For rutting whitetail bucks, there are no templates for sure success. Or are there?
Few years ago, a good friend of mine had secured permission to hunt a prime, 150-acre farm in western Wisconsin, and he was kind enough to ask me to join him there in early November. Upon arriving at the property, my friend told me the general lay of the land and then headed off with his climbing treestand to a location he had previously scouted. That left me to find a spot on my own, with limited knowledge of the property, and only three hours of daylight left to do so!
Hunting land I had never seen before, and with no time to scout, I set up on an inside corner and reaped this reward on only my second day on stand.
Shouldering my climber, I quickly headed across a big cut cornfield that knifed into a steep wooded hillside. The cornfield had lots of sign along it, but nothing remarkable in any one spot.
Reaching the inside corner of the cornfield -- the point at which the field jutted into the timber -- I quietly inched my way into the woods. Forty yards in, I found a faint trail with a small, fresh rub not far away. Not wanting to travel any farther for fear of spooking deer, I found a fairly straight maple tree and started to climb it.
About halfway up, I heard the crunching footfalls of a deer walking quickly through the dry leaves and looked up to see a small eight-point, nose to the ground, on a steady trot. With my bow still on the ground, all I could do was sit quietly and watch him pass by me without so much as a glance.
Once the buck was gone, I finished climbing and settled in for what turned out to be an amazing three hours. In all, I saw seven bucks that afternoon, most within shooting range. After a great deal of thought, I finally realized what was drawing the bucks through this area -- they were cutting the inside corner of the cornfield to avoid exposing themselves as they traveled from one section of the woods to the next.
At the end of the evening I left my stand attached to the bottom of the tree to ensure a quiet entry in the morning, and before daylight I slinked back into that tree and eagerly waited for the warming rays of the sun to begin creeping down the ridge.
Just after shooting light, I heard deer hooves shuffling through the frost-covered leaves and swiveled to see a set of stark white antlers heading my direction. In a split second, adrenaline replaced my chills with a pounding heart and sweaty palms, and I readied myself for a shot.
As he stepped into an opening 18 yards away, I drew my bow. I could see the steam from his breath, and I was having trouble breathing myself. I steadied the pin and released. The long-tined eight-point was mine.
Since that day I have hunted inside corners many times on a mix of public and private lands. The inside-corner principle works best during all phases of the rut when bucks are traveling regularly, and the best part of the concept is its simplicity.
While corners do funnel deer, they differ from classic timber funnels in that they have no clearly defined pinch-points to force deer to travel through specific spots. The textbook version of an inside corner occurs where a cropfield or other opening juts into a woodlot, creating a point at which timber or brushy cover frames the open corner of the field. Bucks traveling the edge of the field generally won't cross the open corner to reach the other side. Rather, they will circle the tip of the corner in heavy cover, and that's where you ambush them.
You can cut corners for whitetails on almost any property you hunt. Most frequently I use the technique in farm country, but I have also had success in the big timber of Wisconsin's northwoods. In big timber, inside corners can be found around swamps, logging clearings, roads, or just about anywhere a buck doesn't want to expose himself while traveling through in search of receptive does.
If possible, scout all inside corners in the spring. The leaves are still off the trees; buck sign remains fairly obvious after the snow first melts; you might find a shed or two; and, most important, you won't disturb the resident deer during hunting season. Walk through the woods and approach inside corners from a buck's point of view. Keep an eye out for any trails, no matter how faint. And don't be discouraged if you don't find tremendous amounts of deer sign. Bucks seem to travel inside-corner corridors primarily when they're cruising during various phases of the rut.
Try to view terrain and vegetation as a buck might, and guess how he might travel. Then start looking for trees that might offer the best shot opportunities. I love forked trees or two trees growing closely together that provide much more cover than a single straight tree. Bring an extension saw along to do an initial trimming of some shooting lanes. Because of the summer growth, you may need to slip back early in the fall to do a finish trim.
The white route shows the shortest distance for bucks to travel from one side of a corner to the other, but deer generally do this under the cover of darkness. During daylight hours, bucks will cut around the tip of the corner, always staying in cover, as suggested by the red route. Place your stand some 40-60 yards downwind of the corner to ambush bucks traveling this route. Based on my experience, this is as close to a template for sure success as you'll get.
If you can't find any suitable trees, select a spot for a ground blind and build it long before the season. Pile up some brush, leaving a spot into which your pop-up blind will just fit. Come hunting season, try to blend the blind into the brush pile to minimize its obtrusiveness.
I mark all my spots on my GPS for a quick return. It is amazing how different the woods can look when you return. The GPS serves to cut down on the amount of trudging around you will have to do when you return, again minimizing impact.
Now, here's where cutting corners for whitetails really shines: If you don't have time to scout ahead of the season, you can put yourself into the action almost instantly. When you're setting foot into new territory for the first time, cutting corners is as close to a recipe for instant success as you'll get.
If possible, study some aerial maps or photos to get the general layout of the property in advance. Then, when you arrive at your hunting destination, head directly to the inside corner with the largest amount of wooded cover on either side. Spend a few minutes peering into the
woods. Try to get a general idea of the terrain, and pick a tree or two 40 to 60 yards into the woods, downwind of the point of the corner.
For your first hunt in a particular spot, think visibility. You want to use this time not only to hunt, but also to observe deer movement so you can make adjustments, if needed, for future hunts. Then, as quietly and quickly as possible, get into a tree. Use a climbing stand or quiet climbing sticks and a hang-on stand.
Come November, cutting corners for rutting bucks can be a great tool. Whether you are a trophy hunter, a meat hunter, or somewhere in between, you'll find it deadly on bucks on the move. The best part about it is that you can apply it to almost every property you can hunt, no matter how big or small. And you can apply it regardless of your timeframe -- even if you have only the last three hours of the afternoon.
The author is a firefighter, and he's an avid supporter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other conservation groups. He lives in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
AUTHORS NOTES: Author's Notes: I killed the buck described in this story with a Mathews Q2XL set at 72 lbs., Easton 2315 Super Slam arrow, and NAP Thunderhead 100 broadhead. My other equipment included an HHA Optimizer Lite sight, HHA rest, T.R.U. Ball release, and Kwikee Kwiver.