The advent of Google Earth was a life changer for me. In the late 1990's, when Google Earth first became available, the resolution was poor and the aerial photography was all in black and white.
But for the first time, I could see land features on my computer screen. I spent hours analyzing the areas I hunted.
I knew that my best chances of contacting a big buck during the rut were to place myself in a tree in an area where a cruising buck would travel through during daylight. All that was left was to find an area that funneled these cruisers into a narrow, necked-down area which would not only increase my odds of seeing them but put them within bow range.
While looking at the farm country of southern Iowa, which consisted of timbered ridges and ditches mixed with cropland, I stumbled upon the perfect funnel. Two large blocks of timber met at the corners.
The southeast corner of one 40-acre block touched the northwest corner of the other 40-acre timber. Perfect! Through considerable effort, I convinced the landowner to allow me to bowhunt his property and I was on my way to shooting a giant during the middle of November. Or so I thought.
There was one little flaw in my plan. The funnel that looked so good on paper simply didn't funnel the deer. I never got a shot at that pinch point and in fact never saw a single deer go through it. Now I know better.
The primary bedding areas were on a ridge in the middle of the southeast section, and on a creek bottom in the northwest section, and the creek that connected the two areas caused the deer to move between the two blocks of timber about 100 yards away from that textbook funnel.
I wasted more than a week of the rut before I figured this out and I never did kill a deer on that farm. I hate to throw away one week of November during the peak of the rut — a guy only gets a limited number of Novembers during a lifetime — but what I learned from that experience has served me well through the years. Here are three key points.
Bucks are Like Bass
If you know anything about fishing, you know that a big old bass likes to get up against something and hide out there. A stump, a rock wall, a brushpile, an underwater ditch or ledge, you get the idea.
Bucks are similar in that they like to travel along edges and terrain features. One prime example of this behavior is a rock ledge that has a flat spot at the bottom of it. There will usually be a deer trail along the bottom of that ledge.
The edges of fields are another example. This allows a buck to move with ease, but offers the comfort of knowing thick cover is within a jump or two. Bucks will drop down into a drainage ditch and follow it.
They will bed on the edges of grassy ditches without a tree around because they like the security of the steep sides of the ditch bank. Pinch points that take these things into account offer a much better chance of contacting a cruising buck.
Think High and Think Low
Bucks cruise the tops of ridges because it offers easier traveling and the ability to scent-check the area below them. Tops of ridges are often characterized by large trees that create canopy which limits the undergrowth. This makes traveling much easier.
While the ridges make for easier traveling, the low areas offer a better chance to contact a doe, so the bucks will cruise creek bottoms because there is likely to be easy traveling and the high likelihood that does are bedding in the thick cover that often surrounds the creeks.
The creeks themselves may be dry or have a small water flow, but the bucks will trot right down them, cutting off the curves by jumping up on the bank when the creek makes a wide turn. These areas are tremendous for a treestand because bucks feel secure moving through them in broad daylight.
Where Are They Going?
All of this hinges on the most important factor I learned those years ago in Decatur County, Iowa. There must be a reason for a buck to go through the funnel.
Contrary to what it often seems, and many hunters believe, bucks are not running around at random. They are going to something, and coming from something. So the best pinch points must connect areas where the bucks want to be.
Bucks are looking for does and they know where the does live. Any random funnel, no matter how good it looks, is only as good as the area's does make it. Every buck knows where the does like to bed and they know where the does like to feed. If the funnel isn't between one of these areas, it's not going to get much use.
A funnel may be between two doe bedding areas or a bedding area and a feeding area such as a cut cornfield or an oak grove, but to really increase the odds of seeing a big buck cruise through during daylight, it must be between two places they want to check for does.
I still use aerial photos on every property I plan to hunt, but I have learned from experience that any terrific-looking spot must be followed up by on-the-ground scouting to verify that all the factors are in place. And if they are, you may have found a stand location that will be fantastic year after year during the rut.