It happens every deer season to all of us, you are sitting in your stand and watching all the known runways that you expect that big buck or doe to come in on when suddenly, a deer appears in the field or bush in front of you and leaves you wondering where did he or she come from?
I am not to saying that deer always come into an area on a runway because if they did, a great deal more would be harvested but it does make you wonder if you have missed something. Unfortunately, and more often than not, this surprise visit results in a spooked deer as a result of bad wind direction or your movement being detected. That’s what makes the whitetail deer such a formidable opponent. With keen eyes and ears, to back up their impressive sense of smell, it’s amazing that we bow hunters ever get within range.
But it happens because whitetails do have a weakness and it is very reliable and that weakness is their use of deer funnels to move in and out of cover. Deer funnels are hands down the best way to get yourself in position to take a deer with the bow. Couple deer funnels with a food source and baby you are in business!
So what is a deer funnel? A deer funnel is a physical structure that gives the whitetail a comfortable and easy travel corridor to somewhere they want to get to. These funnels include obvious places like openings in fences and patches or extensions of cover that jut out from the main bush into the fields. But the most interesting and most productive funnels can be the ones that are the hardest to find. Discover where these are and you can improve your odds of taking a deer this fall dramatically. This is where spring scouting is effective because with the leaves off the trees and moist ground under foot it’s much easier to locate these travel corridors. I like to combine these “funnel” hunting outings with our spring shed hunting or turkey scouting excursions.
Just this spring my hunting partner and fellow HuntBlog Pro Staffer Herb Waliczek and I, were out scouting a property we have hunted on for years but never really done a great deal of spring scouting of the area let along turkey hunting. In fact the only reason we were doing this at all was we were both suffering from “cabin fever” and with turkey hunting only a couple of weeks away, we decided some exercise was in order so out we went. The first and most impressive sign we came across on our walk had nothing to do with turkeys. In fact it had everything to do with our other favorite past time deer hunting. As soon as we got into the field we were astounded by the amazing number of deer tracks we found all over the entire property. We have always had great success on this property and I think because of this, we kind of took things for granted when it came to harvesting an animal or two here. Based on the amount of sign we found one thing now was very clear, it appeared as though all we were doing with our deer hunting was keeping the population in check at best. As we continued on our way along our turkey scouting quickly turned into a deer scouting exercise as we came across runway after runway after runway that we didn’t even know existed. Knowing very well that deer patterns in spring vary greatly from fall patterns we were trying not to get to excited but what we continually found ourselves saying to one another was…” so that’s how that big buck last fall got into the field without me seeing him!”
Some of these runways were very well disguised so we decided to start marking them physically and mentally so we would know where they were when it counted next fall. With no leaves on the trees it was easy to see that the deer where sticking to “deer funnels” on the property. But not all the funnels were the same, in fact, on this one piece of property we came across five distinct types of funnels. For those of you who are not aware of what a “deer funnel” is, I will try to describe to you in detail the different types we came across on this single piece of property.
The first funnel is the “fence funnel” which is pretty much self explanatory. Except for the “high fence” hunting areas like the ranches in the southern United States, fences in Ontario and most of Canada are low fences. I think that everyone would agree that most properties today have fences around them but they are not designed to keep deer in. They serve as dividing lines for parcels of land or for livestock control but for the deer hunter they are nothing short of a nuisance….or are they? They certainly don’t stop deer movement because most deer can clear them with ease. But a change in the fence is where the magic happens. If a fence is broken or down for some reason (old age, tree fallen on it, etc…) the deer will always prefer to cross there because it is easier to do so. Find an opening in a fence especially in an overgrown fence row and you have found a preferred deer funnel. These spots are next to impossible to find on an aerial map so you will have to scout the area on foot for them. When you find a promising one, set up and hunt this funnel on the prevailing downwind side and you have a “hot spot”. These spots can be hunted from both the ground or if a large tree is available in the fence row nearby then set up a tree stand. Just remember when setting up a tree stand the deer will tend to pass very close to the fence row so make sure you cut away some of the cover directly below the stand so you have a clear shot.
The second funnel is what I call a “saddle”. A saddle is a low area running along the bottom of a ridge that allows the deer to travel from point “A” to point “B” using the ridge to hide their movement. Deer would much rather walk along the bottom than expose themselves walking along the top. Saddles in the middle of fields and food plots can be dynamite hunting spots. These will be low areas in the field where the deer can enter and cross the field without being detected. The best place to set up here is at either end of the “saddle”. You can also find these “saddles” running through the middle of the bush and when you do, you will most likely have a number of great spots along the entire saddle to set up an ambush.
The third funnel and one of my favorites is the “ditch funnel” and these straight up produce! I am sure many of you have hunting areas that have deep ditches or gullies running through them that deer cannot cross or prefer not to because they are too steep. Explore these areas especially in the spring when the ground is moist and I guarantee you will find a few that are covered in tracks at the top and the bottom. Don’t pass these up just because they lack a lot of cover because deer are usually using these as a fast travel corridor from their bedding area to a food source and back. The setup here is to be on the top end or high point of the “ditch funnel” as the wind tends to swirl a bit at the bottom and the deer will smell you. At the top of the ditch funnel you will find “true winds” that don’t swirl. This is the place to hunt them!
Deer funnel number four is called a “pinch point”. It is a very easy spot to find and most likely you are hunting it already if you are having good success. For those of you who are not, a “pinch point’ is a spot that goes from “lots of cover” to very “little cover”. These spots can be found easily by looking at aerial photos of your hunt area and then going out on foot to scout them. They are almost always transition areas between two bushes or two fields and they are steadfast locations for deer activity all season long. Several years ago on the last day of the season the Hunt Blog team took three deer from such a spot all within half an hour of one another. Again as for all “funnel” areas, hunt these spots on the prevailing downwind side.
The fifth deer funnel is what I call a “shelf”. They can be tough to find, even rare on some properties. Again spring scouting is the best time of year to locate these funnels. These spots present themselves as flat spots or “shelves” as I call them running along the sides of ridges. If you are unsure of what I am talking about, try to picture a road along the side of a mountain and you should get a clear visual of what I mean. Now Ontario hunters don’t have a lot of mountain cover to hunt but there are plenty of hilly areas that contain “shelf funnels”. The reason these are so productive is that once a whitetail is walking along them the chances of them leaving them and walking off in another direction are low. These spots are similar in appearance to the “saddle funnels” that run along the bottom of ridges except these are travel corridors set into and running along the side of the hill, usually about half way between the bottom and the top. I don’t want the mountain analogy to through you off here when you looking for “shelf funnels” because they can occur anywhere there is a hill that has a flat spot that runs along the side of it. These spots are next to impossible to find viewing aerial photos so the best way to discover them is on foot and again in the spring. A note of “CAUTION” here! Often these “shelf funnels” will be used by other livestock that occupy the property so please be aware of that and identify your target as always.
If you’re a spring turkey and whitetail hunter then I hope this article provides you a little more purpose for your spring scouting trips into the field. Make the most out of every opportunity you spend in the field and you will become a better hunter!
By The Hunt Blog Pro Staffer