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Reading Whitetail Travel Routes
 

Types of Whitetail Highways
EDITOR'S NOTE: Simply finding a deer trail won't provide enough information to make you hang a tree stand and plan to hunt that trail. Many ingredients make some deer trails better than others. To effectively hunt trails, you need to know ..
* why and when the deer use the trail,
* where the deer will go and
* what time of day or night the deer will move down the trail.
With this information, you can hunt trails and take deer more productively than a hunter who simply finds a trail and hangs a tree stand. Let's take a closer look at some different types of deer trails and what you can learn from these trails to help you hunt more effectively. Deer use several different kinds of paths or trails -- both obvious and inconspicuous. If you know what to look for and where to look, you can take a stand and drastically increase your ability to find and bag deer.
Some hunters detect the movement of deer on all types of trails with fishing line. They'll string 1- or 2-pound-monofilament fishing line high enough across a trail that a raccoon or dog normally won't trip it, but a deer will. Then later, whether that line is broken or not, these hunters will take that line out of the woods with them when they leave because monofilament stays in the environment for some time.
Many deer hunters have found some trails in the woods like horse trails, hiking trails, snowmobile trails, etc. the least productive to hunt -- even though they may have numbers of deer tracks on them. Probably the deer are utilizing these trails only at night.
You can locate and read some deer trails easily. Most hunters hunt and spook deer on these public-land trails. Deer often use these trails at night, leaving plenty of sign, but never travel them during daylight hours. However, you'll usually find the most deer on invisible trails, the kind of trails that only veteran woodsman will pinpoint.
"Deer have historical trails that they use for generations to travel from one woodlot to another," Larry Norton of Pennington, Alabama, a guide at Bent Creek Hunting Lodge near Jachin, Alabama, and a member of the Mossy Oak Hunt Team, said. "Even when deer encounter a clearcut, they still will use these same trails. But as the young pines grow to 4- or 5-feet tall, the trails seem to vanish. However, mark these trails so that you can find them as the pines continue to grow. The deer will never stop using the trails."
Norton remains very secretive about the invisible trails he finds when he hunts in a pine plantation. He tries to enter and exit these areas without anyone's noticing him. He also never tells other hunters where or how he hunts.
"I'll never hunt a historic trail in a pine plantation with a wrong wind," Norton emphasized. "I don't want to spook the deer on these trails. And I don't hunt these trails more than once per week."
Trash Trails and Meandering Trails
EDITOR'S NOTE: Simply finding a deer trail won't provide enough information to make you hang a tree stand and plan to hunt that trail. Many ingredients make some deer trails better than others. To effectively hunt trails, you need to know ..
* why and when the deer use the trail,
* where the deer will go and
* what time of day or night the deer will move down the trail.
With this information, you can hunt trails and take deer more productively than a hunter who simply finds a trail and hangs a tree stand. Let's take a closer look at some different types of deer trails and what you can learn from these trails to help you hunt more effectively.
Besides historical ones (see Day 1), Larry Norton of Pennington, Alabama, finds and hunts other invisible trails -- trash trails -- in pine plantations. Usually with clear-cut property, the stumps, limbs and logs get left piled-up in a long windrow and burned. Windrows still remain after the landowner plants the area in pines. As the young pines grow taller than the windrows, you can no longer spot these old trash piles.
"The trash piles create a natural barrier on what would otherwise be flat ground," Norton explained. "These trails are primarily travel and feeding trails and usually have very fertile earth that produces high-quality deer food like honeysuckle, blackberry bushes and greenbrier. The deer can feed on the trash piles and stay in thick cover during daylight hours. Most often you'll have to hunt these trash piles from ground blinds because a young pine can't hold a tree stand. The understory may only be clear for 5 to 6 feet above the ground."
Sometimes deer take routes through the woods without leaving trails. Even when deer frequent a particular area, they may not walk down a certain path as they move through this region but instead will meander through the woods. Often meandering trails occur where two types of habitat pinch down a woodlot and create a funnel. Most of the time, deer will meander through that funnel rather than taking a specific route. Falling leaves will keep you from seeing little if any sign on the ground.
Wildlife biologists and longtime deer hunters have found that hunting a funnel that narrows down to one specific area improves the odds of the deer coming by you, instead of their walking past you out of range. For example, a dead tree that's down in a funnel area that the deer must walk around is a good place to set up your stand. Any break in the funnel where deer must pause to go under a fence or to cross a stream also will be productive spots for taking deer, because the deer must stop and think about how to traverse the obstacle rather than looking for danger. Too, they're not spending as much time looking up in the trees if they're negotiating obstacles in the funnel.
Terrain Trails and Mating trails
EDITOR'S NOTE: Simply finding a deer trail won't provide enough information to make you hang a tree stand and plan to hunt that trail. Many ingredients make some deer trails better than others. To effectively hunt trails, you need to know ..
* why and when the deer use the trail,
* where the deer will go and
* what time of day or night the deer will move down the trail.
With this information, you can hunt trails and take deer more productively than a hunter who simply finds a trail and hangs a tree stand. Let's take a closer look at some different types of deer trails and what you can learn from these trails to help you hunt more effectively.
Because terrain trails concentrate deer coming and going from two different directions onto a very narrow path, bowhunters often have success on them. You may find a terrain trail in a saddle between two mountains, because deer will cross the mountain range in this saddle -- the lowest place. By taking a stand on either side of the mountain, the hunter has the best chance to bag a buck.
If you place your stand in the middle of a saddle and spook deer, the animals may run back the way they've come and spook other deer coming up the trail. However, if you take a stand on either side of a saddle, if a buck does spook, he either may run to the left or the right instead of back up the trail from where he's come. Then you'll have an opportunity to shoot at deer coming down the trail all day -- even if your spook one or two animals.
Deer often will utilize a terrain break in flatlands by walking a creek bottom or a wash through thick cover. As an avid deer hunter who has taken more than l00 deer with his bow, mentions, "Deer like the path of least resistance just like humans do. For example, a small creek crossing that is grown up on each side and has an opening in the brush will be where deer usually will go through -- just like people will."
You can easily identify a terrain trail that follows a path along the edge of a creek or a riverbank. Traveling along the edges of water gives deer an instant and immediate terrain break they can use to put between danger and themselves, particularly if hunters or other predators spook the deer.
Depending on the position of a trail along a creek or a pond, you may find either wading the water and hunting from the water and/or if possible, putting up a tree stand on the opposite side of a small creek from the trail the most productive. Or, when hunting a backwoods pond with flooded timber, place your tree stand in one of the trees out in the pond. Then you can approach and leave your stand by wading the water and eliminate the human odor you normally will leave on the ground.
During the rut, deer often will walk mating trails. As a buck expands his territory to try and service more does, he probably will have a regular route he travels in search of females.
Water, Food and Bedding Trails
EDITOR'S NOTE: Simply finding a deer trail won't provide enough information to make you hang a tree stand and plan to hunt that trail. Many ingredients make some deer trails better than others. To effectively hunt trails, you need to know ..
* why and when the deer use the trail,
* where the deer will go and
* what time of day or night the deer will move down the trail.
With this information, you can hunt trails and take deer more productively than a hunter who simply finds a trail and hangs a tree stand. Let's take a closer look at some different types of deer trails and what you can learn from these trails to help you hunt more effectively.
The swamp had flooded, and acorns floated on the surface of the knee-deep water. From the numbers of cracked acorns on the bank, the deer hunters in the area knew deer had fed at this site, although they couldn't locate any tracks. One of the hunters decided to sit on the edge of the slough all day to learn the movement patterns of the deer.
In the early morning light, the hunter could hear acorns popping and water pouring as he made out a dark figure in the 2-foot-deep water. Using his binoculars, he focused on a fat doe knee-deep in the flooded timber, picking up acorns in her mouth, letting the water run out of her mouth, cracking the acorns and eating the meat of the nuts. In 2 l/2-hours, he watched l5-other does moving along the edges or in the shallow water eating acorns. These deer walked along an underwater path that led through the flooded timber and their food.
Another time on yet another flood plain, just at dark, a hunter located deer tracks going into the water just at dark. The next morning he set up a tree stand 20 yards from where he'd seen the tracks going into the backwoods beaver pond. As he watched, deer moved back and forth across the pond -- apparently on an underwater ridge only 4 or 5 inches below the surface but not visible from the shore. Hunting this underwater ridge produced two fine bucks for this deer hunter during that season.
Hunters consider food trails the easiest and most obvious places to attempt to take deer. However, you must set up on a food trail in the correct place to have success. You can follow a food trail easily that leads to an agricultural field, because generally the deer will enter the field at a corner, a point or some other obvious passageway. Take a stand 20 or 30 yards inside the woodline along the trail that goes to the field. But the more often someone hunts the trail, the more sensitive the deer will become to hunting pressure and probably will stay well down the trail before dark.
Generally an experienced hunter will set up well away from a food plot to intercept a deer earlier, since many deer won't enter a food plot until almost dark to be safe. Too, at that time of the day, often the light's too bad to shoot accurately.
Often the bigger, better-sized bucks will wait just before dark l00 to 200 yards down the trails that lead to the greenfield. If you can find an alternative food source like an acorn tree or some wild vegetation where deer feed along that trail leading to the greenfield, you've located a productive spot to bag a buck.
Look for the most productive food trees in isolated regions. If several trails from various directions lead into that food tree, you may not know where to place your tree stand. However, you can funnel deer from one trail to another by using human odor as a barrier on the trails you don't want the deer to travel down.
Ronnie Groom, owner of C & G Sporting Goods in Panama City, Florida, and a deer-hunting instructor at numerous hunting schools across the South, suggests that you, "Move l50 to 200 yards away from the food tree. Then walk across each of the trails you don't want the deer to use -- carefully leaving plenty of human odor on these trails. When the deer come down the trail you've tried to X out, they'll smell human odor, leave the trail they're on, and move to the trail you want them to walk down that doesn't have human odor it."
Hunting the buck as he goes to his bed presents another hunting opportunity. In most areas when deer have intense hunting pressure, they will move to their beds just at daylight. By locating a buck's food source and where he beds, you can place your stand and climb in it before daylight. One bowhunter says he gets as close to a bedding area as he can without disturbing the deer to have the most light. He mentions that he hunts farther off the trails than most people and always on the downwind side. This avid hunter doesn't hunt too close to where he anticipates taking a shot. When scouting a bedding region, spend as little time as possible to determine where to put your tree stand. Deer won't feel secure in a bedding area if they detect human odor. Always scout bedding sites in advance of deer season before the bucks become so sensitive to human sightings and smell. Don't cross any bedding trails if you can avoid them, and even go out of your way to not cross them.
Also, never hunt a deer's bedding area when the wind's blowing in the wrong direction. If you're hunting next to lowlands, remember air usually will move from higher elevations to the lower part of a hollow in the evenings. Set up on the lower side of the trail going to and from where the deer's bedding. If you plan to hunt a bedding trail in the morning, don't forget that because air rises at that time, you should place your tree stand on the upper side of the trail.
If you can't get to a bedding site well before daylight and be on your stand that's set up with a favorable wind direction, then hunt another place that day. If you spook a buck coming to his bed, more than likely that's the last time you'll see that animal during the season.
Escape Trails and Night Trails
EDITOR'S NOTE: Simply finding a deer trail won't provide enough information to make you hang a tree stand and plan to hunt that trail. Many ingredients make some deer trails better than others. To effectively hunt trails, you need to know ..
* why and when the deer use the trail,
* where the deer will go and
* what time of day or night the deer will move down the trail.
With this information, you can hunt trails and take deer more productively than a hunter who simply finds a trail and hangs a tree stand. Let's take a closer look at some different types of deer trails and what you can learn from these trails to help you hunt more effectively.
Apartment buildings, hotels and department stores all have fire escapes. Even elevators have trapdoors in their ceilings for people to escape danger. The white-tailed deer realizes the presence of danger in his environment, especially during hunting season. That's why the buck has certain, pre-determined paths he uses to escape danger. Often these trails won't look well-defined and may show little wear.
Once a longtime deer hunter uncovered an unusual escape trail under a bridge. Each morning before hunting season when the hunter scouted, he noticed a nice buck in a greenfield on his club, However, when deer season arrived, he rarely saw the buck in the field but would spot him on the opposite side of the creek at first light as the hunter went into the woods to hunt.
After scouting for several weeks, the hunter still couldn't pinpoint how the buck got away from the field to the opposite side of the creek. Finally one morning, he left to hunt somewhat earlier and found the buck a little late leaving the greenfield. The hunter watched as the buck walked under the bridge everyone used to travel to go hunting.
When daylight came, the hunter located the buck's trail where it went into the water just below the field. Checking under the bridge, he saw a small sandbar with plenty of tracks going both ways that the buck had used to travel back and forth to the field. The following morning the hunter took the buck on this escape route.
Many of us probably waste thousands of hours hunting over trails deer never use during daylight hours. To decide whether or not a deer uses a trail at night, check the numbers of tracks on it. If the trail goes straight in one direction, then you'll know deer don't meander along these trails and feed, walk these trails in search of does or take these paths to and from food sources during daylight hours.
Like us when we're traveling from one point to another, deer will take a woods interstate, because it's the most direct route. However, if we want to pick up a date, get something to eat or have a visit with friends, we must get off the highway and so must deer. You can easily see these night trails in open woodlots. To determine whether or not these paths have deer on them, use a trail timer.
But remember, the ease of locating these well-defined night trails means many people will hunt here, although usually the trails will have the most hunting pressure during daylight hours. To avoid the hunter, the deer using this trail only will come out after dark.
After gathering information about where the deer go and why they travel to these regions, then you must determine when, and where to try and put a tree stand to bag a buck. When a big buck moves down that deer highway at a time you have pre-determined he will, and you sight in on your target, you'll understand immediately why all your research and scouting for trails have been worthwhile.


John Phillips

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