We the whitetail hunting addicts of America share a common affliction and affection in addition to our passion for chasing monster bucks. That universal addiction is that to the newest, biggest, baddest gun or bow. The most versatile new grunt tube and the most enticing new bottled urine, feces or bodily fluid we can pull from those four legged furry creatures we love to chase. Ahh, but the troubles don’t end there. No, in addition to the piles of gear we collect, we are also in constant search for the magic formula or strategy that will deliver Booners into our laps, prepackaged and ready for mounting on our wall. Whether it be baiting, calling, plotting, stalking, driving, rattling, feeding, or any of a thousand other off the wall deer hunting strategies, hunters are always looking for the newest magic bean that will get us a monster on the wall. But in spite of all these new-fangled ideas and products, it is sometimes the most simple and grounded ideas that are in fact the most sure to deliver results. So in contrast to the usual magic five step program to killing a giant you might hear about in an ad on TV, I’d like to instead begin a series on possibly one of the most basic and down to earth strategies for pursuing whitetails this land has ever known… The art of understanding and using our terrain to an advantage in the chase for whitetails.

New Series: Understanding Terrain For Deer Hunting Success

Over the next few weeks I plan to examine how a better understanding of the way deer travel and use certain terrain features can lead to increased opportunities on high quality deer. Now I would be the first to admit that I have plenty still to learn on this subject myself, so I plan to study a variety of different resources and report back to you what I have learned and how it can be applied in the field. I plan to pull heavily from the acclaimed book “Mapping Trophy Bucks” by Brad Herndon, and a variety of other deer hunting DVDs, magazine articles, books and first hand advice. By the end of this series, I would hope that you and I both will have a better understanding of how we can use terrain, maps and good sense to put ourselves in the best position for a shot at that buck of our dreams.

My First Buck and How A Trifecta of Terrain Features Made It Happen

So in starting this series, I thought it would only be appropriate to take a look how this kind of strategy has already effected my hunting success in the past. In fact the first buck I ever shot was a direct result of the terrain I was hunting over. That being said, I certainly didn’t plan it that way, rather I stumbled upon this spot and got lucky. None the less, a lesson was learned after observing how deer moved through this area and it has stuck with me since then.

I was hunting a 5 acre piece of timber behind my parents house at the time, most of which was at the bottom of a deep valley with houses on either side above me. The valley, about 400 yards across at it’s widest, was divided by a weaving thread of a stream that ran all the way from an apple orchard half a mile to the north, down to a series of man made lakes a mile or so down in the other direction. The first place I ever sat was along the intersection of an old two track and a heavily used deer trail that crossed the track at a diagonal and continued up the ridge at a 45 degree angle, until it hit  a bench in the hillside. It’s the combination of this valley, ridge and bench all coming together that ended up making this spot so killer. Over the years I hunted this area I found that deer were bedding on fingers coming off this ridge and travelling along this bench and down into my valley on their way to feed every evening in the orchard to my north. These features worked as a trifecta to create an incredible funnel which put deer broadside at 25 yards from me on a daily basis.

On that chilly November evening I remember thinking my evening hunt was shot when a pair of hikers decided it was a good idea to come trekking across my property, but after a good scolding on my part, they continued back the way they came. Despite that interruption, I decided to stick it out for the rest of the evening and as luck would have it, that was a good idea. Just as dusk was settling upon the woods around me, I lightly clicked my rattling bag together a few times and hopefully surveyed the hillside. Not a minute or two later a small four pointer popped it’s head over the bench and started heading down the trail towards me, just a few steps behind came a nice “big” 6 pointer. These bucks had obviously been bedded on the ridge above me and had been enticed to come down in to the valley to investigate. Naturally they took the path of least resistance, which involved following the bench across, below the ridge line, and cutting down into the valley in front of me. With the composure and steadiness of a leaf shaking in the wind, I brought my bow up, drew back, let out a stuttering “urrrp”, and released…. After several hours of restless waiting, I finally came upon my first buck ever, double lunged and laying at the base of that ridge.

What’s To Come Next

Looking back at this hunt, I know now that my success was no fluke, but rather the result of hunting over the key terrain features that had naturally funneled deer through this area for decades. So now the challenge and opportunity for us all is to better understand how the environment around our own hunting grounds can manipulate deer travel similar to how it did in my experience. Finding these locations whether it be in the oak flats of the Midwest, the swamps of Mississippi or the river bottoms out west can lead to consistent and quite incredible success. So stay tuned over the coming weeks as we dive into the myriad ways that understanding terrain and how deer use it can lead to hunting success. Examples of topics to be covered include understanding thermals, saddles, benches, how and where deer bed in hill country, ridges, edges and much more.

A big part of using terrain is being able to understand terrain features on maps, specifically topographic maps. So if you are not familiar with how to read a topo map, here’s a little bit of homework for you! Do some reading on topos and try to get a basic understanding of how they work and how to read them. Here is a link to a pretty good resource on topos for a beginner.