Pinch Points During The Rut — Giant Bucks Have No Place To Hide

Eric Bruce | November 1, 2008

Jay Maxwell’s state-record bow-kill from last season was taken on a 3-acre tract that was part of a 15-acre block of woods connected to other tracts by narrow, wooded drains. The combination of constricted habitat and the peak of the rut can make otherwise unkillable mature bucks more vulnerable, and it’s not just in suburban areas. Funnel and pinch points exist on most tracts.

The number of bowhunters traveling from Georgia to the Midwest is amazing. Although the bucks there are certainly impressive, it’s not just the size of the bucks and the numbers of them. Georgia has great bucks too, but the bucks in Iowa and Illinois are a lot more killable.

It’s a matter of terrain that limits a buck’s potential movement. Combine that with rutting activity, and you have a recipe for crossing paths with a giant buck.

Bob Coombs killed both a 156- inch buck and a 141-inch buck last sea- son with his bow. The previous year, he drilled a 182-inch monster with his crossbow, a state-record crossbow buck.

With that kind of success on giant  whitetails, one may presume that Bob hunts the Midwest. But Bob, of Roswell, scored on these trophies in Georgia, although the metro areas he hunts are similar in some ways to the terrain of the Midwest.

“How so,” you say? The Midwest is mostly flat with big agricultural fields. Interspersed around these fields and croplands are small wooded patches and forested stream corridors. There is a similarity between the Midwest and suburban areas, only instead of croplands interspersed with woods, there are subdivisions and shopping centers.

Both Midwestern and suburban deer are mostly confined to their wood- ed travel corridors. A big buck would rather not venture out into a wide-open cut corn field, and likewise, he’d rather not venture into a parking lot. Often these bucks have linear, strung out habitats that in places are narrow and confined.

When they’re on the move during the rut, it’s almost as if they have no place to hide.

The Midwest is known for its huge whitetails with magazine-cover racks. The terrain is primarily agricultural farmland broken up with small wood- lots, creek and river drainages, and small patches of forests in and around large croplands.

Bowhunters hunt the Midwest by setting up in these woodlots and drainages because that is where the deer are forced to move and hang out if they want some degree of cover and security. Mature trophy bucks will typically stay in cover and wooded areas so as not to unnecessarily expose themselves. These wooded areas will concentrate deer movement and allow the archer to key on locations for the best chance of arrowing a big buck.

Bob, and many bowhunters like him, hunt similar terrain in the suburban Atlanta area. But instead of wood lots being broken up with large crop- lands, they are instead interspersed with residential subdivisions, shopping malls, highways and other man-made structures.

“It’s more like spaghetti,” Bob says of the deer habitat in these suburban areas. “We have our road system and the deer have theirs, and they overlap,” he says of deer movement in the suburbs.

Bob hunts small wooded lots and green spaces as small as a few acres. He knows that each is connected to other wooded areas, and the deer will eventually use them. If you hunt an area enough, you might just be there when a big buck cruises through.

When his bow broke two seasons ago, Bob Coombs didn’t stop hunting during the peak of the rut — he got a crossbow. The result — a 182-inch, state-record crossbow buck. Bob describes the thin bands of deer habitat in the suburbs as like spaghetti.

A buck in these situations will have to range much farther than average because they have to travel more between forest patches and food sources.

“I noticed that older, dominant deer tend to roam. Bigger bucks cover more territory. It’s just a waiting game or crap shoot, you just have to be there when they come through,” Bob said.

A buck’s travel pattern in this type of terrain is more of a linear movement as they’re restricted to the thin wooded strips. Their travel routes or rounds can be much longer, and this in turn may cause their appearance through a particular funnel to be less frequent. It requires dedication, good scouting and a degree of luck to be in the right place at the right time.

Bob admits that he strikes out more often than he sees deer. He will hunt several times a week during the season hoping to be there when the big boy travels through.

When seeking out the best deer spots, Bob looks for particular features. “I try to find an area where I can see, but people can’t see me,” Bob said. “I look for a loafing spot, an area where deer hang out.”

More and more Georgians are taking trips to the Midwest for a chance to arrow a Midwestern monster buck. A typical tactic is to set a stand in a wooded creek bottom or narrow neck of woods between big agricultural fields. While a whitetail can walk where it wants, its natural instinct will guide it to stay close to or in cover. A similar scenario plays out in suburban areas, and with scouting and thought, the same principles can be applied to almost any tract of land.

Randy Birchfield hunts Fulton County and has taken numerous trophies from the suburbs. In 2003 he arrowed a 146-inch 10-pointer, and last season he took two good whitetails, a 126-inch 8-pointer and a 130-class 12-pointer with a drop tine. His father, who hunts the same properties, bagged a 151-class giant in 2005.

“It’s all about the timing,” Randy said. “Being there when he is. The main thing is to do your homework. I look for rub lines between the patches of woods.”

Randy hunts funnels or pinch points of mixed pine and hardwoods. One of his properties runs between some apartments and a school. He says he can often see people from his stand, but he believes that deer are smart and they know when it’s safe to come out. He also said that it is somewhat easier to pattern a buck’s movement when its habitat and travel corridors are constricted and limited.

Randy Birchfield and his dad Chuck have taken three record-class bucks with their bows in recent seasons, and all were killed on small tracts of land in heavily developed areas of south Fulton County.

Looking at an aerial photograph of the average Midwest land, it’s plain to see the wooded strips that deer will travel. A close inspection will show pinch points or funnels that constrict the movement of cruising bucks and allow for stand placement that greatly increases the chances for a shot.

When hunting small strips and patches, it’s also important not to hunt a spot too much or let the deer pattern you.

“I try to bounce around a little bit. I’ m jumping back and forth between
two funnels trying to catch him at the right time,” Randy said. “I don’t want to overhunt a stand. I don’t want to wear out my welcome.”

Lest you think suburban bowhunting is easy, all of these successful bowhunters emphasized that mature bucks are extremely wary, and it takes a lot of planning, homework and luck for all of it to come together.

With the uncommonly long travel routes and home ranges that extend linearly, urban and suburban bucks have different travel patterns than bucks on an average tract of Georgia woods. A suburban buck may pass through a certain stand location less often. Trail cameras have revealed that a particular buck takes as long as two weeks or more to make its rounds and return past a location.

Bob has trail-camera pictures of a giant that showed up only one day a month, and it was always near the same time of the month.

It may require persistence for a meeting to happen sometimes. But a hunter can count on one thing, when the buck makes his rounds, he will be traveling down the strip of woods, and not out in the parking lot or through a busy neighborhood.

Jay Maxwell knows a thing or two about shooting trophy bucks in small wooded areas. In addition to taking 131-, 151- and 175-inch deer with his bow in Illinois, Jay shot the state- record archery kill in Georgia last season, a 213-inch behemoth from Fulton County.

“I hunt food sources and major sign,” Jay said. “I look for any indication of a buck being there.”

He feels that hunting suburban corridors and patches is no different from hunting other areas in that you still have to find the food and buck sign. With those basic ingredients, the deer will be there.

“It’s constricted,” Jay said, “but they know the difference between predators (us) and non-predators, they’re used to dealing with cars and dogs.”

Jay, like the other suburban hunters, reiterates how mature bucks are extremely wary regardless of their locale. In addition to locating good sign and the right stand site, it takes many hours in the stand for it all to come together.

You may be thinking, “I don’t hunt suburban areas, so I don’t have access to this type of terrain with pinch points where deer movement is restricted.”

Funnels or pinch points combined with rut activity that gets big bucks moving is a tactic that applies to any piece of property, even a big tract of plantation pines in middle Georgia.

While the patches and strips of woods in suburbia and the Midwest are far different from the large vast expanses of woods across Georgia, there are some similarities and terrain funnels to look for.

Many hunters are on clubs with hundreds of acres, the vast majority all forest. All of that forest can be considered deer habitat to some degree, and bucks can and will use all of it at times to browse, cruise or hide in.

It can be difficult to pinpoint where a buck will be in large blocks of land that is all wooded. But when that land is broken up with portions that deer would rather not use, it is easier to narrow down where they will be and where they will travel.

If you hunt a large wooded tract, you still can use some of the same principles by assessing the habitat and locating travel corridors. All deer seem to prefer to move along stream corridors and wooded waterways. The veins of water and associated hard- woods, privet thickets and cane just seem to be natural highways for wildlife, and they are excellent places to hang a stand.

Funnels and pinch points are key to success in Midwest agricultural areas and suburban terrain, and they also exist in large blocks of woods. Look for swamps or lakes that may constrict deer movement. The sections around them are often excellent travel corridors. When two types of restrictive features exist near each other, a pinch point exists. A field near a river with a forest strip between the two, or a swamp near a road may have a killer deer trail running between them. A hardwood strip between two large pine plantations may be a funnel.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to Iowa or haven’t been able to find a sub- urban honeyhole in Georgia, with some homework you can find a restrictive funnel on your hunting land. Assess your hunting area, whether in your mind or by looking at an aerial photo- graph, and see if there may be some potential pinch points. That may be the place you will bust a cruising buck this fall, and with the rut and peak of chasing fast approaching, those mature bucks are going to be on the move. Might as well hunt where they have no place to hide.

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