Georgia Rut Map, How To Hunt Creek Crossings

GON's map pinpoints magic dates for the rut.

Michael Perry | October 6, 2021

The early morning silence was broken by the distinct sounds of deer chasing 100 yards or so across the creek from my position. The back and forth sounds of hoofs plowing through the leaves along with grunts had my heart pounding and knees shaking. The rut was on!

Seconds later a doe appeared trotting by me at 20 yards. I drew my bow as I prayed for a chance at the buck behind her. Splashing water followed by a deep loud Uuuurrppp made an already tense situation worse on my nerves.

Multiple scenarios ran through my mind on how I was going to stop him for a shot. Then a rack appeared. The buck stopped perfectly broadside at 25 yards, and I settled the pin behind his shoulder and let the arrow fly. The unique sound of the Spitfire broadhead hitting its target, followed by a big mule kick, helped me start back breathing.

The big buck stopped at 60 yards trying to figure out what was happening. As he turned his head, I told myself that I had just shot my biggest buck with a bow. The buck laid down and expired where he stopped. I slid down in my seat and shook for 30 minutes before gathering myself and climbing down to put my hands on the brute.

The success of this hunt involved hunting adjacent to a creek crossing. Sounds simple right? Find tracks crossing a creek and hunt it. Sort of, but finding the crossing and finding the tracks is only one part of the puzzle.

I have had a lot of failures over the years. Things like having deer cross a creek above my setup and get by me without a shot. Or, deer would cross the creek below my setup, stop, blow and run off. Or they’d cross the creek and go by so fast that I’d never get a shot at them. I’ve also hunted a crossing for a week and never seen a deer. You learn from your mistakes, and believe me, I have made them. 

The biggest mistake is underestimating a buck, especially a mature buck. He is likened to a hardened seasoned criminal on the run. One mistake on his part and he is caught. On the other hand, if you tip him off, success is almost impossible.

Mature bucks very rarely if ever use the same crossing does use, even during the rut. He will use the wind to follow them. He might cross 50 yards from where they crossed or 5 yards from where they crossed. If he is traveling early season or pre-rut, he might stop on the edge of the creek bank, walk it for a while and then pop out anywhere but where you expected him to. Sometimes they will even swim a wider area versus crossing a narrow point. 

Also, the place where a mature buck crosses the creek coming from his bed as he heads to feed or check does might be a good distance from where he’s heading, so the timing of your hunt could prove difficult. For example, if he’s heading to a green field 500 yards away, then he may be crossing that creek well before dark.

So just finding tracks crossing a creek and hunting successfully is generally not as easy as you would think. Understanding the big picture of how they use crossings to safely travel from bedding to feed or to escape from hunting pressure is a must for successful deer hunting, let alone mature buck hunting.

So to start making a plan of how to hunt creek crossings, I like to make a map of my area. It can be as simple as drawing it on paper, or you can use a computer along with various topo and mapping programs. There are numerous ones out there, and some are better than others. I hunt public land and have purchased topo maps from the National Forest Service to help me in my area. 

Michael Perry says that creek crossings can be about the hottest thing going once a hunter has established why and when deer are crossing there. Then a hunter needs to locate the correct tree to hunt from.

I will generally start with a 1- or 2-mile square area and concentrate on it. If you have private land or you are in a club, I would try to map the whole area. I will mark or draw out all food plots, honeysuckle patches and cutovers. These are generally longer sustained food sources. If you are running year-round feeders, those should be noted, too.

Next, locate and mark all potential mast-crop areas. Various nut-producing trees, persimmon trees and farm crops that are close to your area should be noted. Some of this can be seen with satellite views, but a lot will have to be seen or found by putting boots on the ground. 

Now for the most important piece of the map—the bedding areas. Finding these areas will definitely have to be done on foot in order to actually find the beds. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to be walking your hunting area out during hunting season. As soon as the season is over is the best time to find relevant bedding areas associated with hunting season. If you are not able to scout after season, any scouting is definitely better than no scouting.

For buck beds, I like to look for places of higher topography in the area, generally the upper third of the terrain. In those areas I seek out small little points or outcroppings that have plenty of cover, such as blowdowns, laurel bushes, thick pines, cutover edges, etc. It is very seldom that these mature buck bedding areas are found by walking a beat-out trail. I have found buck beds that look like the only way in was to rappel from a helicopter. 

On the other hand, don’t overlook places where a mature buck could bed with just a little cover to his back but he has the ability to see out in front of him.

In general, does will bed about anywhere they feel like at the time. I have seen them bed in a blowdown 5 yards from a green field or in a sage patch on a little hump in the middle of a logging road. They also love thick cutovers in the winter to get out of the wind. Another good area is a place where the morning sun first shines when it is very cold.

Keep in mind that 90% of deer movement is at night. Couple that with the fact that the distance between bedding and their main food source could be a ways off, and it pays to find their travel routes. This is especially true on some of the public land I hunt. I have seen them bed 300 yards from a paved road, which they are crossing at night to get to their main feeding area, which is more than a mile from their bed. Mark and/or document all suspected beds on your map.

Finding a creek crossing like this is only one part of the much bigger equation of successfully killing a buck at a location like this.

Now that you have your main food sources and possible mast crops marked on your map, along with all suspected bedding areas, let’s look at the creek crossings. 

Remember when I said it wasn’t as simple as finding tracks crossing a creek and hunting that exact spot? There is a reason why the deer are crossing at a particular spot, and that is what I am trying to discover. What you want to find is the terrain change or the timber transition that is funneling them to that area and making them cross. 

It will take a lot of leg work and time to walk up and down the creeks and branches to observe and note all crossings. You will be looking for the obvious, such as slides with deer tracks in them, notches in the banks and just individual tracks. I will make a note of the size of tracks and which way they are going. 

At each crossing, make note of any timber changes, saddles, bluff gaps, long points that extend toward the creek, cedar thickets or thick shelves that are available for the deer to cross into secure cover versus open crossings into open woods. The idea is to find that spot that forces deer to cross in an area but also provides some cover. I want to find an area that deer will feel somewhat safe to use during daylight hours, whether that is done naturally or used when pressured by other hunters.

Also, don’t overlook scouting small branches or streams and washes close to hillsides.

I am hoping to find three or four of these crossings in my area that I believe a mature buck will use while exiting or entering his bedding area. Some of these crossings you might actually find big buck tracks, but sometimes they are not always visible. Rain, high water or type of ground can easily hide the tracks. 

Now that I have documented and marked on my map the food, bedding and creek crossing areas, I can start making a plan. I will correlate bedding and creek crossings with the timing of possible mast crops and other available food sources. I will pick the crossings that have cover close to them for my starting points. These are my favorite crossings to hunt since there’s a greater chance of catching a mature buck on his feet either in the afternoon heading out to feed or check does. Also, these areas can be good in the morning as you try and catch a buck on his way back in from his nightly excursions. 

When I find the crossings I believe are hunt worthy, I start looking at how I am going to be able to access and hunt these areas with minimum intrusion. I want to get there quietly and without crossing any tracks or any deer trails. 

Here’s where the biggest common mistake comes in from many hunters. They want to hunt right on the creek crossing. Very rarely am I doing this. I want to be set up closer to the pinch point or edge that has them crossing the creek there. For instance, if it’s a bluff gap that they are crossing, I set up close to the gap or above it. I have two reasons for this. 

No. 1 is the wind. It is pretty hilly where I hunt, so if you set up on the creek in the bottom, the wind is never predictable. You can ruin a good creek crossing in about two hunts without ever seeing a deer.

No. 2 is since mature bucks never seem to cross exactly where you think they will, I don’t set up exactly where I believe they’ll cross. This will happen especially while bowhunting. A 130-inch or bigger buck will walk by and cross the creek just out of range many more times than not; however, they are still going to come straight up the pinch point many times. That has happened more than once to me.

I pick a tree with cover pretty much in a straight line from the crossing area to where I have established they are traveling to or from. My tree could be 20 yards from the crossing or 200 yards from the crossing. I will be set up closer to the cover and down wind.

The timing of when and what crossing to hunt is going to depend on you and the goals you have set for yourself. If you are trying to target a specific buck or big track you found, then I would hunt the crossing you suspect he is using close to his bed. If you like targeting early mast crops or the food plots, you have those options. When pre-rut and rut starts, I prefer hunting the crossings closer to the established bedding areas in thicker cover. Either way you have multiple options for the whole season.

If you love technology, the use of trail cameras to monitor the crossing areas can be very helpful in establishing a timing pattern. Just keep the camera checking to a minimum. 

One of the benefits of this style of hunting is that you are not pressuring the house or the food. Let’s say for instance if something bad happens to you at a restaurant, you will probably quit going there. If something bad happens on the road going there, you will possibly use a different road. If something bad happens at your house, you might just move. I would rather them change roads. 

I certainly hope this has encouraged you to get out and check a few creek crossings. I’ve been hunting a good number of years now, and I’ve found crossings can be about the hottest thing going once you’ve established why and when they are crossing and then pick out the right tree to hunt.

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