With a little imagination and a bit of sweat equity, there are small alterations you can make to a buck’s home range to steer him past you with predictability. Whitetail hunters spend literally millions of dollars on food plots to lure deer within shooting range of treestands and ground blinds, but I’m not saying you must become a part-time farmer; instead, I’m suggesting you make minor modifications to a whitetail’s world in the form of trail blocks and cleared pathways.
Preseason is the best time to undertake these terrain modifications. Hunting season is months away, allowing ample time for any intrusion to become a distant memory for whitetails gorging on the greenery of summer. Plus, you won’t be the only intrusion in the whitetail woods unless you hold exclusive ownership to the padlock on the gate. Farmers, ranchers, fishermen, ATVers, county employees and others routinely invade the world of summertime whitetails. And deer hunters hooked on trail cameras also leave a telltale trail of intrusion for whitetails.
Your goal is to create the perfect funnel or pinch-point. If you’ve hunted a property for years and know it like the back of your hand, you likely already know the best spots for such a pinch-point. However, if you don’t know the property well, use topographical maps and aerial photographs to get a bird’s-eye view of it, then take the time to walk it. It’s best to take your hike after the deer season—in the North, after the snow has melted—when decreased vegetation allows you an unobstructed view of the topography.
Topographical maps will reveal details such as steep slopes, field/timber edges, waterways and dimples in the terrain that might naturally funnel a buck your way. Satellite images back that up and confirm their proximity to food and cover. Here’s one hint: Don’t look for the narrowest gap or land feature as a pinch-point because deer often shy away from features that severely limit escape opportunities.
Blaze A Trail
Before you lay out the red carpet, you need to pick the right spot. Picking the best funnel to “remodel” is your first priority, choosing the best location for an ambush is your second. Whether you’re bowhunting or using a firearm, look for the best tree or vantage point before you begin renovations. You want to ensure that any modifications you undertake keep a whitetail within view and within shooting range, especially since your first assignment is to steer a whitetail your direction. If you pave the road, but the only tree for a treestand perch is 50 yards away, you’re jeopardizing your opportunity for a clean kill. The same can be said of ground blind locations. If thick timber decreases shooting opportunities or a depression steals your view, pick a new location.
Once you have the ambush point in mind, look for ways to bring whitetails your direction. The easiest way is to blaze a trail. By creating a path-of-least-resistance, you can steer deer to you without bringing suspicion to the trap ahead. There are a number of ways to pave a road, but you don’t need heavy equipment. The tools are probably already in your storage shed.
Household lawn maintenance gear such as a lawn mower, power trimmer, pruner or a saw can create a clear pathway that even a nearsighted whitetail could discover. Clip low-hanging branches, trim the tall weeds and move any downed logs or other debris that could potentially cause a whitetail to divert from your desired deer path. I started embracing this strategy 2 decades ago using my grandpa’s machete, and I still use it today to cut a swath through the tangle of brush near some of my backwoods treestands. Together with the machete, I employ a power trimmer and a pruner to quickly and efficiently get the job done.
Here’s a tip to ensure efficiency: Don’t cut your grass too soon. In most regions of North America, spring rains diminish and summer heat causes grass growth to slow or completely stop by late July and early August. Cutting a swath of grass past your ambush location in June might be a waste of time because it could re-grow before opening day of deer season.
A mower or brush hog does the same job as a power trimmer, but at half the calories. Farming is fun, but don’t mow too wide of path. Plus, make sure your paths lead to and from somewhere, ideally from deer bedding to feeding areas and vice versa. It also pays to keep your paths parallel or even overlapping existing routes of established whitetail travel.
How far should you pave the road? Most of my trail blazing is done by hand, so I seldom cut pathways longer than 100 yards. I look for high-traffic trails in funnel zones and make them more obvious than a moose feeding in a Georgia pea field. You can make the paths longer, but if whitetails are in the neighborhood, they’ll likely take a walk down your block with the right modifications to guide them.
Depending on who you talk to, barbed wire either won the West or ruined the last frontier. Either way, I can tell you that wire is a winning element in your efforts to put the squeeze play on a whitetail. Before you begin messing with fences, be sure to get the blessings of the landowner. Wire fences crisscross North America to restrict livestock movement, and any changes you might employ could lead to a cattle roundup and a landowner showing you the gate for a permanent departure.
Opening a gate is a good starting point. Whitetails encounter fences daily, but keep in mind the path-of-least-resistance principle. If you’ve pinpointed a funnel with a tightly strung fence and a gate, focus on the gate because it likely connects a trail and leads somewhere, possibly a field edge. Given a choice, whitetails routinely walk a bit out of their way to pass through an open gate instead of jumping a tightrope-tight, barbed-wire fence. It’s not that whitetails can’t easily jump a fence, although I’ve seen evidence hanging in the wires that some weren’t as good as they thought. It’s just that during the fall, whitetails are at their heaviest, and before the rut they have a lackadaisical nature and take the easy way.
If you don’t have an open-gate policy available, consider widening the gap in a fence. Again, make sure you have the landowner’s blessing. By simply removing clips from steel fence posts or staples from wooden fence posts, you can loosen the wire and tie it down to make a crossing even a brawny buck can crawl through without touching his antlers. This gap is easy to repair after the season.
This final fence idea might make you sweat—literally—but it’s a great way to funnel a buck within shooting range within an already obvious funnel: Construct a short fence. Purchase a roll of wire, a handful of steel posts, a post-pounder and a fence stretcher. If you wrangle livestock occasionally like I do, you probably already have these items in your shed. A tightly strung fence with no room for whitetails to crawl through at a height of 4 feet or more will direct deer into your sights when placed in the right position. You don’t have to build miles of it either. In fact, 50 yards or less of strategically placed fence can direct deer into an X-marks-the-spot location for the perfect shot.
The abbreviated fence option above actually leads to my final thought on directing whitetails: The whole idea is to lead them into an inescapable trap, and to tighten the noose, you might have to block other trails in the area and detour deer your way. Few funnels contain a single trail. On average, several trails will course in from various directions leading into and out of a funnel from various bedding locations. Some trails might converge, but don’t bet on it. Blocking their use is difficult, but it’s not “mission impossible.”
Use branches, logs, limbs and vines to create barriers in specific locations. This debris falls from the canopy every summer from inevitable thunderstorms, so a sudden appearance of a brush pile isn’t exactly earth-shattering to a whitetail.
To locate the best barricade position, you might have to backtrack a ways to find blockade options leading to a more natural convergence. If two trails parallel each other and the distance narrows between them, create your blockade at that point. If a deadfall is already blocking a trail, increase the deadfall rubbish. To guarantee a smooth transition to your deer trail of choice, again employ a power trimmer, mower and pruner to create a hard-to-ignore alternative option.
If I Only Had A Brain
You might have to get creative to funnel a buck your way. One season, despite my best efforts to steer whitetails my direction, they strayed and routinely appeared on top of a small ridge to scan my setup below. Growing more irritated every day; I finally decided it was time to alter the scenic view as well. Using redneck engineering technology with the items at my disposal, I created a scarecrow and placed it in the middle of the ridgetop trail the deer used for morning travel back to bedding cover.
A forked tree limb provided the torso of the scarecrow, and the head was constructed from the hipbone of a black baldy cow that never made it to the McDonald’s drive-up window. An old tire provided a full-bodied appearance to my statue. Stepping back, I grinned at my creation—and for a moment I thought it grinned back.
The next morning deer appeared like clockwork, meandering their way toward the scarecrow and potentially away from my ambush location. Two bucks loped ahead, but when they rounded a corner in the trail, they came face-to-face with the redneck scarecrow from the Black Lagoon.
“Scared” wouldn’t even begin to describe the looks on their faces, and the bucks whirled and raced my way. My plan worked except for one small hitch: The bucks sped by in blur too unpredictable for a high-percentage bow shot. My pinch worked, but I guess I pinched them just a bit too hard.