Practice these proven hunting tactics for a successful season. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Fresh Deer Sign Pinpoints Where to Bowhunt

  Erik Barber   FeaturedHow To   September 26, 2019

Few things compare to the satisfaction bowhunters feel after reading deer sign, picking a stand site, and arrowing a doe or buck. To consistently put venison in your freezer, you must master a few proven hunting tactics.

Food, Cover and Water

A prime location is one that has food, cover, and water in one place. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Food, cover and water are the building blocks of productive deer habitat. Top hunting sites have all three. Corn and soybeans are good food sources in agricultural areas, but acorns and woody browse are staples across much of whitetail country. Ideal bedding cover changes seasonally, but you can identify these sites by scouting before and during the hunting season. Don’t overlook water sources, especially those in out-of-the-way locations. A low area along a field edge or a pool dammed by beavers might not look impressive, but if they’re secluded they’ll attract thirsty deer in daylight.

Reading Sign

Whether it’s rubs, scrapes or game trails, deer leave lots of sign to decipher. It’s important to differentiate fresh sign from the rest to ensure you set up where deer are hanging out. A scrape, for example, might be active from early September until late November. If you find one that’s hit regularly, with its dirt stained by urine and moist pellets, you know deer aren’t far away. Likewise, rub trees ringed by shavings and game trails pocked with fresh tracks also indicate nearby deer.

Using the Wind

Stay downwind of the deer and listen for their calls. Photo Credit: John Hafner

A deer’s nose is its go-to defense. Whitetails base their moves by checking the wind. If dangerous scents reach their nostrils, they’ll head elsewhere. You can beat their nose and their alarm snorts by setting up downwind from where you expect them to move. For example, in northerly winds, try setting up on the south side of an east-to-west trail bordering the south side of a bedding area. If the bedding area is north of the trail, most deer will filter out upwind of you.


Top hunting sites offer easy access so you can sneak in and out without alerting nearby deer. Cover, terrain and wind direction factor into effective access. You must stay out of sight, and make sure your scent blows away from the deer’s suspected bedding sites. Creeks, cornfields, rolling hills or waterways that provide canoe or kayak access can hide your approach.

Proven Locations

Swampy areas are a good place to set up shop. Photo Credit: WanderersApprentice

Deer hunting has no absolutes, but certain locations often produce year after year. A few examples come to mind:

  • Ditch funnels are flat ground at the ditch’s end. They’re consistent travel corridors during the rut across the Midwest. Deer prefer paths of least resistance, so they’ll often avoid a steep ditch and walk around its end where terrain is easier to navigate. Set up within bow range of trails crossing the funnel, with the wind blowing into the ditch where deer seldom travel.
  • Oak ridges are great places to intercept deer as they browse for acorns before heading to destination food sources. The name sounds simple, but top-shelf oak ridgelines drop into thick bedding area, ideally on southern exposures that get lots of sunlight. Deer usually bed on that southern face to soak in the suns. As dusk nears, deer leave their beds and move up the ridge while browsing on acorns.
  • Swamp islands offer plenty of cover, water and seclusion. Because they’re tricky to navigate, thick swamps reduce hunting pressure. An island with hard ground in the midst of a large swamp offers ideal bedding cover, so hunt the island’s downwind edge. That can be a productive tactic for bagging a buck in its bedroom.


Hunting tactics are always evolving, which means you’ll find few right or wrong ways to bowhunt. What works great for friends might not work for you. Remember, your hunting priority is to simply have fun. By testing and experimenting, you’ll grow as a bowhunter and develop a niche from your preferred tactics. Soon after that, you’ll consistently fill your freezer.

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