July 09, 2022
By Josh Bias
As I sat in 30-plus mph winds and sleet and rain, I honestly wanted to have a few minutes alone with the weatherman! He’d said it would push out around 1:00 that afternoon, and it was already 4:30. I hadn’t seen a deer all day, after sleeping in and waiting on the front to push through.
Anyway, I sat through the storm, miserable and bundled up, praying for dark to come. Then I heard something different: a limb breaking, but not like I’d listened to for five hours from the wind breaking them. Within seconds, I saw him coming around the point on the bottom bench of the stand I call “Death Row.” And he was wasting no time, already 100 yards from me and closing fast.
I grabbed my bow, knowing it was the buck I called “No Brow” — a triple-beam southern West Virginia buck that was pushing 160 inches. The only problem was he had busted his third beam off within the last 48 hours. Regardless of the broken antler, I’d already made the decision I was going to take him. He was mature, and I had three years of history logged on him.
The buck got close to my mock scrape. I didn’t think he would stop at it, so I bleated. Well, the bleat spooked him when he was about 15 yards away. I swung around on him, raised my pin a little, and let the arrow fly! He was quartering away, and I hit almost perfect. He ran around a small point back the way he had come and expired right there.
I was ecstatic, both because I’d killed my target buck and that I could finally get down and move around! This is just one of many stories I could tell you from this favorite stand site of mine. It’s the kind of spot that produces a mature buck every year, and it’s on open access coal company ground.
Why is this spot so dynamite? It has almost every feature you could want in a stand in the mountains of southern West Virginia, or in any mountainous deer habitat in the United States for that matter. The reason for this is because it’s a perfect terrain pinch point. In the article that follows, I’ll discuss five of my favorite types of pinch points, as well as how to identify and hunt them.
No. 1: Low Gaps
The first thing I noticed when I found my Death Row stand was a low gap. A gap is basically a geological formation that is a low point or opening between hills, ridges or steep terrain. These types of pinch points usually force a lot of deer travel into a confined area, as deer otherwise are traveling to and from a larger location. I’ve included a topographical photo of Death Row from my OnX Hunt app. You’ll see there’s a huge rough steep high knob and an old mining haul road from an old strip job. These two features force deer down to this point, into the gap. Better yet, deer that travel through the gap cross on my side of the mountain, because of the steepness of the other side.
In mountain country where mining operations have occurred, look for low gap pinch points that are near old logging roads and steep terrain. These mining roads are likely already utilized by deer for travel, and once they encounter steep terrain that’s harder to navigate, they’ll search for a low gap opening to cross. Use these spots in accordance with wind direction to hang ambush tree stands.
No. 2: High Knobs
Knobs are areas found at the tops of mountains or rises, and they’re often rounded or flatter than surrounding steep areas. I could write a lot on these, as I’ve found some high knobs that are great for hunting. They’re a pinch point, because they’re often confined in areas and allow for easy deer travel, while the surrounding terrain is more difficult to navigate.
However, most high knobs you’ll find are either un-huntable or not hunted due to difficult access. Some of the gnarliest high knobs are secluded and surrounded by steep cliffs or dense vegetation. In turn, these spots are often utilized by deer for bedding.
Accessing these areas quietly and with the correct wind is key. I’ve also found that hunting travel corridors leading away from high knobs can prove successful. When looking for tree stand locations, find areas where deer filter away from high knobs onto lower gaps or down onto lower benches.
No. 3: High Knob Hub
Over the years, I have discovered many areas that contain a series of travel corridors surrounding high knobs; I refer to this terrain pinch point as the “high knob hub.” Looking at this feature on a topographic map, you’ll see it looks a lot like a wheel. The high knob functions as the wheel’s hub, and the travel corridors surrounding it are the spokes.
I’ve got a favorite high knob hub in the mountains of West Virginia that I’ve hunted for years, and it’s remarkable how much deer traffic I’ve seen there. Especially during the rut, I target these locations for all-day hunting action when the bucks are cruising and looking for does. I killed my biggest deer on a high knob hub, in a spot where a hillside bench came to a point.
On that hunt, I had a hot doe and a very vocal 5-year-old buck at my stand. My target buck was above us on the high knob at the top of the ridge. He heard the other buck grunting and dropped off the ridge to investigate the scene. By the time I shot my target buck, I’d seen 12 bucks that day, which is remarkable in that part of the state.
No. 4: Benches
Most who hunt deer in the timber or in the mountains know what a “bench” is. This terrain feature typically looks like a road or path that is more level than the hillside on either side. A bench functions primarily as a travel corridor, and I often say they’re used by deer like a staircase to get from the lower part of their house (the hollow) to the second story (the top of the mountain). Deer always seek the path of least resistance in rugged country, and that’s exactly what a bench is.
The size of every bench seems to vary, as well as the distance or width between them. And not all hillsides have benches, really. But if you’re lucky enough to find one, there’s a chance it’s a great place to hunt. My favorite benches are the ones that have oak or other food sources on them, as mast typically falls directly onto deer trails and slows them down as they walk and forage simultaneously.
I use OnX Maps to locate benches by looking first for terrain changes, pinches or anywhere the terrain tightens. Look for trails circumventing steep terrain; there you’ll likely find benches as you follow the trails up or down the hillside. As always, make sure your tree stand setup is correct for whatever wind direction you intend to hunt.
No. 5: Hollows
Hollows, or “hollers” as we like to call them here in the Mountain State, can also be great stand sites. This pinch point is also commonly referred to as a “bowl” because of its shape. Essentially, it’s a depression with gently sloping elevation rises surrounding it.
Hollows are good and bad much for the same reason: swirling winds and thermals. These low spots are adored by mature bucks, because they’re great spots for cruising bucks to smell and locate does (or to smell danger). For that same reason, they’re difficult to hunt without being detected. Likewise, deer bedded on the hillsides surrounding hollers can sometimes see down into the center of the bowl — meaning they can watch you enter and exit your stand. Plan accordingly when choosing your stand site.
I’ve killed a few Pope & Young bucks from the heads of hollows. Usually, the head is where everything comes together, but each hollow can be different. The hollow I’ve had the most success in is very steep on both sides. One side has logging roads cut into it. The other side has two good benches where deer travel. Everything meets in the head, where my stand is located. If I have the appropriate scent elimination tools and the bucks are cruising, this spot can be outstanding