Bowhunting is still primarily a short-range pursuit. My surveys show that the average shot distance, when hunting whitetail bucks, is roughly 19 yards. It is not because my friends and I can't accurately shoot 30 yards, or farther, but rather because whitetail bucks are unpredictable in their movements and the cover they live in is thick. It is hard to set up good shots at longer distances, which is why you need to become an expert at setting up good close shots.
I've talked about natural funnels in this column before. Ideally, you should put treestands in locations where natural movement narrows. These bottlenecks and funnels are the whitetail bowhunter's mainstay. But I have never discussed the next step. You can manipulate the local setting to make these buck traps even more effective. That is the real subject of this column.
Making Your Own Blowdowns
Let's say you have a great stand that you can get to and from without alerting any deer, the wind is in your favor, but you can only cover two of the three trails in the immediate area from this ideal tree. Then, to improve the stand, simply cut some junk trees and brush and drag it all into place to clog that third trail in an effort to redirect those deer to the closer trails. It is a simple, but very effective strategy. Just do the manipulations well before the season-preferably in the winter months when the forest still looks like it will in November.
A friend of mine recently passed along a great tip that I had not considered. He goes into the timber in mid-summer with a 5-gallon backpack sprayer filled with a Roundup plant killer. He simply sprays the Roundup on the brush he wants to remove to make trails through thick cover. By August the brush is dead and brittle and he returns to clear it away with a garden rake. He does this because when undisturbed, deer will use your trail rather than fight through thick brush.
Another option is to make trails in your food plots. If you are growing corn or sorghum, you can effectively funnel the deer closer to your stand by using an ATV to knock the mature stalks in a three-spoke pattern emanating from your stand. Not only does this give you important shooting lanes, but also the deer will begin using your lanes as trails.
Fences and Gates
If you have a gate in your hunting area with a convenient tree nearby, consider opening it in late summer to give the deer time to get used to using it. You can accomplish nearly the same thing by tying down the top wire in a loose fence. The deer will see this as an easier place to jump and soon they will have a trail beaten to that spot even though they can easily jump the fence on either side.
Some people even go so far as to tie a light rope along the tops of the fence posts in each direction from the low spot to make the rest of the fence appear higher. This seems heavy-handed, but it definitely works. Of course, be sure to get the landowner's permission before opening gates or messing with fences.
Manipulating your hunting area to bring more bucks within bow range is a controversial method of upping your odds. I tend to be light-handed in this regard because I enjoy hunting deer on their terms, but people must decide for themselves. They can legally choose a point somewhere between the extremes. You can simply cut down a few bushes or you can erect a half-mile of construction fencing with a 30-yard gap in the middle. There is no question that you can manipulate wild whitetails, the only question is where to draw the line.