View to a kill: a look from above might be the ticket to your next trophy encounter.
A single finger of cover connected a huge block of timber with a draw that itself eventually led to another big block of timber. It appeared on the photo to be the ultimate funnel for intercepting bucks cruising during the rut.
The hunt proved that my assumption was pretty close to the mark. On the fourth morning that I hunted the stand, the biggest buck I had seen all season slipped into the draw following a doe. After running off a smaller buck, he offered a 30-yard shot that I was able to make and soon he was down. The hunt was very exciting--as they all are--but this one also reinforced the value of using maps and photos to find the best stand locations.
Why It Works
Even during the rut, bucks would prefer not to be seen. And like all animals, they tend to naturally follow the path of least resistance when they travel. Both of these characteristics make it easier to guess how they will use the terrain when traveling. For example, they will use a saddle to cross a ridgeline because it is lower and easier to climb and because it keeps them from being sky-lined. In other words, bucks use the terrain in a predictable way.
I first started to study aerial photos as a way to acquaint myself with areas that I had never hunted before but as time has gone on, I find that I use them nearly every day of the season to help fine-tune my plans in areas that I've hunted for many years. Aerial photos and topographical maps are valuable when scouting, but they are just as valuable on a daily basis during the hunt.
Reading The Maps
On the topographical maps I have used in this article, each line signifies 20 feet of elevation change. Where the contour lines are close together, the slope drops off fast. Where they are wide apart, the terrain is mostly flat. You can use the contour lines to determine ravines, creeks, ditches, saddles, slopes, ridges, etc.
An aerial photo is just an overhead photograph of the area shot at some time in the past. Not all aerial photos are up to date so you may have slight discrepancies between what you see on the photo and the cover you find when you walk the area.
In this article, I've highlighted several common terrain features in the following map sections. My goal is to show you what they look like on a topographical map and on an aerial photo. I'll also offer a few suggestions to help you hunt these locations effectively, and in a few cases, I will even mention bucks my friends and I have shot in these areas.
Example #1: Fingers And Ridges
I was sitting in Stand #1 the day I killed the buck I wrote about in the introduction. I was drawn to the spot by the finger of cover that attached the long draw I was sitting in with the big block of timber to the east. Though it doesn't show up well on the topo map, you can see this very easily on the aerial photo. Bucks use fingers of cover like this when traveling between blocks of timber during the rut.
I also pointed out a second stand location on this map that highlights the value of topo maps over aerial photos in certain situations. As you look at Stand #2 on the photo all you see is a big block of trees. But, when you look at the same area on the topo map, the terrain starts to give away its secrets. You can see that at Stand #2 there is a small draw coming up from the big ravine. You can see the draw as a series of bumps in the contour lines.
Ridges are always a good choice for morning hunts during the rut. The trick is to find any feature in the terrain that brings more deer within bow range. The draw coming up to the ridgeline does that. Deer will follow the contour lines and go up around the head of a draw. I have also thrown in some tentative stand entry routes in blue to show you how you might approach these stands to keep away from the nearby food source in the morning. You have to come in through the back door.
Example #2: Cover And Bluff Funnels
You could easily spend your entire season hunting just the 60-acre area found in Topo Map and Aerial Photo #2. In fact, I have done just that. I could have picked eight or 10 good stands from this area but I chose to focus on just four to highlight two types of funnels. Stands #4 and #5 are strictly bottlenecks formed by the cover. However, if you look closely at Stand #3 you will see that a bend in the ditch just to the west of the stand bounds it on that side. The combination of the narrowing field, the draw coming down from the east and the ditch all make this a good bottleneck.
I recently had to stop hunting this property, but when I did hunt it, Stand #4 was my favorite stand. I have shot three nice bucks from it. During the rut, bucks used the big draw as they traveled throughout this entire area looking for does. Stand #4 was located at the narrowest part of the draw and anything walking either side of the cover was within bow range. Stand #5 is very similar and is a good choice for all the same reasons. Just for fun, I highlighted a perfect spot for a food plot in the bottom of this draw, as well.
The aerial photo worked best for locating Stand #3, Stand #4 and Stand #5 because they depended primarily on changes in the cover, but the topo map is definitely the best tool for locating Stand #6. This stand is right on the head of a slight draw that runs up this steep slope (you can tell it is steep because the contour lines are close together). Deer will go around the top of the draw where the field to the south will further funnel them.
Example #3: The Big Woods
Even if you are good with aerial photos you won't be able to tell how steep the ravines are or where the subtle terrain breaks are located in this area. To do that you need the topo map.
This block of cover is surrounded by fields where deer feed most actively during the fall months (you can't see this from the small area I cropped from the big map). That means the deer will likely be feeding elsewhere and coming to these timbered ridges primarily to bed down for the day. As mentioned in an earlier section, does (and bucks) like to bed on ridges, so bucks will be very active in these areas in the mornings during the rut.
Stand #7 is a funnel stand where deer traveling around the head of the big ravine would bottleneck. This is a standard travel pattern in rough country and I assure you that if there are deer in this area, there will be a nice trail here. Such spots are good all-day stands because they are not strictly bedding areas. Rather, they are funnels between two bedding areas and possibly between bedding and feeding areas.
Stand #8 and Stand #9 both revolve around the slight hump in the ridge. You can see it because it is just a small isolated circular contour line on the ridge top. To the west of the knob, you will find Stand #8. It is in a classic saddle. Study the topo map in this area because saddles are very useful terrain features in ridge country. Deer that are crossing a ridge will commonly cross in a saddle.
A saddle is a good all-day stand during the rut. In fact, a friend of mine, Jim Hill, actually shot a nice buck near this saddle during the middle of the day during the rut of November 2004.
Stand #9 is on a part of the same ridge where the draw coming from the south forms a bottleneck. Remember, deer tend to go around the head of a draw.
Stand #10 is a questionable stand but it is one that archery hunters commonly hunt. It is questionable because it is down at the bottom of a ravine where the wind will swirl in an unpredictable way. If the ditch is deep, you will get a good funneling effect at any gradual crossings where a deer can take the path of least resistance when walking between bedding areas looking for does.
Stand #11 is another classic stand. This is commonly called an inside corner, where the field makes a sharp corner back in the timber. Inside corners are easier to see on an aerial photo than on a topo map. Deer tend to go around the corner of the field rather than cutting straight across. This is why inside corners make good deer funnels.
Example #4: Ditches And Ridges
Unless the photo is very current, openings like those found on the north end of the map have almost surely grown in with thick cover. I always note these spots when studying aerial photos.
Stand #12 is an obvious bow stand at the head of a draw between two bedding ridges. This would be a good all-day stand. You can see the draw and the overall reasoning for this stand best on the topo map.
I mentioned the area of possible thick cover. If you look at the topo map, you will see that there is a ridge (presumably used for bedding) right here, giving this location twice the attraction for an archery hunter. I selected Stand #13 more or less randomly, because the whole outside edge of the thick cover should be good.
Stand #14 is another ditch crossing. There are a lot of bedding ridges that surround this area where the two major ravines come together. There is no doubt that there will be a lot of traffic through any decent crossing in this area, but like all ditch crossings, the wind will swirl here making it very hard to hunt.
The lack of shadowing makes it hard to see the big ravine that forms the basis for Stand #15 on the aerial photo. However, on the topo map it jumps out like a sore thumb. The draw forms a classic bottleneck between the two adjacent bedding ridges--another classic all day stand during the rut. Like Stand #13, Stand #16 should be a very good morning stand during the rut.
Example #5: The Winding Creek
I love creeks because they provide a great way in and out of the hunting area without spooking deer. Second, they usually produce some very good travel routes in the form of trails along the banks and crossings where the water is shallow and the banks gradual.
First, look for S curves. The middle section of the S--between the two bends--is a likely place for a deer crossing. Generally, this shape means there are two pools at the bends separated by a rapids or riffle in the middle. The bank is usually much more gradual, and the water shallower, between the bends of the creek and that is why the deer cross here. You can see this on either a topo map or aerial photo. Stand #18 and Stand #21 are both examples.
I also look for places where the creek runs along the edge of a bluff where the deer are likely to follow the top of the bluff for some distance between crossings. The bluff top then makes a good funnel and it is easy to get a wind advantage in these places because you can set up where the wind blows your scent out over the water. Look for spots along the edge of a creek where the contour lines are close together. Stand #19 and #20 are both examples of this kind of setup.
When looking at the aerial photo, you can see that the big timber to the southeast appears generic and featureless. However, when you look at the topo map you can immediately see what lies under the branches.
If you are serious about deer hunting you need to own and use both an aerial photo and a topo map of your hunting area. They are one of the best scouting tools you can own.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Benefits of Having a Plan
Maybe you won't nail the very best stand locations in your hunting area by only studying aerial photos and topo maps, but it is a great place to form a plan. A plan is a very good thing even if it isn't the best one. It produces some form of guidance and allows you to compare reality to your assumptions. That is how you eventually learn to hunt your area better and how you eventually arrive at the best stand sites.
RELATED ARTICLE: Scouting Maps and Photos
MyTopo.com is a reliable online source for customized topographic maps and aerial photos. I recently teamed up with MyTopo to provide a unique service for archery hunters. The service is called MyTopoScout. You designate your hunting area through MyTopo's website and fill out a questionnaire. They send me electronic files of your aerial photo and topo map. I study these, give you a call to discuss particulars and then I set up a hunting plan for your area.
When I'm done, you will receive full-size marked-up maps and photos directly from MyTopo with the best stand locations, entry and exit routes, wind directions, food plot locations, etc. shown. You also receive a written report detailing why each stand should be effective, when to hunt each, how to access each and, in some cases, what order to hunt them. It is a convenient one-stop plan for your hunting season.
For more information on custom maps and photos: