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Big Bucks Eluding You? Manmade Funnels Will Direct Them Your Way

If your deer-hunting area lacks natural funnels, consider the option of creating them yourself.

Big Bucks Eluding You? Manmade Funnels Will Direct Them Your Way

Like many animals, whitetail deer prefer to take the path of least resistance. As such, we can create pathways that lead them directly to our preferred ambush locations. (Shutterstock image)

When I first met Chuck Sykes decades ago, the current director of wildlife and fisheries at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was a wildlife biologist practicing what is now known as "quality deer management." At the time he was managing a large Alabama property with the goal of improving the habitat for whitetails and turkeys. Back then, the concept of manipulating the land to subtly force deer to walk a certain path past specific points was a radical thing. The dogma of the day was you needed to stay away from big habitat changes or risk horribly spooking deer. I will never forget when the lightbulb went on.

"I’m going to put you in a stand on a little food plot right next to an opening in that long slash pile we pushed up along the field’s northeast corner," Sykes said. "The wind will be from the southeast, and the deer will come through that opening right before dark."

Sure enough, they did. A pile of them. Sykes had bulldozed a literal wall of slash around that field’s northeastern corner, with only one way in from the adjacent bedding thickets. Later, he told me he’d been successfully manipulating habitat like that for a long time.

"You can do it on the fly when you’re scouting and hunting, too, if you do it right," he said. "What you must remember is that whitetails are a lazy animal and will almost always take the path of least resistance.

hunting preparing for hunting season
After altering the landscape to influence deer movement, hang a trail cam to get a sense of when bucks have adopted the new travel route. (Photo courtesy of Realtree)

"Deer would rather cross from one side of a creek to the other where the bank is gently sloping rather than at a spot that is almost vertical. That’s a great place for a stand—unless there are no good trees there, or none with the right wind. So, you hunt someplace else. It’s the same with other natural funnels—they aren’t always in the right spot. So, you simply create a funnel in an area that features an ideal ambush spot."

After seeing his success on that trip I immediately started doing the same thing. And while there are several ways to manipulate deer movement, here are three "go-to" moves that can work for you this fall and for seasons to come.

PATH MOST TAKEN

When traveling from food sources to bedding areas, whitetails are a creature of habit. Unless something changes, they rarely deviate much from their routine. When the path of least resistance does not pass a spot suitable for an ambush, you can do two things. First, you can make existing travel corridors less desirable. Second, you can create a trail that deer will eventually use.

Case in point: There’s a heavily used trail leading from a bedding thicket to an ag field, but the best trees for a stand are 75 yards away through thick underbrush. What do you do? Use a machete, weed whacker or chainsaw to knock down the brush and clear a trail within bow range, taking into consideration the way the wind is most likely to blow.

While I prefer to do this well before the season, I’ve done it during the season with good effect, too. I make sure all the work is done during midday and that I have a week or so to let things settle down before I start hunting it. Hanging a trail camera tells me when the time is right.




At the same time, I place barriers—logs, brush piles, branches, limbs—on the deer’s preferred trail to make it much more difficult for them to use. This barrier must be thick enough and long enough and positioned in such a manner that the easy route for the deer also funnels them to my new pathway.

This is major surgery. Minor surgery might be needing to funnel deer just a few yards closer for the shot. Say that the only good stand tree is to the south of the trail in an area with predominantly southerly winds. Rather than run the risk of hunting out of a stand when the wind is not right, block off the main trail and build a new trail that loops around, bringing the deer closer to your stand before the new trail meets back up with the existing path.

Regardless, when doing this use maximum caution. Follow a meticulous scent-management program. Do the work midday and keep noise to a minimum, which means handsaws and pruners, not chainsaws. Work quickly and efficiently and leave everything looking as natural as possible.

Recommended


barbed wire with deer fur
When attempting to discern deer travel patterns, look for clues like hair left in barbed wire. (Photo by Bob Robb)
GATEWAYS

I love hunting near fences. They make terrific funnels—especially those with a wire strand low enough to the ground that makes it impossible for deer to go under it. Even old fences that serve no current purpose can create natural travel routes deer use as they seek the easiest way to get from one side to the other.

I simply follow the fence and look for trails leading from cover on one side to the fields and crops on the other. If they pass a great stand location, I set up. If not, there are ways to force the action by making it easy for the deer to get from point A to point B—especially if it is an old fence serving no purpose.

One is to leave a gate open. If deer must choose between jumping the fence and walking through an open gate, they’ll often (but not always) go through the gate. Conversely, if they’re going through an open gate where you don’t want them to, close it. If the fence is made up of several single barbed-wire strands, try tying the top two or three strands together to make an opening that deer can easily walk through. You can also block the deer’s preferred fence crossing by piling up brush thick enough that they cannot easily jump it.

I consider "natural" fencerows in this category. An example is the boundary lines of two fields that have become overgrown with thick brush, small saplings and thorny bushes. Use a machete or handsaw and make a clearing a few feet wide that creates an easy access route from one field to the next.

These are best made in the corners of fields. If there are no trees in the area that can accommodate a stand, build a brush blind or use a camouflaged pop-up blind downwind of the funnel. Of course, if you don’t own the property, always get permission before manipulating fences and gates.

FOOD PLOTS

The advantages of food plots are well known today. In addition to using them as a magnet to both draw deer to you and provide supplemental nutrition, you can use this concept to help funnel deer past your stand sites.

Consider the food plot as the hub of a wheel, and trails leading to and from it as the spokes. I like to hunt the spokes well off the plot, knowing that bucks like to enter food plots after dark. I want to catch them on the trail with some shooting light left.

So, I might plant something like white clover on a two-track road leading to the plot, knowing deer will not only walk this road but linger to nibble the clover as they do so. If I find multiple trails relatively close together, I might also physically block several, leaving only the one that passes upwind of my stand open for business.

Funnels really are easy to make. Study the ground, then create the path of least resistance to funnel deer into range. It might be as quick as tying strands of a barbed wire fence together, or as intensive as spending a few days blocking old trails and cutting new ones. Whatever the case, once the results begin to show, you’ll know it was time well spent.

WARM-WEATHER WEAR
  • Three options to keep you cool during the early season.
warm-weather hunting gear
(From left) ScentLok’s Savanna Aero Crosshair Pant, KUIU’s Mesa Vented LS Snap Shirt and Nomad’s Stretch Lite Pant.

Early season hunting can be a sweat fest if you don’t have the right clothing. Here are some options designed to keep you cool and comfortable when things heat up.

  • ScentLok’s Savanna Aero Crosshair Pant ($129.99; scentlok.com) is a 6-pocket pant that features a lightweight, sheen-free fabric with built-in moisture wicking and scent-control properties. It comes in multiple camo options and is comfy and sturdy.
  • KUIU’s Mesa Vented LS Snap Shirt ($109; kuiu.com) is available in the brand’s signature camo patterns and made from a moisture-wicking fabric with UPF 50+ sun protection. The shirt features mesh-lined back vents to keep air flowing and is treated to prevent bacteria from growing.
  • Nomad’s Stretch Lite Pant ($100; nomadoutdoor.com) designed to be lightweight and quick drying. The unique four-way stretch fabric allows for excellent range of movement. The Stretch Lite pant is water-, stain- and abrasion-resistant. Mesh pockets reduce weight and improve breathability. Anatomical shaping makes them exceptionally comfortable.

This article on deer hunting was featured in the South edition of September 2023’s Game & Fish Magazine. Click to subscribe.

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