Terrain can be a hunter’s best friend or worst nightmare. It all depends on how you use it to your advantage and that comes largely from knowing what you’re working with. You could have the best hunting clothing on the market and use the best hunting crossbow as a weapon, but without the right information you have all the odds stacked against you in the whitetail woods.
There are two major elements that can either help or hurt your deer hunting experience. The first is a deer’s eyesight. The second is a deer’s nose. If you simply choose the easiest, fastest, least taxing way to enter and exit your tree stand and don’t consider the fact that there are DEFINITELY deer out there on red alert, your hunt can be over before it starts.
The way you move to and from your stand locations should be dictated by the terrain that you can use in your favor to keep hidden from a deer’s line of sight and away from their noses. For instance, if you know that deer be on a ridge opposite the one you hunt, it’s probably not a good idea to walk that ridgeline. Your silhouette will stick out like a sore thumb to those deer, raising the red flag not to move that direction when they get up.
Likewise, a deer’s sense of smell can be a great alarm system for them, alerting them to anything that smells remotely human encroaching on their area. Even practicing the best scent control with sprays and cover scent, if you’re not careful about where your scent is blowing and what deer it might be alerting while you’re walking to your stand, they can easily stand up and slip silently out of the area, leaving you skunked at the end of the hunt.
This is where scouting for terrain features comes into play. The best way to learn how the terrain features of the property you hunt can aid you in staying undetected by deer is to see how they interact with where the deer are likely going to spend much of their time. The best way to learn this information is by scouting when there is no underbrush to compete with. Thick, green underbrush is the mask worn by Mother Nature, hiding the things that could very well help you be a better hunter.
The first thing to note are ridges and valleys. Even if they are slight, they can still be significant. If you know where deer are going to bed and you know you have to walk within a couple hundred yards of that location to get to your stand, create a walking path that uses the elevated ridges to keep you out of sight. Other terrain features such as river bottoms, especially those with steep banks. They are fantastic to use as a shield from a deer’s vision.
The second piece to this is know the wind direction when you intend to hunt. If your wind is blowing even slightly toward a bedding area like this, or anywhere else the deer are going to congregate as you walk to or from your stand, it’s best not to hunt. Deer learn very quickly to avoid areas where they can detect human scent. If it is possible, however, that your stand is in the clear but you would have to walk somewhere to get to it where the deer might catch your wind, devise a backup route that is still safe. Even if it means walking an extra half mile or more, it will be worth it to not alert the deer of your presence and your scent.
Knowing the terrain of where you’ll be hunting does take practice and hard work but in the end, when you’re crossbow is leaning against a Boone and Crocket whitetail and have meat in your freezer, it will all be worth it.