Growing up at family deer camp, I would always hear my dad and uncles talking about these dynamite hunting spots they would find in creek bottoms. And how difficult it was to hunt due to the swirling wind down there.
The more time I spent in the woods, the more I started recognizing these locations that I refer to as bowls. Over the last ten years, I’ve heard of this fancy term—thermal hub—used to describe these same areas.
The definition of a thermal hub is where three or more draws converge at one central location at a lower elevation. When looking at a topographical map, this may look like a turkey or crow's foot, with the draws being the toes and the base of the foot being the hub.
These areas provide an excellent concentration of deer sign, such as community scrapes. Running cameras in these areas can give you great intel on what deer live in the surrounding hills. But they can be challenging to hunt due to the swirling wind and thermal dynamics.
Check these areas out, and definitely bring your milkweed to test the wind often. These hubs are typically in a creek bottom, but can also be in less drastic locations partways up the hill. If the bottom is wide enough and you can set up right on the creek, you might be able to get away with it without letting deer know you’re there.
Thermal hubs are locations that catch my attention because of all the sign left on them. Trails come from the surrounding ridge points and draws intersect in these locations, making them optimal during the pre-rut and rut time frames. You’ll often find the best community scrapes and sign-post rubs in the hub where bucks and does leave their scent.
Although they have some incredible deer sign, they can be complicated to hunt. Falling thermals from each ridge and draws converging in the thermal hub can cause a swirling effect. Add in the prevailing wind, and it can leave you hearing deer snort at you more than actually seeing the deer.
This is why many hunters write off these areas completely, but you can hunt them if done correctly. First and foremost, thermal hubs offer one of the best locations to place a trail camera to inventory bucks in the area. You’re essentially covering multiple ridges with one camera location.
Contrary to popular belief, you can hunt these locations, but some things need to align to make that happen. Narrow hubs with steep hills dumping into these valleys will make it almost impossible to hunt, but hubs with wider bottoms and gradual hills create less swirling.
The bigger the ridges, the wider the bottom will need to be to make this work. Think of it as if you were dumping water into a bowl from each side. Bowls with tall sides and a narrow bottom will have the water creating a whirlpool effect, whereas a wider bowl with smaller sides will not be as drastic.
In addition to the terrain, wind speed will play a significant role in hunting these locations. It can vary, but wind speeds under 5 mph are typically more consistent than higher wind speeds. I look for calm, frosty mornings to sit in hubs with the most consistent wind and thermal interaction.
Lastly, many hubs have streams or creeks running through them. Use these to your advantage and sit right on them if possible. Water creates a vacuum of downward thermals allowing you to set up downstream of the scrape or trails you’re trying to hunt. My favorite scenario is when there’s a beaver pond in the area because your thermals will pull down the stream and rise over the body of water warmer than the air on frosty mornings.
Not all thermal hubs are huntable if the terrain or wind aren’t aligning. This is where looking for the spur or point of the ridge just above the hub will come into play. If there’s a west wind, I’ll look at the east-facing point. The wind will be much more consistent, and you can still have a chance at the buck heading towards or coming out of the hub. The downfall is you are playing one ridge rather than three or more.
Personally, I’ve found that just getting up on the bank above the bowl will result in more consistent winds and not leave you with the swirling toilet effect. Depending on the setup, you may even be able to shoot to the scrape or crossing. If not, get out your grunt call to bring the buck to you.
In hill country, deer like to bed higher up on the ridges than in the bottoms. In the early and late seasons, deer aren’t moving as much during daylight hours, making it rare to see them go through one of these hubs unless food is nearby. This is why you should consider thermal hubs to be pre-rut and rut locations where deer are going from ridge to ridge during daylight hours. In addition, you’ll find more consistent winds on those cold, calm mornings.
Start identifying thermal hubs in your area, get your boots on the ground, set up a few trail cameras, and create a game plan to see more bucks during late October and November.
Feature image via Matt Hansen Photography.