Here is a little tip for the wannabe big woods hunters.
When I received my commission in the Marine Corps I went to The Basic School in Quantico, VA. It’s a six-month school that all new Marine Corps officers attend. Regarding the development of my intellect, it was the single greatest experience in my life. That’s a big statement considering that I had just graduated from college a few weeks before attending. Throughout the course there was a phrase, “turn the map around.” What it means is stop looking at a map from your perspective, look at it from the enemy’s, in this case replace the enemy with the deer. First thing is, deer just like humans, will always take the easy route when there is little or no hunting pressure. It’s probably best to take this one step by step.
Dissecting the map north of Fallujah 2005 with some of the best Marines I know. Mike Woods and Tim O’Brien
Step 1. Get a good topographic map of your area. Make sure that it shows elevation changes with contour lines, and water features including intermittent streams. I like to use Delormes Maine Gazetteer. You can also order topo maps of areas from Delormes if you like to spend money.
Step 2. Identify the dominant terrain feature, or features in the area you want to hunt. Make sure that terrain feature is away from human interaction. A rule I like to use is a half mile from the nearest vehicle access. Those features are anything that will alter a deer’s straight line movement. It could be a deep bog, a river, or a pond/lake. My favorite is a high ridge or mountain top. The more you can identify in an area the better because you can still hunt from one to another throughout the day.
Step 3. Identify your ingress and egress points. The ingress is where you’re going to get into the woods. Egress is how you’re going to get out. Rarely should they be the same. Find a spot that gets you as close as you can to your target area without crossing the route you think a deer will travel. Don’t worry about the truck. We always have a plan to start driving the roads where we’re hunting after dark until everyone is picked up.
Step 4. Identify your linear catching features. Anywhere you go in the big woods there are linear features that stop you from wandering off. Identify them so when you get turned around you know that if you follow a certain compass heading you will eventually hit that feature and you can use it as a hand rail to get you home. In the area I’m hunting now I know that if I go north I’ll hit the Golden Road. It might take me 5-6 miles but I know that I’ll find it. If I go east I’ll hit my river. Never go to the woods without a compass and at least two lineal catching features.
Step 5. Walk the ground. Now that you have dominant areas on the map the chances are they’ll be dominant on the ground, go find them. It’s not like you’re looking for a needle in a hay stack, you’re looking for a mountain top or lake. If you can’t find those stick to heater hunting.
Step 6. Identify the micro-terrain. Once you find them find the small terrain changes you can’t see on the map. Look for the game trails. Bucks love to follow streams up mountain sides to small passes that allow them to get from one side to the other. A very successful piece of micro-terrain is what we call a funnel. This is a place that’s steep on both sides but in the middle is passable. This will funnel the traveling deer right in front of you. Once you find these places look for sign. Usually there will be some rubs from years past that you’ll notice.
Eric Chadbourne with a mountain funnel bruiser
There’s one spot I discovered after tagging out that has what looks like a cow path leading through it. You better believe I will be planted there opening day once the camera I have up there confirms mature bucks are in the area. It’s about 2 miles from the nearest vehicle access point at about 2000 feet elevation.
Finding these trails makes me taste deer steak
Step 7. Memorize your map. You have to have the map burned in your mind. The worst thing you can do is keep going in and walking around to, “learn the ground.” Go in maybe once a month to check your camera but don’t disturb the area too much. I like to go right before or even during a rain to wash away any scent I leave. Remember you’re a long way from the nearest human and might be the only human these deer encounter. Try to make that encounter a onetime thing with the deer of your dreams lined up in your sights. Also, taking the map with you is just another distraction between you and that bedded buck leave it at home plus the Delorme won’t fit in your backpack.
There are two measurable things that keep people from seeing big deer. Inability to traverse large areas of land because of a lack of understanding of navigation, and the physical fitness required to do it day after day for a month. There are a bunch of intangibles the main one being a lack of a will to win. If you don’t have the will to go way back you are limiting your chances.