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The ripping sound was cringe-worthy, and it was another reminder that my ancestral genetics left me with leg length not appropriate for the standard height of agricultural fencing. Fortunately, no skin was broken, and it appeared I could patch the tear in my pants with a begging request to my sewing bride.

Fences surround most North American fields, and they often extend well beyond a field's edge into the forest, or adjacent pastures. You could say America went "fence crazy" during the last century, with dogged determination to distinguish property lines at any cost. The first feasible barbed-wire fence design is credited to a gentleman from New York dating back to 1868. Thanks for the tear in my S100 camouflage pants! By 1874, the barbed wire we know today was developed by Joseph Glidden of Illinois, and he's commonly referred to as "The Father of Barbed Wire."

With fences encircling nearly every property you hunt, their very existence affects you from the everyday pants rip that I experienced to hunting strategy based on how deer interact, use, and even avoid fences. Whether you own a hunting property, lease it, or merely hunt on a plot, you need to take a close look at fences for hunting strategy.


Fences provide a hunting windfall, but sometimes it matters what side of the fence you're standing on for the windfall to occur. Although deer are far from the human definition of conscious with the ability to reason, most understand the fence barrier. Hunt on a property that's either a sanctuary or next to a sanctuary, and you will witness firsthand how deer understand that crossing a fence either leads to danger or safety. One season, I bowhunted a property next to a designated wildlife refuge. The deer were assuredly aware of the protective boundary. It wasn't until the disarray of the rut that some of the bucks ventured to cross the fence. Even then, you often watched them cross back to the protected land at daybreak with Usain Bolt speed.

Sanctuary aside, most properties include fencing that crisscrosses to section out farm fields, livestock grazing, and to isolate building sites from land-practice uses. These prickly barriers provide you with two distinct possibilities for a fence windfall. First, deer have to cross them, and although they are fleet of foot, deer gravitate toward easy crossings whenever possible. Second, fences steer deer, and they'll oftentimes follow fences as opposed to jumping them. Look at fences for these opportunities as you scout.

The crossing factor plays well into setting an ambush. Although deer may jump a fence almost anywhere, over time they acquire preferences to fence-crossing selections. In brief, they're always on the hunt for the path of least resistance that flows well with their established travel pattern. Begin with fenceline analysis if you want to get the most hunting benefit. This includes studying fences that not only separate your hunting property from another landowner's, but also the interior fencing that separates land-management activities.

Fence scrutiny can be undertaken during any season, although common sense dictates that the preseason is best. This gives you a glimpse of not only traditional usage tendencies but also what may be occurring in an ever-changing hunting landscape. To help you out with memory loss, put a good hunting app to work, like HuntStand or onX Hunt, and make notes on a satellite image of your findings.

Even though you hunt a property year in and out, there are a multitude of activities on that property and on adjoining parcels that influence deer behavior. Intense livestock grazing, crop rotations, crop harvests, new food plots, and climatic conditions all could alter whitetail patterns. Some of that travel evidence may show up along fences and could possibly lead to a hunting windfall.

Some of the sign you should look for is obvious. Well-beaten paths that start on one side of a fence and continue to the other indicate heavy travel. Pounded grass could mean a new food plot on the neighbor's ground, or that someone has a deer feeder operating nearby. Travel across fences is boosted anytime you discover a missing or sagging wire, or gaps below allowing deer to duck easily underneath them. Finding tufts of hair snagged in the fence further signifies a preferred deer travel route.

Crossings aside, deer routinely follow fences from deep timber to fields, and they walk along fences often as they cross open expanses. Fences create edges, and whitetails are creatures of the edge. If you hunt mixed timber and agricultural fields, you'll be hunting an edge with a fence. And, don't forget to look through the new growth from the current year. If you see travel sign along or across a fence, you need a closer inspection. Push aside grass and brush to look for scrape lines, or a series of dulled rubs indicating you're on the right trail.

Whereas crossing locations dictate you hunt in that immediate area, a fence travel route provides you with opportunity to scout for an ideal pinch-point, or the perfect tree in a downwind location to hang a stand. You don't always get that luxury in a crossing. It's a take-it-or-leave-it choice.


After a thorough investigation of fences on your hunting property, let your mind wander on the possibilities of the traps you can set. Look at crossings first. They provide an X-marks-the-spot location to waylay a whitetail, albeit the location may not be ideal for your hide. Preseason scouting can boost success, especially in tree-limited areas where staking a blind weeks ahead helps deer get used to the unsightly addition. You also have options to lure more deer traffic with a bit offence ingenuity. A slight fence alteration can attract a lot of deer attention.

As a disclaimer, before you alter the barrier a fence presents, you need to assess livestock usage of the adjoining parcels. You also need to request permission from the landowner or manager if you don't own the land. Explain to them your intentions to invite more focus on a fence crossing. Assure them you will return everything to its original state after the season, or if livestock move into a pasture.

Now, investigate any fence crossings with a whitetail-travel perspective. First, take a look at gaps, low spots, and other wire expanses deer may be using to easily slip through the spikey opening. Can you make the crossing more noticeable, and possibly even safer? Making any gaps in a fence slightly bigger by taking another length of wire and tying portions of the fence up or down to make the gap more profound attracts immediate attention from deer. The same can be done to a low spot along a fence where deer may be used to ducking under it. Take the bottom wire and tie it higher to make a bigger hole. Antlerless deer will have smooth sailing, and even bucks may now use the gap depending on antler proportions.

I had the good fortune of hunting with an innovative landowner in Kansas a few years back. As he showed me field-edge stands, I couldn't help but notice that at every fenceline stand he had altered the bordering fence to make a gap. Any deer following the targeted trail ended up at the fence, and his alteration was like an open-door invitation.

If you really want to have an open-door policy along a fence, look for a nearby gate that corresponds to trails. Nothing says "walk this way" like the beckoning of an open gate. Outfitter and rancher Doug Gardner opened my eyes to open gates while hunting in eastern Montana's dense riverbottoms. Any open gate along tight, sheep-style fencing is quickly noticed by whitetails traveling from cover to the lush alfalfa fields beyond. If sheep weren't present, Gardner would hang a stand nearby and open a gate.

In South Dakota's open prairies, an open gate wouldn't seem that significant to wandering whitetails, but outfitter Cody Warne uses the open-gate policy to invite deer past ground blinds and other stands he's built over the years. Rutting deer may skip the opening, but deer on a schedule heading to food or water beeline to open gates that correspond with their travels.

But, hold on. Aren't deer traveling fast along a trail, and what if they don't stop? That's the great thing about fences, especially where a crossing occurs. Think back to your deer observations. Nearly every deer that hits a crossing does what? It pauses before jumping or ducking. Why? Because it's likely looking for danger and assessing the obstacle.

If you're watching a fence that is used as a travel corridor, then you may want to add in your own stopping point. Get your mock-scrape kit out and put one in at the slam-dunk mark of 20 yards. The trend of setting fenceposts in an ideal shooting location to stop deer for a rub or sniff also has merit. Even if you only mist some deer urine along the fence, it's a solid strategy to make a traveling deer stop for a stationary shot.

Of course, there's always the dilemma of hunting along a neighboring fence. You might need extra incentive to prompt a deer through a crossing to get it into your hunting zone. Real foresight includes the planning and planting of a food plot to attract attention, but if farming is out of reach, look to scents, calls, and decoys as attention-getters.

The addition of a mock scrape with a temperature-activated dripper has the ability to lure deer across for daily updates as the rut increases. Estrus-soaked wicks that allow scent to drift across a fence may also be enough reason for a buck to cross. Rattling and other deer calls can complete a ruse if you do get a deer to contemplate a crossing. Add a decoy that is easily visible after a deer crosses safely from a neighboring property, and finish the theatrics with some well-timed grunts.

As you strategize on how to make a deer cross a neighboring fence through an obvious crossing, you need to be aware of an even bigger concern: How are the neighbors going to feel about your temptations?


What you do on your side of the fence is your business. What the neighbors do on their side of the fence is their business. When deer cross back and forth, you'll soon discover it becomes everyone's business. It's a common conflict in states like Kansas, where baiting is legal and corn feeders are everywhere. If you want to test your relationship with a neighbor, just put a corn feeder up along a fence in plain sight. I heard one story where some lessees put up a feeder next to the fence of a property managed for trophy bucks. The neighbor was no longer neighborly after seeing it. We'll leave it at that.

It also never hurts to make an introduction to an adjoining landowner before the season. Exchange contact information, detail your hunting plans, and express your sincerity in being an ethical hunter. It could go a long way if something goes terribly wrong later while hunting along a fence. If the predicament ever arises that a wounded deer does dash back across the fence, the groundwork will already be laid for a responsible recovery.

Next, don't hunt in obvious, open locations right against a fence. If you do put up a feeder or a ground blind, you may be better off veiling it behind timber or in a coulee. Out of sight is out of mind.

As your scouting begins to reveal patterns along a neighboring fence, keep in mind the basics of bowhunting. Sharp broadheads kill by hemorrhaging. An arrow-shot deer can run 100 yards or more, even with perfect double-lung placement. This means your minimum set-up distance from any property fence should be at least 100 yards, with 200 being ideal. And keep in mind it is common for any animal to escape back to where it just came from, because it likely felt safe prior to the shot. If you do make a questionable hit and track the deer for more than 200 yards without finding a dead deer on your side of the fence, it's time to back off. This is when that preseason conversation with the neighbor can pay off.

Fences are an everyday component on hunting properties. Scrutinize them with more hunting focus and you might find a windfall in the miles of fence dividing whitetail country.

The author is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer from Sheridan, Wyoming.

Caption: Attractants, like supplemental feed, can lure deer across a fence for bowhunting opportunities.

Caption: Making any gaps in a fence slightly bigger by taking another length of wire and tying portions of the fence up or down to make the gap more profound attracts immediate attention from deer. The same can be done to a low spot along a fence, where deer may be used to ducking under a fence.

Caption: Scents and mock scrapes have the power to pull a deer to your side of the fence and possibly into a shooting lane.

Caption: I tagged this buck after it crossed a fence to visit a food plot placed strategically to lure deer from all adjacent properties.
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Author:Kayser, Mark
Date:Oct 1, 2019

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