How to Map Trophy Bucks During The Rut by Brad Herndon

Mapping Tips for Deer Hunting Success

Deer hunting hotspot, a saddle, by Brad Herndon

A saddle is the hottest spot in the hills for a close range shot at a trophy buck.

It was November 7 as I climbed  the ladder to the hang-on stand in the large oak tree, one strategically grown in an inside corner. Just past 8:00 a.m. a button buck sprinted into the corner and looked nervously behind him. Something was up. Within minutes I saw the figure of a blocky deer in the brush. He stopped, looked around, then walked a few more steps; on he came.

Within a minute he was in my corner. He was old, that was obvious, probably 4 1/2 years of age. He wasn’t a high scoring deer, perhaps in the low 120s, but he had a good look to him and I knew I would be happy with this old warrior.

The buck paused to look over his surroundings once more, stopping in an opening among the trees. The sight pin rested just behind his shoulder and soon the arrow disappeared through the deer’s chest. He jumped sideways perhaps 10 yards and turned back toward me, wondering what had happened. Within seconds he attempted to go on, but within 40 yards slumped to the ground, giving up his life among the thousands of leaves that had fallen to the ground only a few days earlier.

This buck is one of many I have killed during the rut and each time I have connected by placing myself in hot travel corridors that bucks will use when out searching for estrous doe. The rut, by the way, will vary in some regions of our country, but normally the rut will run from November 7 to November 23, with the peak in most areas being November 10-20. Any time during the rut is a good time to hunt, but I am more successful on higher scoring bucks during the tail end of the rut, so you might keep that in mind. Now let’s see where the hot spots are located in which you need to place your stand.

Hunt The Inside Corners 

How to map trophy bucks, inside corners, by Brad Herndon

What in inside corner looks like on a topo map.

An inside corner is simply a corner notch in a flat woods or hilly region. When bucks are out traveling they will cut around these corners when going from one region of the timber to another because it is the shortest route. They will stay inside the timber, of course, in order to stay out of sight during daylight hours.

Typically inside corners are overlooked by most bow benders because they often contain only one trail, and scrapes and rubs may not be there, so it doesn’t look exciting. Incidentally, this is true of many hot choke points, so don’t let this discourage you.

            Inside corners can be found visually if you are familiar with a region, but the best way to find them is by using both topographical and aerial maps. As always, be sure to check wind direction before hunting an inside corner. TV weather stations and Internet weather sites can give you wind directions, but by far the most accurate way to determine wind direction is by using a portable weather radio and carrying it with you.

How to map trophy deer hunting areas, wind check, by Brad Herndon

Always check wind direction before hunting any stand site.

Entry into an inside corner is usually excellent, such as through a farm field or pasture. Wait for the perfect wind to blow your scent back out into the field and you are in the driver’s seat for getting big bucks, believe me.

Key In On Flat Land Funnels

            Wide fencerows with trees that connect two tracts of timber in flat land areas are just flat out dynamite locations to place your tree stand because it chokes deer movement down to a narrow spot perfect for bow shots. By using the aerial and topo maps, these spots are easy to find. Also look for narrow strips of timber along streams that bucks will use as travel corridors. Swamps sometimes “bulge out” toward a nearby field and these can be hot spots as well. The tops of levees can also carry good deer movement during the rut.

            Many hunters wonder what the best time is to be on stand for success during the rut. I have killed good bucks both early in the morning and late in the evening, but the vast majority of the good bucks I have killed have occurred between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. This occurs because bucks have been with does during the night, and by morning they are tuckered out. After snoozing a while, they are up and searching again, and this falls in that 10:00 a.m. time frame. 

How to map trophy deer, flat land funnels, by Brand Herndon

In flat land look for narrow spots that serve as travel corridors for bucks during the day.

Hunt the Hilly Hot Spots

            While inside corners in the hills can certainly be a hot location in which to arrow the buck of a lifetime, it isn’t the best choke point in the hills. The saddle is, and saddles have really been good to me. Saddles are simply low spots in ridgelines. Because deer are lazy just like humans, they will use the saddle when out traveling because it is the easiest route from one valley bottom to another.

            Aerial maps are a picture from above so they don’t show saddles. The topographical map with elevation contour lines, meanwhile, graphically shows saddles in hilly regions, so that is the map to use.  Here’s a map showing how to effectively hunt a saddle.

How to map trophy deer, the saddle guide, by Brad Herndon

This illustration shows how to hunt saddles in order to be successful.

Another hilly location I have been successful in is what I call the hilltop field funnel. When a valley meanders up into the hills and starts climbing into the higher elevations, it sometimes will peter out at the top at a farm field or pasture. Oftentimes the location where this stream ends at the top a flat, narrow area is formed between the stream and the field or pasture. This is an incredibly productive spot for a tree stand, and the entry to the stand is ideal when coming through the field or pasture. You must, however, wait for the correct wind, and this takes patience.

            Another hot spot normally overlooked in the hills is the top of a pond or lake dam. Essentially the dam connects the two hillsides, so rather than go all the way down the hill and back up below the dam, moving bucks simply walk across the top of the dam. I know of two awesome dam funnels in a hilly region in a nearby county and they are rarely hunted by archers. Check them out in your area. 

Hunt the Break Lines—Where the Aerial Map Excels

            While topo maps have their easy-to-use contour lines that reveal saddles, hilltop field funnels, and other important topographical formations, they are a drawing, not a picture of the landscape. Being photographs, aerial maps show the actual streams, trees, bushes, fields, houses, roads and so forth. Because of this the aerial map will reveal the break line in a woods. As you will quickly recognize, the brushy areas and mature timber areas will look entirely different on the aerial map.

            Break lines are formed when one area of a woods is cut-over timber, but an adjacent area owned by someone else is not cut over. What we end up with in a few short years is a thick, brushy tract in the timbered area, and the adjacent woods being open and more mature.

            In these situations deer will bed in the thick area and spend time browsing on the abundant saplings found in the re-growth. The deer will also form several trails snaking in and out of this thicket, but most importantly they will form a trail running the length of the break line and it will be located within the open timber, not the brushy area. There will be a ton of scrapes found along this break-line trail.

            Both my wife Carol and I have successfully bow hunted break-line trails for over 35 years. We do well on them during the rut because when out traveling, bucks will travel the length of this break-line trail and simply scent check the deer trails coming in and out of the thicket to see if a hot doe has used one of them.

How to map trophy deer, by Brad Herndon with buck

The author, Brad Herndon, with a 4-1/2 year old buck taken on an inside corner.

If hunting a break-line trail in a smaller tract of woods, stay near the edges of the woods in order to use the wind to your advantage. If  hunting a break-line in a large forest, you can more effectively hunt the break-line trail within the forest because bucks seem to travel the length of it for some distance and by using a crosswind to the trail, you’re usually in business.

            If you will use the information above, I can guarantee you that your success rates  on bucks–especially trophy bucks– will dramatically increase. And once you tag them, they have to be field-dressed and butchered. This is where Havalon knives come in handy.

I am decent at sharpening a knife, but like most deer hunters there are other things I would rather do. However, by using Havalon knives with their quick-change blades, field-dressing and butchering deer becomes a fast and efficient task—with no knife sharpening ever required. The only problem you may encounter is having to be a little more careful since the Havalon blades are so sharp compared to the knives you normally use!

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Editor’s Note: The author’s best selling book, Mapping Trophy Bucks, can be purchased at Amazon here Mapping Trophy Bucks by Brad Herndon.  Many consider this one of the best deer hunting books of all time. 

Have you used mapping to bag a deer?  Share a note below.

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3 Responses to How to Map Trophy Bucks During The Rut by Brad Herndon

  1. Pingback: Bow Hunting The Late Deer Season by Brad Herndon

  2. Tyler Wessel says:

    These are some great tips and stories! I’m ready to get back out there and start huntin again.

  3. An interactive map application on the website of the city called “Where is my house” allows users to write the address of a property, and know instantly if it falls within the city limits.

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