White-tailed deer are mysterious and elusive. Once you think you’ve figured them out, they prove you wrong. Bowhunting has no guarantees, but you can tilt the odds your way by zeroing in on whitetail hotspots.
Hotspots are sites where you’ll most likely see deer. Avid bowhunters often consider these six locations the best places to hunt whitetails:
- Edges are where different habitats converge. You’ll find an edge between a recent clear-cut and a mature hardwood stand, or between a swamp and a field. Diverse habitats hold deer because they provide food, cover and escape options.
- Pinch points are land features that funnel deer movements. They’re often found in ridgeline saddles or between fields, swamps, ponds, lakes and clear-cuts because deer prefer traveling covered, convenient routes. Another good pinch point is a strip of woods between fields.
- Feeding areas offer high food concentrations. Corn, clover or alfalfa fields are ideal feeding areas, as are oak ridges, food plots and berry patches. Deer eat what’s available when it’s available, so it’s important to know when feeding areas are most active.
- Bedding areas are usually remote sites with thick cover, little human activity, and ample sunlight in winter. Think cedar thickets, native grass stands and crop fields. Does often bed in family groups, but mature bucks usually bed alone, typically with cover at their back and wind blowing from behind.
- Rubs and scrape lines are a series of rubs or scrapes made in a line along a deer’s travel route. Bucks visit these areas to leave their scent, announce their presence, and show they’re ready to breed.
- Sanctuaries see little human activity or hunting pressure. Some hunters intentionally leave the area alone to protect its deer herd. Sanctuaries can also be unintentional if hunters overlook or avoid areas that are hard to reach. Sanctuaries seldom get hunted, and often occur in urban settings, natural areas, wildlife refuges, or private lands owned by nonhunters.
Knowing where to hunt is helpful, but knowing when to hunt there is more important. Deer habits change throughout autumn, so you must change your hunting spot along with them.
Read Bowhunting 360’s article “Whitetail Deer Throughout the Year: What You Need to Know” to learn how deer act, look and feed depending on the season. Then, use the information below to help pick bowhunting setups throughout hunting season.
Best Spot for Early Season:
Does and bucks are often most easily patterned early in the season when feeding in fields. Early-season deer often leave their feeding areas before dawn to bed for the day, and return before dark. Set up near food for late-afternoon and early-evening bowhunts to intercept deer as they return to eat. In contrast, hunt near bedding areas in the morning to catch deer returning from food sources. If you’re unsure what food sources to look for, read Bowhunting 360’s article “Understanding a Whitetail’s Diet.”
Deer are often active along edges, and they haven’t been pressured for months, so they tend to feel more comfortable there in daylight. If they detect danger, they’re often only one or two leaps from safe cover.
Best Spot for the Rut:
Bucks tend to move more in daylight during the rut. Funnels, saddles and other pinch points that force deer to move through specific areas are great options during the rut. Bucks also make lots of rubs and scrapes before the rut peaks, so zero in on those signs and set up. Read Bowhunting 360’s article “Rut-Hunting Strategies: Capitalize on Rubs and Scrapes” for details.
Best Spot for Late Season:
Deer usually resume their food-to-bed pattern by late season. Bucks are often depleted from the rut, and must eat a lot to bulk up to survive winter. Hunt near feeding and bedding areas, or a strategic place between the two. Read Bowhunting 360’s article “Follow These 5 Steps to Punch Your Late-Season Tag” for late-season setup tips.
If you can target a late-season sanctuary, you’ll be in good shape. White-tailed deer are a prey species, so they must use all their senses to dodge death threats. If deer see, hear or smell humans regularly in the same location, they’ll hide and change their travel patterns to avoid the area in daylight. Find their sanctuaries, and you might catch them off guard.
Consistently successful bowhunters hunt the areas we’ve discussed, and they put a lot of time and effort into scouting. Do your homework to find hunting hotspots, and plan to be there when the time is right.