The Art of Mapping Deer

Although I could write a narrative on each of the following landscape features, how they funnel deer, and how to hunt them, the most important thing to know is how to identify them on a map.

With hunting season quickly approaching, scouting is likely on your agenda, and if you’re hunting the hill country, then here are some good terrain features for stand locations.

Keep in mind that these areas are not always loaded with deer sign. They are travel corridors, and deer usually do not spend a significant amount of time in these areas rather they just passing through them to get from point A to point B.

Saddles

A saddle is a low spot between two hill tops and they are most easily identified using topo maps, or 3-D images. They are very easy to identify, and they serve as excellent deer funneling features.

Figure 1. Two saddles with predicted deer trails depicted (red lines). Notice how the trails tend to converge at the saddles.

Figure 2. Ground level 3-D view of a saddle.

Benches

Benches are relatively flat areas along hillsides and they are most easily identified using topo maps. They can be subtle or blatantly obvious. Basically, what you are looking for on a topo map is an area on a hill side where the topographic lines are farther apart from each other than the surrounding topo lines.

Figure 3. Benches can be big or small, but regardless of the size they funnel deer.

Points

Points are isolated ridges that gradually slope down to lower elevations. They are easily identified on topo maps, and 3-D images. Deer will often funnel along points to access the bottoms or hill-tops.

Figure 4. Points also vary in size, and even very small points can funnel deer from hilltops to bottoms and vice versa.

Lakes, Ponds, and Swamps

Most bodies of standing water serve as natural barriers to deer movement. Given the choice to swim across a body of water or walk around it, deer will usually walk around. During the rut, bucks will often skirt the edges of large water bodies while searching for does.

Using the “Custom Overlays” tool, you can draw paths around the edges of ponds and other barriers to help you envision how deer will move through those areas, and add markers to areas that are obvious funnels or bottle necks for future scouting purposes.

As you can see in the diagrams below, I put orange markers at locations where several paths come together. Those are the areas I would scout. The yellow arrows indicate a favorable wind direction at the marked locations and the area outlined in yellow indicates an area with several houses that deer are likely to avoid.

Figure 1. Aerial image of potential pond set-ups made with BGL’s “Custom Overlays” feature.

Figure 2. With just the click of a mouse you can switch between topo map and aerial image views and the overlay will remain in place.

Rivers

Again, although deer can swim, they usually choose not to. Keeping that in mind, rivers are generally another barrier to deer movement. Bucks in search of does can be expected to walk parallel to the river. Knowing this, I often search for areas where other barriers would create a bottleneck or funnel. An additional benefit to hunting near a river is the sound of running water can help mask the sound of a hunter’s approach.

Figure 3. The river to the north should help funnel deer through the forested area along the field edge. The orange markers indicate areas I would scout first for deer sign because those areas appear to be funnels.

Streams & Creeks

Streams and creeks are not as much of a barrier to deer, but there are often distinct crossing points. Although these features are not my first choice for speed scouting in big woods, they are my first choice for scouting properties in the Midwest. If you are a big woods hunter, the idea behind these features is that deer need to cross them somewhere.

Your job is to walk along the creek and find the crossing areas where tracks are cut deep into the mud (i.e. find the bottlenecks). However, if you’re a Midwest hunter, creek bottoms are about the only places a plow has not touched, and as such provide necessary cover for deer to get from point A to point B. Chances are there will be a deer trail that looks like a cow path traveling through these bottoms. Find the trail, and set up downwind.

Figure 4. Creeks and seasonal streams are often difficult to identify on an aerial image, but they are easy to identify on a topo map. Shown above, I am using a blue line to delineate a stream that runs through a property.

Figure 5. Once delineated with a “Custom Overlay,” streams are much easier to identify on an aerial image.

Figure 6. The mid-west is ideal landscape for hunting deer. Once the crops are harvested, small woodlots are about the only places where deer can hide from hunters (i.e. we can predict that the deer are going to be in the woodlots). These woodlots are often connected by vegetated creek bottoms, so if a buck searching for does wants to get from one small woodlot to another, you can bet he’ll probably want to use the creek bottoms for cover.

Conclusion

This concludes the first tip for mapping deer, but it’s surely not the last word with regard to using water features to map deer. If you have other water feature mapping tips, please share them on our Facebook page. We look forward to hearing your tips and feedback!

Leave a Comment