All whitetail hunters what to find that one spot the seems to work every season. Whether it’s one that is hard to access, or just a few hundred yards out their back door, having that go-to “sweet spot” can often make or break a long season. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to have a handful of such locations. Even though all were somewhat different in style and location, they all offered the whitetail gold I was looking for. Here were the ones the seems to payoff season after season.
Regardless of the time of year, funnels produce season-after-season and are generally top spots to anchor a mature buck. These go-to sweet spots and can be especially good during the rut. During the early season, look for these tight spots between feeding and bedding areas, and when bucks start looking for the girls, these become buck super highways as they move from bedding area to bedding area checking for hot does.
Some of my favorite funnels are cover pinch points, creeks, ditches and creek crossings. The key to successfully hunting these setups is to develop a sound entrance and exit strategy and never bowhunt them with a compromising wind.
You can create your own funnel by strategically placing brush piles or hinge-cutting trees to push deer where you’d like them to travel. I have used this technique on many occasions to move the deer’s natural pattern just a few yards closer for a better shot opportunity. This tactic can also be used when clear cutting an area for a food plot. Simply place the brush where you’d like the deer to enter the field. This can be a lot of work during the off season, but it can be worth the effort.
Creek crossings can be another prime location to kill a buck, and they are relatively easy to hunt. Unless pressured, deer typically cross where the creek banks gradually slope down and will be torn up with tracks. What’s great about these areas is that you can use the creek to get in and out of your stand. Not only will you stay hidden, but scent will be kept at a minimum. As with anything else, when it comes to whitetails and bows, wind is always a factor especially with these natural terrain features. Creeks are generally located in lower spots where wind can swirl, so hunting these with a steady wind is typically best.
The same thing is true when hunting creeks or ditches. These features form natural edges that deer love and typically provide excellent security cover for traveling bucks.
If I have a favorite sweet spot, it would have to be on the downwind edge of a bedding area. Although I tend to only hunt them a few times a season because of their inherent risk, the rewards tend to be worth the effort.
More than any other factor, successfully bowhunting these risky areas means being invisible. That being said, not all bedding areas are equal with regard to their hunt-ability, so focus your efforts on the ones where you can use the wind, terrain and cover to your advantage. You should always approach and hunt these areas from the downwind edge and use every ounce of available cover to access them.
To make this setup even better, look for ones that can provide an even sneaker approach with the use of a draw or creek, and then find a tree that is on its edge. This provides the ability to retreat or approach undetected, regardless of the time of day, as well as keep deer from sneaking behind you. Lastly, be patient! It may be an hour after shooting light before your first visitor appears, so don’t be too quick to count the spot out.
Saddles & Ridges
I guess it’s because of my western bowhunting experience that I naturally gravitate towards ridges and saddles in the whitetail woods. The easiest way to locate these terrain features is to spend some time studying topographical maps of your hunting area, and then putting some boots on the ground to locate the best ones to hunt. Post season is typically the best time to locate these because deer sign is easier to locate, cover is less dense and you won’t spook any deer during the season.
East/west ridges just might be one of the best stand locations during the rut; however, the key to effectively hunting them is hanging your stand on the downwind edge along the top of a steep slope. Ridges that run east/west tend to be better because of the prevailing winds that typically blow in a northerly or southerly direction. By hanging your stand on the downwind side of the ridge, your scent will literally blow out over the ridge behind you and above the deer that may be traveling below the ridge. Deer will be able to approach from virtually any direction along the ridge and not be detected.
Understanding wind currents is critical when hunting in hilly terrain so spend some time understanding how it moves in the particular area you are wanting to hunt. Don’t just be concerned with its direction around your stand, but also learn what it does as it travels further away. Not only can the natural contour of the terrain cause the wind to maneuver and swirl, but the cover itself can also have an effect.
Inside Edges & Corners
It’s really no secret, setting up on field edges has been part of bowhunting whitetails from the beginning. These setups offer great visibility and the ability to fill those early season doe tags with ease. However, if you’re looking to hang your tag on a mature buck, then set your sights on the inside edges and field corners. Before the phases of the rut start, bucks often use the inside edges of food plots and agricultural fields as staging areas before entering them. Look for where the most buck sign is and where trails intersect, which is usually near a corner, and hang your stand. Because these are areas out of sight, trail cameras provide excellent opportunities to zero in on these areas without much human intrusion.
Once the testosterone levels begin to elevate and bucks start thinking about more than just their stomachs, they use these same recon tactics and cruise the downwind side of these areas scent-checking for estrus does.
I learned this inside edge strategy several years ago during a late October Iowa bowhunt. My stand was hung on the edge of a cut corn field that was littered with tracks, scraps and rubs. Through my novice eyes this area screamed bucks, and I was eager to slip an arrow through one; and with 30 minutes of shooting light left, I caught the glint of hide moving behind me about 40 yards. Sure enough, it was a mature buck milling around unwilling to expose himself in the field. Not wanting to arouse the suspicion of the other deer in the field, I didn’t call but watched, hoping he would eventually emerge under my stand. Not once did he ever leave the security of the timber, and he worked the entire inside edge scent checking the field. Needless to say, I moved my stand the following day.
Staging areas are also located near inside edges and corners, and they can vary in size from just 20 yards square and larger. These tend to be in areas deer naturally move through when going to feed, and bucks will often hang up there before finishing the final leg out to the field. They are also used to scent check passing does before they head to the field as well. As the rut gets closer, bucks leave their calling cards in these areas. I have found smaller staging areas to be better than larger ones in attracting mature bucks, and when entering and exiting them I always use the wind in my favor and always hang my stand high and on the downwind edge.