Jerald Kopp is an avid outdoorsman and is President of the 1st Light Hunting Journal. He has a passion for hunting whitetail deer and writes primarily about various hunting strategies as well as the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald eastablished the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) in 2005, which is a faith-based, non-profit organization providing hunting opportunities for children and youth that are disabled and terminally ill. Jerald is based in Texas and enjoys spending time travelling with his wife Amy as well as his two adult daughters.
Whitetail hotspots… everybody seems to have them, yet many have a hard time understanding them. I know I’ve made my share of mistakes hunting the coveted areas of different properties over my many seasons of chasing deer.
For years, my dad, brother and I hunted a 30-acre property with three stands; and one “hot spot.” Most hunting weekends meant stiff competition for that magical stand – and if you happened to have the place to yourself, there was nothing to keep you out of it.
Years of seeing the best bucks from this stand ruled our brains. However, after a few seasons, the cold realization set in that our encounters with the best bucks occurred almost exclusively during the peak rut. Nothing real profound there.
The fact was, we hadn’t really taken many big mature bucks from the stand since the first three or four years. Only after the biggest buck ever taken from the place was shot from the other stand did the wheels start to turn.
The hunting gusto of my younger years represented a time when, less educated, I thought I was bullet-proof in the woods. I thought I had it all figured out. This was an era when I wanted to shoot the biggest buck without really having to work at it.
Sure, it took getting up early in the morning and braving the cold weather, but that was about it. I quickly learned that much of my whitetail hunting ways needed rethinking – or thinking at all. Further, I started to realize that whitetail hunting is much more of a chess match than a free-for-all.
No more scrambling for the “good stand,” regardless of hunting conditions. A hunt-smarter mantra overtook my hunt-often mindset.
Are You Getting A Deer Education or Just Educating Deer?
Perhaps the most essential shift in thinking was realizing that I was habitually educating way too many deer to my presence.
My aha moments finding rubs and trails were really nothing more than sloppy field trips. What was worse was my half hazard route selection when traversing to and from this honey-hole stand. The same could be said about the other properties we hunted.
Stand locations were based on the best buck sign and past experiences with little regard for prevailing winds and entry and exit routes. If I was sitting over a rub line – or for that matter a urine-soaked cotton ball, I was golden.
When the buck sightings didn’t materialize (or came to a halt), I assumed the deer had simply changed their patterns. And I continued to taint the woods like an open tank of gasoline.
Coming to My Senses
Like the deer I hunted, I started to exercise more caution and logic. The fact is that, though all deer have great senses, they continually get better with age – especially bucks.
I had heard these things from other hunters and read about them in magazines. In fact, my father had often preached these basic facts. However, with a few bucks under my belt, I had just chosen to ignore them.
After this reckoning, I finally made the decision to maximize my time in the woods.
So, how do you keep from compromising your best hunting setups during the season?
First, regardless of property size, prepare multiple setups for different wind directions. This will usually provide a good hunting alternative for a given day’s conditions. If possible, vow to never hunt a stand during marginal wind situations.
Next, consider ahead of time how you will enter and exit the stand. Hopefully, some stands are set up within a heavy travel corridor between food sources and/or bedding areas. However, with this positive placement comes a higher chance of disturbing the peace.
If your entry or exit will likely upset the area, be resolute about finding an alternative spot nearby. If not, hunt another area or make the dreaded, yet sometimes necessary decision to stay in.
Longer sessions in your blind or treestand can pay real dividends. It’s common knowledge that it’s a great strategy during the rut, as it increases your chances of catching a buck that is either cruising or on the heals of a hot doe.
The fact is, if you have the time, it’s a great practice from a pressure standpoint as well.
The best scent management doesn’t come from a bottle. If you have an all-day sit, you eliminate additional entry and exits to and from your stand. So, consider exercising addition by subtraction by settling in for longer hunts, hence applying less pressure to the areas around your most precious setups.
Few stands offer even near perfect advantage for the hunter. The save-a-stand-for-best-conditions approach works. Particularly if you are hunting an exceptionally old and impressive buck, use this philosophy and completely ignore your best setups until favorable dates.
There is only one first time to hunt a stand during the season. Saving it for a time when bucks are seeking does is great, but there are more things to mull over. When you do, you greatly improve your chances at even seeing your hit-list buck.
I consider myself a 365 hunter. That means, among other things, that I do a lot of scouting during the off-season. This goes for familiar and new hunting properties alike and it’s always paid dividends. In my mind, it matters.
Shortly after the whitetail season, I carefully seek new buck bedding areas and check known ones. Likewise, I look for new trails. Sure, there are those known heavy paths that deer traditionally travel on properties. However, it’s always common for new ones to surface. It’s the new ones that need learning on an ongoing basis.
You don’t need deer sign to shoot a buck? I disagree. Sure, you can study aerial property views and hunting apps, but there is no substitute for putting your eyeballs on the hard facts.
Whether a 20-acre micro-property or a ten thousand-acre hunting mecca, the reflex action is often to seek and study heavy timber, thick creek basins, and ag field-hugging woodlots. And often these places are in the thick of things. That is, in the middle of the ranch and in hard to reach places.
This is, where the mature bucks are. These have to be the honey holes, right? There is certainly a mystique about these remote deer havens.
Though hunters differ in how much they are willing to pressure these areas, most will walk them; or at least areas adjacent to them. It’s in these sections where trails, rub lines, scrapes and bedding areas are discovered or confirmed.
Optimal Setups Determined
Finding these heavily visited and traveled areas leads to deer stand location strategies. Most of us already know this. It’s no shocker that we often see old rotted boards within and atop old trees next to heavy game trails.
Whitetails, especially bucks, tend to follow the path of least resistance. And, unless you hunt an extremely large property, free-range deer commonly cross food sources, draws, and fence lines. The latter seemingly is often ignored. So…
It seems that we often fail to see the elephant in the room – or in the case of deer scouting, the worn dirt found through property boundaries. Whether because we think we already know all the crossings or it just doesn’t cross our minds, it’s too valuable a piece of intel to overlook. These days, on regular and known grounds, I annually walk the fence lines for travel sign.
Whitetails create new routes all the time and, for that matter, can disregard old ones. The latter can happen for a variety of reasons such as new hunter pressure. In fact, I recently walked the boundaries of my latest property (in June) and found two new trails; and one of them lead directly to a bedding area not 150-yards from one of my tree stands.
It’s for this reason that it’s a great idea to follow through by following such trails as far as you can (or they remain noticeable). Similarly, you can often reverse things and follow interior trails to fence line crossings.
Finally, once the fence line funnel has been identified, set up 200-300 yards away, watch, and verify. Physically witnessing early morning and late evening deer movement through these paths is bowhunter gold.
The only step left at this point is to find a logical location closer to the action. In fact, the early season is a great time to cash in on fence line paths. During this stage, some whitetails are still in their more predictable patterns. There are also still some bachelor groups around.
Why Did the Buck Cross the Fence?
I can’t think of a punchline, so here goes…
There are various reasons why fence line recon is valuable. Obviously, if there are food and nutrient sources across properties, deer will regularly traverse accordingly. This is common in free-range areas.
Did you ever notice that you see a lot of rubs and scrapes along fence lines? I have. The fact is that even in more open country, fence lines have structure. Trees and other brush typically grow there. Birds drop seeds there and so on.
It’s sweet edge structure.
Maybe the real question is, other than seeking what’s on the other side, why do whitetails like fence lines?
Deer are naturally edge creatures, hence, preferring edge cover. This is, for example, common in parts of Texas where structure is a logical threshold from which to hit crops or the next brushy section. It’s deemed a safe transition area.
Among other things, this all means that, as hunters, we can capitalize on existing cross-property travel patterns.
But what If no natural fence line funnels exist? Simple, create one.
Here we have a chance to do a little behavior modification. Specifically, use the mini woodlots and strips of cover along property boundaries to lead deer to routes favorable to us as hunters. For example, direct them toward grain field edges, small openings, or even open country.
Do some selective brush cutting along the fence. Better yet, lower the fence itself by loosening the top wire and attach it to the next lower one. Cable ties or pieces of wire work well for this. Remember, the path of least resistance. Utilizing these methods may be what it takes to get deer making tracks where you want them to go.
The Blind Has to Go Here
We know it when we see it. You know, the pocket of brush just inside of a shadowy oak canopy or a natural spot within a clump of cedars. Plus, in smaller woodlots such as these, there are often few choices for blind placement.
For bowhunters, in particular, this allows us to lead whitetails within range of where we want to sit. Also, note that this tactic is particularly effective during early season when some deer (even some bachelor groups) are in their more predictable summer patterns.
Hunting Etiquette and Backpedaling
A couple of qualifiers; First off, this article was written primarily with bowhunting in mind. Secondly, I don’t condone baiting property lines (even where legal). In such states, I don’t even condone placing game feeders within sight of the fence.
At least in my case, scouting and modifying edge structure takes place on cross-fencing within properties, as well as true property boundaries. For the latter, tread lightly and with courtesy.
I can’t define the parameters around property boundary hunting etiquette. There a lot of different ideas out there. In Texas, I was always told that it was bad hunting manners to place a blind within 100 yards of the fence. Admittedly, the vast majority of these hunters were gun hunters.
Obviously, hunting property boundaries is a volatile topic – and for good reason. Hunters have an age-old tradition of preserving acceptable behavior in the woods, and I’m not suggesting anyone should violate it. This tactic has little to do with hunting fence lines. However, it has everything to do with scouting, as well as modifying and capitalizing on whitetail travel patterns.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of torn jeans and shirts at the hands of barb-wire fences and the brush around them. As a whitetail hunter, I think it’s been well worth it. If you haven’t already done so, walk the perimeter and develop a plan of action. It just may pay big dividends this deer season.
I listened intently as a popular outdoor podcaster explained, in great detail his disdain for rifle hunting – and rifle hunters. He pontificated for 30 minutes about its inherent lack of challenge and illegitimacy in the deer woods.
Promptly following his passionate albeit exhaustive diatribe, he said, “but that’s okay. Not everyone has to hunt the same way.”
His ending statement came too late – at least in my mind.
Days later, I listened to another show where several minutes of banter were dedicated to the lameness that is hunting with an outfitter. Here, you got the impression that, anything short of traversing public land with not much more than a bow and climbing sticks, was a “short cut”.
I’d never felt so lazy in my life (not really, I’ve got pretty thick skin). The negativity and chest puffing seemed to increase with the sound of each new cracking beer tab in the background.
Though these are guys that consistently provide a lot of entertaining and useful hunting information, they are like many other outdoorsmen – they’re not pro hunters…
It’s no secret that hunting numbers are down in North America. Indeed, it’s a pivotal time for our hunting heritage and future. Obviously, the anti-hunting sentiment plays a large role here for sure. However, it’s obvious that many members of the hunting contingent are intent on eating their young.
A recipe for disaster – outdoor future thwarted.
What is pro hunting? Yes, it has a lot to do with expertise, accomplishments, and positive contributions to habitat, and the like. However, in this vernacular, to be a pro hunter simply means to PROmote.
Promote the way you prefer to hunt, your weapons of choice, or other philosophies.
In my mind, problems arise when people become “con” hunters. So, what about this word con?
Definitions include “against” or “contrary.”
Maybe you’ve heard comments like, “I get irritated with guys that shoot the first buck they see – if I see one more photo of a guy posing with a young 8-pointer, I’m going to explode. They have no idea what they’re doing.”
Now there is a con I hear often. How about just promote hunting?
Cons can of course also be good if offered up in a non-confrontational or non-combative manner. After all, independent thought and respectful discussion and debate is healthy.
It’s a slippery slope though and some folks have a hard time maintaining a healthy balance.
“Slinging mud doesn’t get anyone anywhere. When we have problems with fellow hunters, hunting policies, or anything else, resolving issues the right way is a must,” says outdoor writer, Josh Honeycutt.
Arguably, mental wrestling matches regarding hunting issues are healthy. However, it’s a fact that, like in any community, the entire hunting collective doesn’t play nice.
So, perhaps it’s best to develop (or stick with) your pro hunter side (or at the very least, emphasize it). It can slow the momentum of the negative trends inherent in the current hunting and the outdoor culture.
Put differently, embrace the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it” mindset. Consider approaching social media channels and deer camp fire pits as a pro hunter.
Michael Waddell once said, “I don’t care if you hunt with a recurve, crossbow, rifle, or anything else as long as you’re safe and legal.”
A pro hunter statement if I ever heard one.
This may all sound trite and dramatic, but it’s worth thinking about. Perhaps it’s best to concentrate on our pros.