Turkey season is here, and it's about time we were all back in the woods. If you haven't gotten your chance to dig around for deer sign and antlers, you still have some time before the spring green-up!
For this episode of Antler Up podcast, Jeremy, Dimitri, and I had a blast recording together. I won't lie; off-air, we were all in a waypoint-dropping frenzy. Map reading and e-scouting is so fun and gets you eager for the upcoming fall. Seeing your waypoints in person and realizing you may have figured something out gives you a sense of victory. This blog post is about what we discussed in a podcast where we dissected a piece of public land. We put our focus into terrain features and clear-cuts based on a blind e-scouting session. Remember, all of these areas need proofing if you want to up the odds of success. They are also good areas for blind hunts or the in-season scouting type. The figures and areas listed below are what we will discuss. Some images will be terrain, some will be satellite, and some will be both. Enjoy! Figure 1
This classic terrain feature is a saddle. Scouting this saddle would likely reveal a large amount of what would seem like productive deer sign. The hurdle with hunting saddles is the obvious visual landmarks on a topo map. If you can pick them out like a drug dog sniffing a doobie at an emo-fest, so can everyone else. Due to the surrounding terrain, this saddle isn’t a bad starting point. There are plenty of natural elements to retreat to from this area. But this saddle has an advantage most don't. As you can see in the aerial image, there is a cut smack dab in the middle. The cut's cover may keep other people out and make it more appealing to deer. This is a good option for a first scout! Figure 2
This figure illustrates a favorite pinch point, especially during the rut. Bucks have the opportunity to cruise along a ridge side while scent checking does that are using the ridge and saddles.
The bucks using these cruise lines have the upper hand of wind and thermals. Wind and thermal currents moving through a saddle are condensed as the current becomes narrowed by the terrain. The second benefit is that a buck has an easy escape on this ridge and can stay concealed for much longer. Below the main ridge and saddles are extended points. Bucks that are cruising can cross those points like a game of leapfrog, putting them out of sight in no time. Deer will funnel around the top of those ditches for ease of movement. Your goal is to locate where they cross that ditch most often. This type of funnel is great in light wind because the thermal current is easy to predict. If you sit almost directly over the water in cold weather, your thermal scent will likely suck down the ditch for most of the day. These are among my favorite rut sites. Area 1
Area 1 represents terrain that is a bit more obscure. This image is a ditch that bucks might use for concealment while traveling up and down a mountain. A few hidden points inside the block are perfect for out-of-the-way bedding. As Dimitri points out during the podcast, you'll want to take note of the difference in vegetation. Often that can lead you to soft and hard edges along the ditch. Or the shadows via aerial images can give you an idea of steepness and depth. Figure 3
You guessed it. Figure 3 is a fresh cut. You may find that some aerial images are outdated, so this cut could now be older than it appears. But more than likely, it is still very huntable. There are many possibilities here, but the feature we discuss is what I like to call a skidder maze. The skidder maze is a network of trails (traced in light blue dots) made by dragging logs through the cut. If the cover is right, deer will funnel along these trails, leaving you plenty of options for hunting the right wind. Your job is to determine which routes a buck will feel the most secure and relaxed. We use the term "main-vain" to describe the trail that may be used by many other hunters or recreational traffic. You can see that route marked in a solid red line. Figure 4
The peninsula pictured here will allow a buck a fast retreat into the security of the cut (pending the cover). A buck using the point can bed with the wind coming from a southern or a northern direction. Either way, that buck will often have thermals moving over his back from a northern direction. The slope will not draw the sunlight as early as a slope with southern exposure. Expect thermals to begin their updraft later in the morning. There are ample options for camera placement around the assumed bedding area. Start with one or two cameras and use that intel to drill down sites to hang more later. The waypoints for cameras and stand placement reflect what we discuss in the podcast. Area 2
We've discussed folds around ditches that create a network of minor bedding points. This image is more defined and will likely have more robust creek crossings. There is also a chance for funneling trails riding the hill's edge before it drops into the creek.
These spots are great for rut hunts and finding shed antlers. Scout them by traveling up and down their edges, finding the trails used most. Figure 5
The figure 5 image is a small feature that represents a huntable pinch point. There is a row of mature trees that you'll notice outlined in red. Trails will likely be defined on the north or south side of the trees, leaving plenty of options for stand placement. Because the row of trees curve, you'll also have the ability to cheat the wind here. Take a look at the topo image. Notice that the mature trees match a shallow depression in the terrain, making it an even more attractive route. Summary Clear-cuts are certainly not the magic bullet of hunting. But they are an amazing place to learn effective ways of scouting. None of them are created equal. But when you find the right one it will open many paths of opportunity.
Article Written by: Aaron Hepler