Since the beginning of time, hunters have searched for points of concentrated travel while tracking deer movement. Centuries ago, Native Americans patiently waited over creek crossings, and today hunters try to get the drop on deer coming through bottlenecks in food plots. Taking advantage of high-traffic areas that funnel movement has always been a mainstay for chasing whitetails, and as hunters and hunting strategies have evolved, we have developed some creative ways for influencing natural funnel areas to be even more effective.
Fence Gaps In the Midwest, you'll be hard-pressed to find a farm that doesn't have an old, rusted, woven wire or barbed-wire fence. The deer trails that run parallel to these fences are just as common as the fences themselves. Interior or exterior, man-made or natural, deer love edges. If you look within a few feet of these fence rows, chances are you'll find travel routes. Some are worn down to the dirt and compacted by daily travel. Others may be faint and only get use during a particular time of year. Either way, the routes funnel deer movement and can be great ambush locations when setup on correctly.
A few years back, I got permission on a grown-up, wooly farm loaded with deer. About 15 years prior, the farmer put woven wire fence through some of the timber to keep the hogs in. The hogs were long gone, but the fences remained with a network of trails bordering them. I ran myself in circles trying to find consistent crossing points but couldn't seem to track any down. After a couple weeks of the cat and mouse game, I started thinking about how I could change the rules.
With the landowner's permission, I cut out an eight-foot gap in the fence with wire snips in hopes of focusing the deer movement. A week later, I was excited to see an established trail through the space where the fence panel used to be. A few days later, I found myself beading down on a heavy nine-point following a doe through the gap. Whether it's a limb down across a fence, a missing panel, or even a few broken strands of wire, this experience proved the theory that deer will likely take the path of least resistance whenever possible. In the right situation, taking matters into your own hands and influencing deer travel along fences can be the move to place your opponent in checkmate in the chess match of whitetail hunting.
Strategically Placed Tree Tops A decade ago, I got to know Michigan’s iconic saddle and bowhunter John Eberhart. I discussed details from his books "Precision Bowhunting", "Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails" and "Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way" every chance I got.
One standout tip he talked about is using treetops to funnel deer. At that point in my hunting career I was having encounters with mature bucks but getting them in bow range consistently was a struggle. In one conversation, I asked John how he chooses a trail to key in on when two or three good options are available in a given location. He answered with two words: "I don't." After a long pause with what must have been a confused look on my face, he explained a useful trick he discovered years ago—using treetops to block travel routes that don’t suit his preferred setup. I couldn't wait to put the concept to practice. However, the idea of steering travel into effective range with a couple of well-placed treetops seemed a little too simple.
I had the perfect river bottom draw with three trails running through it where I would test the strategy. I set up against a bluff that cut away from the bottom so that it pulled my scent back and away from the deer’s direction of travel. The far trail seemed to be used the least, so I hedged my bets on the trail nearest the bluff. I went in at midday with a strong wind and cut three wrist-sized trees; a sassafras and two maples. The tops were full and stood a little around seven feet tall once felled and on the ground.
I positioned the trees with their tops squarely over the middle trail, which was a little over 40 yards from my stand. A couple of days later, I settled in for the evening on a nice October cold front with a good wind. My anticipation was high.
About an hour before dark, I spotted a doe, fawn, and young eight-point making their way up the draw. I felt a jolt of excitement (and a bit of surprise, I must admit) as the group reached the treetops blocking the middle trail. They immediately angled directly to the other trail 10 yards from my tree.
Although I wasn't ready to put my tag on any of them, this experience proved that in the right situation, manipulating travel routes can tip the odds in my direction. Encounters like these serve as great reminders to not fear trying something outside the box, and to not overlook the obvious sign. For me, it's not about defining success with a punched tag. Growing as a hunter and having fun intersect in refining the process and learning new strategies. If I'm learning and advancing my perspectives, it's a good day in the woods.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.