Learning To Find & Hunt Deer Pockets
Whether you hunt public or private land, finding pockets where deer move during the day is key to success.
As hunters, we are always searching for the next best spot. We spend hours upon hours of scouting, studying maps and hunting trying to locate that perfect stand location where we will see deer on every sit and hopefully catch that cagey old buck on his feet during legal shooting hours.
If you ask around for advice on how to find better spots to hunt, you’ll likely be met with the age-old advice of “you just have to walk in farther than everyone else.”
That advice does prove true in many situations, but if you have been hunting long enough, you know that there are only two things you can be absolutely sure of when it comes to deer hunting, you can’t say “always,” and you can’t say “never.”
What I mean by that is that you won’t always find deer in the most difficult to access areas, and you can’t say “you’ll never see anything in a spot like that.”
Every situation is different. Every property, public or private, has different terrain features, different habitat types, and most importantly different hunting pressure. There really is no set formula to finding the best spot to climb a tree, but there are a few factors to take into consideration in every situation.
Redefine Going Deep
Walking farther into the woods than everyone else in your area is undoubtedly the most common piece of advice out there on how to find better spots to deer hunt. Although the advice is pretty straightforward, there are some things to take into consideration that can give you more of an edge than everyone else.
Going deep does not always mean actually walking a longer distance than everyone else. Instead, think in terms of obstacles between you and an area.
Throughout most of Georgia, there are good road or trail systems cutting across properties, especially on public lands. Although not all of those roads or trails are open for vehicular access, they do provide much easier walking compared to hiking off trail through ridges or swamps.
Because of all those roads and trails, I have found it very difficult to truly get a mile from any road on most of the public land I hunt. Since the roads provide such easy walking, bike riding or game cart dragging, people aren’t afraid to travel long distances. I can’t recall how many times I’ve traveled to the spot on the map that sat the farthest from the parking area only to find more people sign than deer sign.
I have found that the best way to avoid people is to think in terms of “roadblocks” rather than distance. When I say roadblocks, I’m talking about things that are physically difficult to get over, through or around.
For example, most people have no problem at all going up and over a ridge, but when you put two ridges between you and the parking area, you’ll usually have the woods to yourself. The same goes with thickets or bodies of water. Crossing flooded timber or more than one significant stream is a good way to separate yourself from most of the hunting pressure.
One of my newest spots sits only 250 yards from a parking area. It’s an area I hunted quite a bit last year without much luck. On the right side of the parking lot there is pines and higher ground, while on the left side sits flooded timber with knee-deep water and deeper mud.
Last season I mostly hunted off the right side of the road on the higher ground without much success. This season, I decided to find a way across the flooded timber to try and avoid the hunting pressure I had dealt with the year before.
Once I got to the other side of the timber, I immediately started finding fresh rubs and scrapes coming out of a thicket. By putting a significant obstacle between me and the parking area, I was able to locate better sign than anything I had found the previous year. The best part was that there is absolutely no sign of other hunters across the flooded timber.
Some of the best places my buddies and I have hunted were areas that were simply overlooked areas. The thought of finding a hard-to-reach spot as mentioned above is romantic, but in reality, they are much harder to find than areas that are simply skimmed over by other hunters.
In today’s day and age, there are a lot of folks who are more than willing to walk long distances and cross almost any obstacle to find the area of daylight deer movement that we all dream about. Because many hunters are so gung-ho about going in deeper than everyone else, myself included, there are usually lots of overlooked pockets that almost never have a human step foot in them.
To better explain these hidden gems, I talked to my friend and the co-host of the Southern Outdoorsmen Podcast, Jacob Myers. Jacob specializes in hunting places that no one else would think of, and this year he has been extremely successful while doing it. So far this season, Jacob has filled four tags, with three of them being on some very pressured public land. His most recent success came on a parcel of public land where he and his brother both tagged does, one aging at 3 1/2 and the other aging at 6 1/2, less than 300 yards from a popular parking area.
The parcel they killed those does on has very high pressure, so the 6 1/2-year-old doe was a true trophy. Any deer who has lived through that many hunting seasons knows how to avoid trouble, and she was living just off a road in a spot that most people ether drove or walked past.
I started off asking Jacob a simple question: What defines an overlooked spot?
“What defines an overlooked spot to me is an area that doesn’t jump out to the average person on a map. Topography is a big example of this. Most guys will focus on a major saddle but will miss a subtle bench on a side ridge just a few hundred yards away. That’s a great example of the kinds of areas I typically find pockets of deer.”
I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to getting lured in by big noticeable topography features. A big saddle may look perfect on a map, but you’re not the only one who can see it.
I went on to ask what are some common traits to look for when seeking out overlooked spots?
“Boundaries, old select-cut pines, secondary topography features or thick, nasty cover like privet thickets.”
One pattern I noticed with Jacob’s answer is that he is heavily focusing on thick cover. In the habitat types he described, you typically won’t be able to see past 40 yards, let alone shoot that far. Although they can be full of deer, these areas are usually difficult to hunt because of limited shot opportunities or a lack of good trees to climb.
Jacob also mentioned secondary topography features. We are all familiar with the saddles, large benches, draws and bowls that we tend to focus on. The problem is that on public land you don’t know how many other guys have also seen that feature and visited it. Depending on the amount of sign those other hunters leave, you may never know that there’s three other guys hunting it hard. In situations like that, a great spot can get burned out, and you can waste several precious hunts figuring that out.
Secondary topography features are really the same as the features you’re used to seeing, but they may be much less defined or in spots that you’d never consider hunting. Often times they are subtle features that get overshadowed by a bigger, better-looking spot nearby. Like Jacob said in his example of an overlooked spot earlier, some of the best overlooked spots may be in close proximity to a much better looking feature. The better looking feature draws everyone’s attention, and once it gets hunted hard, the deer will shift into nearby areas, often using similar terrain features that may be hard to notice on a map.
I asked Jacob about the difficulties of hunting the habitat types he described,
“The biggest difficulty I see guys having when trying to hunt the areas I described is the fact that there are very limited trees to climb,” said Jacob. “This is when a mobile, run-and-gun lock-on-and-stick combo, such as a Lone Wolf Alpha and sticks, or a tree saddle comes in handy. Setups like those allow you to get in a lot of trees that you’d have to walk past if you were using a climber.
“Another pretty important tool is an accurate mapping system. A good topo map is a must, and having a satellite image with topo lines overlaid onto it is ideal. I use onX maps. After you get a good mapping system, you need to familiarize yourself with the aerial imagery, as in you need to know what certain habitat types look like on an aerial image. For instance, when I look at a wintertime aerial image and see some green showing through the grey canopies of leafless hardwoods, I know that I’m probably looking at thick privet.”
What’s the learning curve like when trying to figure out hunting these areas?
“This is something we talk about quite a bit on our show,” said Jacob. “When you start to use these tactics, it can be pretty easy to lose confidence in yourself. What may look good on a map often looks totally different on the ground. Because there is a lot of trial and error involved in figuring this stuff out, I’d say the learning curve is pretty steep.”
Hunting The Spots
The reason overlooked spots and hard-to-access spots are so productive is because the deer aren’t getting pressured there. The longer the season goes on, the more the deer get bumped and educated on where the hunters usually come from and where they usually hunt. Simply put, the deer go live in the areas that people don’t go into.
When you do find a pocket of deer, it’s important that you don’t pressure them. The biggest mistake to be made when hunting these spots is to not have good entry and exit routes. If your entry route is bad, then the deer will know you’re in the area before you can even get into a tree.
After you take the time to get into an area without alerting any deer and hunt for several hours, it’s easy to get lazy with how you go back to the truck. Exiting your stand carefully without alerting deer is just as important as staying undetected during your entry and your hunt. Remember, the deer are in there because they think you’re not. As soon as they figure out that they are being hunted, they will change what they are doing or change where they are living.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Maxwell is the owner and co-host of the Southern Outdoorsmen Podcast and YouTube channel, and a State Captain for the Southeastern Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He can be reached at [email protected]
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