Locate Trophy Whitetail Deer
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times. A whitetail deer hunter must hunt in a State that is producing record book bucks to harvest one. Without the long sermon on heading to the Midwest, lets simply assume you occupy a property that is producing big buck sign, with occasional or even frequent sightings. However, when hunt season rolls around you simply cannot find the quality of trophy whitetail buck you seek although you know they are there.
As whitetail deer hunters we all know that trophy whitetail deer don’t become monster bucks by being stupid. Often times really big deer go nocturnal, hide in the densest cover on the property, hide in the most obvious locations you would never hunt, and just “flat out” evade us as whitetail hunters. In essence for this very reason it’s their elusivity that drives us to pursue whitetail deer. In the following article my hopes are to educate whitetail hunters on how to locate and harvest huge whitetail deer.
Aerial Photos and Elevation Maps
Any hunter in pursuit of trophy whitetails must obtain aerial photos of the ground they hunt. An aerial photo often times will give away locations to intercept trophy deer when a mere walkthrough of the property will not. Scouting, and walkthroughs of your whitetail deer property are important, however aerial photos are vital to your success. In prior articles I told readers 20 years ago that I hunted with a man that had an artificial leg. This man had lost a leg in a hunt accident. In these younger years as a whitetail deer hunter I scouted relentlessly and worked my “tail end” off to locate whitetail deer. My efforts were nil. One day I approached my friend Steve and ask him, “Why is it that you always kill a big deer and I never do. I have both my legs and walk out our hunt properties working hard to hang stands with much dedication. No matter how hard I work, you always kill a big buck and I don’t. Steve sat me down that day and said, “Darrin, as a man with one leg I am forced to use aerial photos to located deer as I’m not afforded the luxury to do a lot of walking around to scout out whitetail property. I have taught myself simply by looking at aerial photos of the farms we hunt just exactly where I need to hunt. Meanwhile other whitetail deer hunters go stomping out the ground desperately seeking a monster buck. He applauded my efforts but indicated that if I could keep my mouth shut for a couple years he would teach me how to effectively read aerial photos and save me a lot of time and trouble which would ultimately result in my success of taking trophy bucks. I agreed to follow his instructions but was a bit skeptical. With today’s technology, aerials are easily obtained online or at your local farm service office located in all County Seats of every County in the United States.
The first lesson my one legged companion taught me was how to find key bed areas without walking out the property. He handed me an aerial and asked me, “Where are the bed areas?” I thought it was a crazy question simply by looking at the photo and said to him, “How do you tell where the bed areas are on an aerial?” He replied, “Darrin, bed areas are normally where the darkest deposits of ink are located on the aerial photograph, as they are dark because of the density of the foliage and cover in that particular portion of the aerial.” This was an awakening to locating bed areas on aerial photographs for me. Think about it as it only makes sense. Deer normally bed in the densest areas and those areas would be the darkest deposits of ink on any aerial as those are the thickest and most dense of all areas. Often times in the Midwest when looking for the bed area or a dense location of cover look for a little field in the middle of the timber that the farmer simply cannot get to farm. It will look like nothing but a small open field on the aerial but remember most aerials are very old no matter the source you have obtained them from. Normally you find these small fields usually ranging in size from 1/3 acre to 1 acre full of thick nasty foliage which affords big deer the opportunity to bed up in a location nobody would think holds a bed area. These areas aren’t worth the farmer planting so they are grown up nasty bed areas for whitetail deer.
My next lesson was to learn what topographical advantages that whitetail deer utilize which I had been over looking.
My friend began to show me what funnels looked like on an aerial. Of course we all know what a funnel is but just for review, A deer funnel is basically anything that causes deer to pass through a narrow or restricted area. Think of the tiny midsection of an hour glass and you'll get the picture. Deer funnels are great places to take your Buck, or any other Game animal for that matter. Deer funnels can be nothing more than how the land lays. Game animals normal follow the lay of the land so anything change in the lay of the land that causes them to pass through a restricted area can be considered a funnel. Beaver dams can create great deer funnels if the terrain permits. A Beaver dam may be the best crossing over a creek that there is for hundreds of yards. Deer will naturally walk across a Beaver dam before they will swim. So will Hunters! Man can also create funnels. Fence lines, Ponds, cleared fields, etc. can all create deer funnels.
Spiderwebs are locations where fencelines or several skinny draws intersect at one point. By hunting a spiderweb you can literally intercept 2 to 7 ditches of deer traffic at the same time as long as you set up your ambush site where they all intersect. During the rut a spiderweb is simply the best location to hunt, especially with a bow.
Elevation maps can reveal lowspots. A lowspot is a location on a food source or travel corridor that deer utilize because lowspots normally cannot be seen from roads or level ground. Trophy whitetail deer utilize these areas for travel because they know they can get away with feeding in them and traveling through them without being seen by predators. I’ve killed many a big deer in lowspot.
Elevation maps can also reveal where ridge ramps intersect. A ridge ramp is a location where timbered terrain sloops off at a slight angle. Deer will travel ridge ramps because they are lazy by nature and would rather walk up a 40 degree angle than a 70 degree angle. Find where several ridge ramps meet up and you’ve discovered a location where deer are traveling to make the negotiation of terrain easier for them.
Locating Trophy Whitetail Bucks
After you have done your homework and studied the aerial photos of the land you will hunt trophy whitetail deer on, its time to travel to those areas and locate deer trails, as well as deer sign. Of course you’ll be looking for rubs, scrapes, major deer trails, and deer tracks that are abnormally large displaying dew claw indentations. I remember in 1993 I located a nice lowspot inside a woodlot leading across a very small creek up into a food plot. After looking into the wet creek crossing I saw several sets of huge deer tracks with deer claw indentations that led me to believe a big buck was using the trail, however not big rubs or scrapes existed. I quietly set up my climbing treestand and began to wait on the evening movement of whitetail deer. Sure enough about 2 hours before dark I caught a glimpse of movement on the trail back in the timber. Deer were heading my way. I picked up my bow and began to position myself in the tree stand for what I hoped would be a shot at a trophy buck. As expected not one, but three record book whitetail bucks were cruising down the trail headed directly toward my position. I drew my Mathews Bow, and sent an arrow straight over the back of one of the monster whitetail bucks. It was a bittersweet story. I had missed the shot, but I had successfully located trophy whitetail bucks in the area.
Remember that if your walking through your land tract too close to season you can walk around too much. The worst thing you can do is go into an area just a few days before hunting it and walk the ground out too much. This alerts big deer to your presence. As in the aforementioned story when I discovered the deer crossing I missed the big buck on, I will have to admit I was tempted to follow the trail up into the timber to discover the bed area in an effort to get closer to the bucks, but instead I was conservative and waited from a distance because I didn’t want to jump them up and spook them off. Don’t be too aggressive on your walkthroughs. Also on your walkthroughs of the whitetail property you hunt be quiet. (Even in the off season.) Try not to touch vegetation thereby leaving scent and don’t talk loud or at normal volume if you take a friend along. Sneak like a cat and always believe your being watched by game as you move through the land tract.
I normally can find trophy whitetail deer the fastest by the location of 3 things. Topographical advantages via aerial photographs, locating the food source, and walking out damp creek beds and small rivers holding water. Why?
1. Topographical Advantages: As aforementioned if you will use the aerials to find funnels, spiderwebs, ramps, inside L’s, and lowspots you can normally walk straight to them to discover where you wish to hang your treestands.
2. Food Source: Find your foodsources and travel the perimeter of said food source. You’ll be looking for the major trails leading into the food source. You should walk these trails back into the timber as far you can without running deer off to locate areas to set up on trophy whitetails.
3. Creeks: Whether the whitetail deer hunter realizes it or not when your walking out dry foliage ridden land tracts there is always tons of deer sign the human eye simply can’t pickup. Therefore one of the chief ways I determine the amount and quality of whitetails on a given land tract is to find the creeks, and rivers on the property. In the creek beds no foliage will exist and soil will be wet to damp. It is here you will be able to see how many deer are in the area as many tracks will be imprinted into these creekbeds. This is a way to determine populations, frequency of creek bed crossing, study the size of different deer tracks in order to determine if mature deer are using a particular crossing, etc. etc. Often times I will use the crossing to locate a deer trail leading up into the main body of the woodlot I would have otherwise often overlooked.
These are the very locations one needs to hang a Stealth Infrared Camera on in the timber. Food sources should be watched with high quality optics from long distances.
Erecting Tree Stand Sites for Record Book Whitetail Deer
When erecting tree stand locations for trophy whitetail deer the WORST THING YOU CAN DO IS CARRY TREESTANDS IN THE TIMBER WITH YOU LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO HANG THEM. If you carry tree stands in with on your first couple initial walk throughs of the property you will hunt for whitetail deer you will hang the stand at the first places you think look good. This is what I call “premature tree stand hanging”. If you do this as your walking the property out you will run out of tree stands before discovering some of the better locations to hang tree stands at.
The correct method is to walk out the property, hang cameras, and scout with optics. After beginning to know the property and having a thorough knowledge of its enter workings of deer travel then go hang your tree stands. By using this method you will have hung tree stands on the very best locations with a full knowledge of where they need to be placed.
As a whitetail deer outfitter I have my guides first walk out a property and by using orange tape and cat eye glow in the dark tacks they will mark off the route in which we wish to enter a stand site. Then they will return to hang the tree stands on a different day.
Finding the Biggest Whitetail Bucks on the Property
You’ll discover the biggest whitetail bucks on your property will be in one of 3 places.
1. In the nastiest most dense areas the property holds. Places that are not scenic. Locations that may be the most difficult to hunt and hardest to get to. That’s why the big boys are there.
2. You will also find your biggest deer in the oddest places you could imagine. Places you simply wouldn’t want to hunt or wouldn’t think of hunting. A key example of this is the reknown Todd Hurley Buck of Illinois. The morning Todd went hunting it was his 1st whitetail deer hunt. His hunting companions just stuck him in an old spot that no professional whitetail enthusiast would want to hunt. Story goes, he killed one of Illinois’s largest deer to date. Often times especially on high pressured whitetail deer properties the biggest bucks will pick the most obvious or dumbest places to bed because nobody has been to these areas. We as whitetail deer hunters wouldn’t dream of hunting them. Thus these areas hold no human scent and big deer will bed their by themselves knowing they will not be pursued in these dumb locations.
3. Topographical advantages during the rut. While big deer will use your topographical advantages like funnels they often times use them only after dark unless it’s the rut. However during the rut the whitetail buck has one thing on his mind……………..breeding. Your big deer will utilize the topographical advantages during the rut as they chase does without a care.
Head to the timber this fall with aerial photos and a thorough knowledge of the area looking for the aforementioned suggestions. Hang your stands after you’ve done all your homework and get ready to harvest a trophy whitetail buck.