Scouting for Deer with Topo Maps


Going In Blind Isn't All That Bad If You Use Maps to Scout

(Shutterstock/Rainer Lesniewski photo)

Speed scouting with maps can quickly put you on big bucks. It works. You just have to know how to get the job done.

Why Speed Scout?

Whether you’ve been drawn for a special hunt in an unfamiliar area, are hunting out of state or are just hunting a new location in your home area, maps allow you to quickly find strategic deer travel corridors. The best map to use is a topographical map, but aerial maps are also useful, especially on flat land. The following are the steps to use when scouting with maps.

Scouting Flat Turf

On flat land, first look for inside corners. An inside corner is formed when a woods is built in the shape of an “L.” When the deer move from one end of the timber to the other end, they oftentimes will cut around the inside corner just inside the woods so they will remain out of sight. Inside corners with large tracts of timber on each side will usually carry the most deer traffic.

An inside corner can be hunted effectively, since you can usually enter a field or pasture to your stand site. If done carefully, you can use the wind to your advantage without ever crossing a deer trail. The same situation occurs when you look for narrow funnels connecting two tracts of timber.

Major League Bowhunter Binocular in Realtree MAX-1 by VANGUARDGenerally, a narrow tract of timber will connect two large bodies of forest. At other times, a stream will meander from one large wood to another and the trees along this form a funnel deer feel safe traveling through during daylight hours. Both of these configurations can easily be identified on both an aerial and topographical map.

Other hot locations to look for are formed by streams or swamps. Often a swamp will bulge out toward the side of a woods and a thin strip of timber can be found there between the swamp and an adjoining field or pasture. Smaller streams, rivers, ponds and lakes can create the same type of strategic stand location. Another great terrain feature — one often overlooked — is a dam funnel. I know of several ponds and decent sized lakes where the deer in the area use the top of the dam to travel from one side of the lake to the other. A treestand on either side of the dam can be highly productive in these cases.

Also, be alert for heavy fencerows connecting tracts of timber. They can be red-hot big buck spots. At times a ground blind will need to be used in this type of setup if big trees aren’t available.

Play Detective in The Hills

Hills intimidate many hunters because they are complicated and often cover large areas. Maps will help you figure them out. The hottest spot in the hills is a saddle, which is a low spot in a ridgeline. Saddles can be easily discovered once you learn to read elevation contour lines on topographical maps. Saddles have another great advantage in the hills since the wind is predictable up high and this means you can put the odds in your favor, not the deer’s favor.

Another super position you can speedily find in the hills is the hilltop field funnel. This narrow deer funnel is formed when a stream snakes its way from a valley floor below up to the top of a hill. If a field or pasture lies at the top of the hill, the location between the field and where the stream peters out at the top will oftentimes be narrow and you will find a heavily used deer trail etched in this location. Once more, the wind can be easily used to your advantage and entry to the stand can be secretly made through the field or pasture.

Hubs, Benches and More

In hilly regions, there are sometimes places where several ridges come together. This converging hub formed by this terrain configuration is a hot setup, especially for the firearm hunter, because several deer trails will converge there.

Another hilly terrain deer funnel that can pay off is a bench. A bench is a flat area on a hillside. Deer favor benches when traveling the length of the hillside. If the bench is fairly wide a topo map will reveal its presence.

Basically, the elevation contour lines above the bench will be close together, then where the bench is located there will be two contour lines farther apart, designating the flatness of the bench. Below the bench the contour lines will once more be close together, showing the hill drops off steeply once more. If a bench is very narrow, it can’t be seen on a topo map. You’ll have to get into the woods and recon the area to find such a “hidden” bench. Hey, you can’t have everything.

When hunting benches, a hunter has to have a good understanding of how the wind flows in hilly regions. This is another story in itself and usually it takes a few trips into a location to see how the wind changes in this location. Although benches are both harder to discover and hunt than some other placements, the extra effort you exert in discovering this terrain feature can really pay off. My biggest bow kill to date came from a bench.

Also be on the lookout for fencerows traversing the tops of hilltops, especially those connecting two hillsides that are timbered. A friend of mine missed a Boone & Crockett trophy in just such a location a few years back.

Finally, don’t forget the inside corners in the hills. The best ones in the hills normally are the high ones since you can use the wind to your favor there. In hollows, the wind swirls and you can get winded by whitetails. My wife Carol has killed a ton of good bucks out of one inside corner in a hilly region. It’s good year after year and is easy to hunt — if you’re patient.

In closing, by learning how to read both aerial and topographical maps, you will be able to go into a region you have never before hunted and have the majority of your scouting done in a short period of time. Speed scouting with maps will pay big dividends. Bank on it.

Editor's Note: This was originally published November 11, 2016.

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