The temperature was in the low 20s with a stiff north wind hitting me in the face. It was cold! Still, I was happy, because the rut was in full swing, and shortly after daylight I began seeing a steady stream of bucks. Unfortunately, none of them ever came within bow range.
Brushy fingers or points funnel deer movement out into fields.
Upon later investigation, I realized that maybe those bucks were not out of range after all. Maybe I was. The bucks had crossed from one block of timber to another, and I had overlooked their obvious funnel.
That day taught me a valuable lesson -- never place your treestand over the first good-looking deer trail. I probably would have arrowed a nice buck if I had just used my "noodle" and identified the real funnel. Since those early days I've learned what types of funnels to hunt at different times to put myself within range of out-of-range bucks.
While whitetails remain in their summer patterns, hitting favorite food sources, they are relatively relaxed. Still, hunting near their "kitchen" may not be the best idea. Deer usually enter fields from several directions, and only one downwind deer can ruin your hunt. For this reason, I back off 100 yards or so from food sources to hunt funnels where deer coming into a field will be less likely to wind me.
Hunting over trails in bottlenecks -- ridgetops, sidehill benches, heavy cover leading out into a field -- is always a good option during early season. In hilly country, my favorite early-season funnels are the heads of steep gullies. Like you and me, deer generally take paths of least resistance, so instead of going up and down the steep banks of gullies, they will contour around the heads, making these ideal places for stands.
Water -- ponds, lakes, creeks, and rivers -- often creates obvious funnels. Deer will travel around pond edges, bends in creeks, and steep riverbanks; and they will cross at shallow fords. These are predictable funnels any time during the season.
As the early season wears on, mature bucks will begin to shy away from heavily used trails and tight funnels, opting for more subtle trails downwind of main travel routes.
These downwind trails will be marked with big tracks and rubs. They're perfect spots for early-season stands.
When bucks start searching for hot does, some early-season stand locations will still produce, but other locations may be better. My best rut stands have proved to be in locations where, during the rest of the season, I scarcely see any deer at all.
Some of my best rut stands are in inconspicuous funnels that bucks use to quickly travel from one doe hangout to another. The bucks mentioned at the beginning of this story were following such a route.
Bucks like this eight-point often funnel themselves at field corners during the rut.
By scent-checking fields for does, bucks often funnel themselves at field corners. One cold, mid-November evening, the wind was right for hunting from a stand in an elm tree at the corner of a cut cornfield. Any bucks scent-checking the field would pass by that elm tree. Before long I noticed a sapling shaking violently 75 yards away. Obviously a buck was doing the damage. I gave a few soft bleats, and moments later the buck walked through the throat of the funnel in search of the doe he had heard. Instead of a doe, the eight-pointer found my broadhead. He ran 50 yards and collapsed within view.
If I can't find a high-odds funnel, I make one. In places with too many trails to predict where deer will walk, I block some of the trails with logs and brush to direct deer by my stand. Easy fence crossings are equally good. With the landowner's permission, I cut the top strand of an old fence, or tie the top strands together, to create an easy crossing spot.
Many times I've seen rutting bucks walk the length of a fence to cross at the easiest spot.
If you can withstand the weather, you can still outsmart deer that have been hunted with bows and guns all fall. When the thermometer takes a plunge I hunt funnels that lead to late-season food sources like winter wheat, harvested cornfields, or a food plot planted for deer. Many of the funnels that were good during early season will produce now.
One advantage, of course, can be snow, which makes active trails easy to read. I recently took a big doe that was visiting a cornfield regularly. Along with several other deer, she was traveling a bench on a sidehill that made for easy walking -- and made the deer very predictable.
Whitetails change their patterns throughout the season in response to changing food sources, various stages of the rut, and hunting pressure. If you adapt by finding the funnels, you will have deer in bow range all season.
The author is an admitted whitetail fanatic from Quaker City, Ohio.