-By Brandon Wikman
When I think about shooting mature whitetail, I think of that old saying (with a twist): “There’s more than one way to skin a buck.”
With over a thousand products to choose from to increase your odds of harvesting a deer and more than a hundred different strategies to put to use, it is difficult to narrow down what works for you. I’d like to share a strategy I’ve learned from some of the most successful deer hunters, terrain hunting.
Using land terrain to your advantage has been used for centuries. In fact, Native Americans used landscape to kill buffalo in the vast plains and western regions of the United States. To ensure their survival during the long winter months, Native Americans cornered buffalo on a cliff or ledge and ran them off. Today, hunters can tailor their odds of having a giant walk within range by using some general characteristics on their property. It may not be a cliff, but something most hunters have seen or at least heard of: a “funnel”.
Funnels are whitetail hot spots, especially during the rut. They are simply terrain features or manmade objects that condense a whitetail’s travel route. Here are 5 lessons on where to look and how they work for many of the outdoors best and brightest:
- The Finger: Finding a wood line that has a jut, or a point of woods that outcrops into a field, is an ideal spot to find a big buck cruising. Fingers are found easily by studying aerial maps. Considering deer like to stay concealed, they’ll be able to scent check that cornfield or CRP field without ever taking a step out of the woods. Fingers are found everywhere, but Illinois and Iowa are known for them specifically.
- The Underwater Advantage: If you’ve ever hunted a swamp, you may know what I mean when I say it’s difficult and it can be really tricky! The fact is that deer prefer to stay dry and walk along the higher regions of marshy or swampy areas. Try to spot cattails or bogs, and then look on the outskirts of those regions. You may find a dry trail that deer will use most of the time compared to trudging through the nasty stuff. Now, I’ve personally seen deer splash through some knee high algae infested water, but when it boils down to it deer are going to stay on the high side.
- Farmer Brown’s Fence: You’ve probably heard about this strategy before, but it’s one of my favorite setups. Take a walk along a fence line and if you find a spot where it’s busted or low, you’ve found yourself a fence funnel. Deer travel most routes according to the ease of access. You can set up on either side of the fence according to wind direction and where you think they’ll be coming from.
- Sky High Pass: I primarily hunt the bluff regions of western Wisconsin. This offers some immaculate hunting, and it’s beneficial for anyone who really wants to tag a monster trolling for doe. As you look across the horizon of bluffs, you’ll see something in between each bluff that we call “saddles.” These saddles are perfect locations for deer to cross without having to walk the incline of a steep hillside. When a buck’s got a doe on his mind, the only thing he’s really thinking is how fast he can get from point A to point B. The more miles he covers, the more likely he’s able to find a hot doe. This valley feature is an ideal way for bucks to save energy and make an easy pass across the low side of a bluff.
- The Waterway: Creeks and streams are beautiful geological evidence that deer hop from one side to the other by using the lowest or driest part of the streambed to cross. Granted that deer can swim, but, like I said before, they prefer crossing a creek or stream without getting soggy. Not only are they conserving body heat, but making their life easier and more pleasant. This is why you see deer trails that slice through the bank and are carved through the soil - it’s a major highway!
Sometimes, we as hunters have the ability to over think hunting, but that’s what makes it so much fun. It’s a thinking game that involves strategy and technique. Although the strategies we put to work can be extremely complex, we need to stop and think quickly and ask ourselves, “If I were a deer, what would I do?” You’ll be amazed by the answers you find and the secrets that are revealed. Hunting funnels are a fun tactic to try out, and may potentially help kill your next buck.