Deer hunters constantly search for new ways to overpower a deer’s mental or instinctive prowess while in their natural habitat. We stay alert to wind direction to help keep our alarming body odor from being transmitted to the whitetail’s receptive nose. Deception through the use of camouflage-colored clothing enables the hunter to somewhat conform to the surrounding erratic designs and shapes of the intertwining deer habitat. We hunt from elevated stands to place our body scent and unnatural body shape above the deer’s normal sight and sensing plane, and to enable us to see deer at greater distances. Thus, a deer can be spotted far sooner than when we hunt at ground level.
We constantly upgrade our hunting equipment and tactics to tilt the odds in our favor as we pursue, chase and try to ambush our quarry. This is especially true in any type of terrain where deer are difficult to hunt. Because of the deer’s astute familiarity with its habitat due to its daily association with specific areas, we must conjure up every conceivable method we can think of to improve our odds. There are some forbidden areas and inopportune instances where a favorable shot isn’t practical because of dense undergrowth and the numerous, pencil-size tree limbs that sometimes even the deer can not wriggle through and in a lot of these locations, trophy bucks are hard to sight because they mingle with the protective and concealing foliage for security.
Some of these locations are perfect places for the bow hunter to set up the perfect deer stand location, though. The terrain’s contour, vegetation and the available food sources make some dense areas perfect stand sites because there’s less human traffic in these forbidden spots. If you could induce a buck to travel freely through a given section of landscape of this nature on his own accord, past specific points, your efforts would be so much easier because you wouldn’t be forcing him to travel the pathway. He would be doing so on his own accord. And when a buck decides to use a certain path of his own free will, you’re more apt to score because he will travel in a more relaxed, less suspicious manner. But in some areas where underbrush and foliage is too thick, it’s often nearly impossible to establish a decent stand site unless you do something to convert the situation in your favor.
I’m not suggesting you bait these areas with salt or attractive food items (although, we do have a great tutorial on how to make your own salt lick for deer, or by tying a doe-in- heat scent to an anchored stake secured in the ground so that you might influence a buck’s presence. But if you can make the area more appealing by making it easier for the deer to pass through a normally impassable spot, then he will more than likely use your artificial pathway.
Deer are immensely susceptible to the physical influences within their environment. They like traveling a path of least resistance. Unless they are forcefully pressured to the point of being completely distraught, whitetails prefer to avoid obstructions such as fallen logs, tight-knit screens of briars and wall-like masses of foliage and undergrowth. When it comes time to bed down or escape danger, they will seek out concealing retreats of this type. Normally, however, they prefer to stroll the path of least resistance. If you are alert to this fact and are conscious of the importance of having unobstructed shooting lanes, you can capitalize on this habit.
A frequent hunting partner of mine proved this point to me. He admittedly has blown more than one shot during previous hunting seasons because of questionable shooting lane clearance. He also proved to me that even when the habitat is too thick for a safe shot, you can manufacture your own shooting lanes and at the same time induce deer to change their travel patterns. This becomes especially true when you provide them a better path and allow them enough time to become accustomed to this change in their environment.
My companion found what he believed to be the ideal point of ambush on a secluded section of a local farm. The tree was structurally perfect for his stand, was positioned favorably in accordance with the predominant wind direction, and its location placed it within twenty yards of a sixty-acre cornfield. It was also at a place where deer activity was about as obvious as he’d ever seen. Not only this, but this particular tree was the only possible choice the hunter could use within a 100-yard radius.
The woods had been heavily cut for firewood two years prior. Between the saplings, tangles of briars and small bushes, if he wanted to hunt this section, this was his only possible location for a stand. This was fine, but the dense under growth of vegetation and second-growth trees blanketing the hillside and the almost impenetrable layers of multiflora rose bushes separating the corn were enough of a deterrent that the deer failed to travel the hillside with any regularity. And they probably couldn’t even if they wanted to.
When they came to the corn to feed, they had to use routes farther away from the hillside to reach their destination—a course that made it difficult for anything other than a ground-level shot. And with the prohibitive coverts of habitat, this would have been difficult. Foreseeing an opportunity, the persistent bow hunter slipped into the area well before the deer season opened. He set to work about three weeks before opening day, which was enough time to give the wiry undergrowth time to reach its peak growth for that year. His objective was to introduce a new pathway for the deer that would enable them to enter or exit the corn at an ideal spot close to his anticipated tree stand site. So he carefully cut a useable pathway directly through the formidable barrier of multiflora rose, green-briars and immature locust trees. He cleared a trail that clearly penetrated the tangled mess in such a manner that it would force any deer using the trail to travel past the tree he intended to hunt from. Once he formed a path, he climbed the tree and studied the trail for flaws.
He made this environmental change well before season opened so the local deer would have sufficient time to become accustomed to the change in their living quarters. But, everything had to be completely right this time, for he would not disturb the area again until the week before the season opened. At that time he would scout the hillside once more to determine if the deer had accepted his artificial trail.
When he did recheck his manmade path, he found deer tracks and droppings close to his tree. This, of course, wasn’t a guarantee that a respectable buck was using the trail. But, if the deer had accepted his manufactured trail through the previously impenetrable under-growth, his chances were on the up swing. Once a deer accepts a given location and appears to be comfortable using it, the hunter has mastered a common hurdle we all face. He not only induced the deer to pattern their travel habits to the human predator’s liking, but he had naturally manipulated them into using his man-made pathway, giving him an open shooting lane. Shooting lanes seldom receive as much emphasis as other aspects pertaining to a deer hunter’s success.
Many hunters believe that if you enter an area and begin cutting paths through the under growth, the deer will shy away from the area. This is usually true immediately after the change is made. Because deer are often suspicious of changes in their habitat, especially the older bucks, we fear alarming them. But after they’ve had time to accept the terrain alterations, they will approve of the change and ignore it, if it is a reasonable alteration. Don’t pass off the idea of building your own shooting lanes, whether you hunt with bow or gun. You will be amazed at the positive results if you try it. Select an impossibly thick area and cut a pathway through the tangled maze well before season.
Experiment with different designs and in various areas. Once the deer overcome their fear of the sudden physical change in their habitat, you will be able to hunt these previously for bidden habitats with a better chance of scoring. It becomes a game that makes deer hunting more challenging, and more satisfying.