, remember it. These spots are typically used consistently year after year. However, it's up to us to figure out the best ways to hunt them. As mentioned earlier, deer frequently use low spots as chutes to open areas because of the winding advantages they offer. Their very nature makes these places difficult to hunt. It takes careful planning to sit a spot that's so advantageous for deer.
Just because it's difficult doesn't make it impossible, though. Hunting just off the prevailing wind is the ticket for tagging deer in these hard-to-hunt areas. While it's a risky tactic, the odds of success are quite high when deployed correctly.
Despite thermal action, if there's any wind at all it can shift the overall wind draft slightly one way or the other. By knowing the direction most deer come from and where they go, the travel routes they use to reach the low spot and the wind direction, it’s possible to set up in a manner that puts you in range of the low spot while casting your scent just past the line of deer movement. There might only be 25, 50 or 75 yards of separation between your scent cone and the primary travel route, but that can be just enough to pull off a successful hunt, even when a buck thinks everything is in his favor.
Start the process of hunting low spots with a topo map or topo layer in a hunting app. These are perfect for finding low spots along field edges and other openings. Look for the lines delineating tapering terrain that pinches down at the lowest elevation.
Then, when you've finally found a good hunting spot where you can get low, put serious emphasis on scent management. Take scent-reduction showers. Keep your hunting clothes and other gear in air-tight totes. Treat them with scent-reduction techniques. Once in the field, get dressed at the truck before the hunt. Then, after it’s over, change back into your street clothes.
Lastly, time your hunts wisely. Knowing when low spots hit their peak is part of optimizing the hunt. And while deer can use these at any time, there are certain ones that offer true benefits.
During the day, low spots are more advantageous to deer during the afternoon and early evening when thermals are dropping downward. This is truer later in the day when deer are traveling from bed to feed. In contrast, thermals mostly rise in the morning. Therefore, bucks often cruise ridgelines, high-level benches and other higher elevation spots at such times.
Regarding daylight usage, low spots are more likely to produce big-buck sightings if they are closer to daytime bedding cover. If situated along the dividing line between bedding areas and staging areas, odds of an encounter increase greatly. Overall, going low can offer high odds of success. Understanding the ins and outs of when, where and why whitetails benefit from these terrain features will make you a more efficient hunter. It just takes effort—and maybe a little good fortune
Use apps to locate depressions and low-lying areas.
Are you convinced to hunt low areas but are unsure how to find them? My preferred method is using hunting apps I’ve downloaded to my phone. Generally, I start my search by looking for heavy cover that connects to open food sources via a low spot, such as a ditch, drainage or merely the lowest elevation in a given area. But how do I find these places? It’s not always simple, but certain app features make it easier.
Start with an app layer that features topographic lines. This might be a contour layer, a pure topo layer or a hybrid of the two. Regardless, if it shows topo lines, it will work. It’s even better if it shows elevation numbers. This will help those who are just learning to read topo maps. When studying these, start by finding the high ground. Then, look for U-shaped lines that are spaced tightly together. This will signal a ravine, which typically leads down to the lowest spot in the area.
Usually, the open part of the “U” points toward the low ground, while the closed part generally points toward the high ground. However, that isn’t always the case, so look to other clues in order to be certain. Where several ravines come together is known as a hub, which deer use to stage in, especially if the hub is adjacent to food sources.
These are epitomic low spots because in the afternoons (or whenever the air temperature is cooling), scent from multiple directions funnels down into one location. It allows deer to monitor scent from multiple directions in a centralized location.