By Mark Kenyon

Hunting mature whitetails is a game of inches. By that, I mean it is an endeavor in which the small details can mean big things – especially if you’re bowhunting. A great stand location means nothing if you can’t get deer to pass within bow range, and many times this is the ultimate challenge for bowhunters. It can sometimes be “easy” to see a buck you want to shoot, but getting close enough to kill him is another story entirely. That said, one way you can improve your odds of getting a buck close enough is to plan ahead and actually manipulate terrain in the off-season in order to force him within shooting range. More simply stated, one way to get deer closer to your stand is to block or clear deer paths to funnel them in the direction you’d like them to travel!

With my shed hunting exploits again postponed this past weekend due to heavy snow, I decided it was time for me to do just this type of deer funneling work myself. So I pulled on my Carhartt’s, grabbed a can of gas, and headed into the woods with my chainsaw.

I had two different treestands in mind, in which I’d frequently seen deer  but often times they’d used a trail just out of range. Each stand was great for numerous other reasons, but I knew that each location would be even better if I could divert traffic closer for a few more deer. All I needed to do was block the current trail or trails that were out of range, and then clear out a new trail that was within range.

Pictured below is an area near one of my Whitetail Institute food plots, in which one of these tree stands is located. This past season, I found that a decent number of deer were entering the food plot by cutting through an opening in a finger of timber separating my plot from a small crop field, at a distance of about 50 yards from my stand. It’s one of only two clear openings in this finger of timber for about a 150 yard stretch, so almost all of the deer travel through this corridor, or the other trail that is 20 yards the other direction from me. I had one specific encounter in which a nice buck cut across this field and entered the timber at the 50 yard mark, only to eventually hit my scent and bolt. If he had been only 10 yards closer, I would have had an easy shot at him before he ever hit my scent. From that point on, I knew I had to make some changes before the next season.

That said, my goal this weekend was to make that change. The first thing I had to do was clear out a new trail, closer to my stand. At a distance of about 30 yards, there was one downed tree that clogged the path between crop field and food plot, and it looked to be my easiest option for clearing a new path. You can see what this section looked like in the picture below.

I immediately fired up my chainsaw and put it to work against this downed tree. In a matter of minutes and with just a few cuts I was able to slice through all the limbs blocking my path. Next I cleared all the branches and other small trees out as best as I could, to ensure that this would be a very convenient and noticeable path for any deer attempting to cross the hedge row. In the image below, you can see that what once was a wall, is now a very deer friendly path – only 30 yards from my treestand!

I then took all the limbs that I cut from that downed tree and hauled them over to the old trail, which I planned to block. In the next photo you can see that path, which I wanted to discourage deer from using in the future. As I mentioned above, all other areas along this stretch were already blocked with thick brambles or downed trees, so I needed to plug this one hole to get the deer to move through my new path.

That said, I hauled over the aforementioned branches and started leaning them against other trees to block the way. I made as much of a mess as I could with these limbs, and then I started hinge cutting other small trees in the area, to pull those tree tops down and make the path even more clogged. The end result is a small section of timber that is now essentially impassable or at least very inconvenient for a deer to navigate through.

In the matter of just a few hours, I was able to block two out of range trails and then open up two new paths within range of quality tree-stand locations. Bowhunting mature whitetails is all about the little things, and these small tweaks to habitat will hopefully result in big results during the 2013 season. So if you’re looking to lean the odds just a little more in your favor this year, I’d highly recommend you grab your chainsaw and get working!