by Bill Vaznis
In the vast, comparatively uniform cover of the big woods, rutting bucks may seem to run willy-nilly. Actually, their routes are fairly predictable. They just aren’t as obvious here as they are in farm country, where small woodlots, fencelines, and narrow creekbottoms funnel bucks. To catch a cruising trophy in the big woods now, look for the four subtler travel corridors below.
#1 – The Transition Area
During the rut, big-woods bucks love to cruise the edge where softwoods meet hardwoods. You’ll commonly find rubs of varying ages that help mark the way, and perhaps the odd cluster of scrapes, especially in low-lying areas.
Still-hunt from just within the softwoods. If you do discover a concentration of fresh rubs or scrapes, hang a tree stand in a big evergreen nearby. A mix of estrous doe bleats and tending grunts can lure a mature buck close.
#2 – The Side of the Road
Deer also parallel logging roads and ATV trails just on the downwind side. There they can easily detect human traffic. They may eventually cross over, but only where ample roadside cover lets them stay fairly well hidden.
Still-hunt on a parallel route slightly downwind of the deer trail. If you come to an area with good cover–such as a brushy stream or patch of young pines–crowding an otherwise open roadside, set up on the ground to ambush a crossing buck. Larger-than-average tracks on the road should be a dead giveaway. (Be sure to check local regs before hunting these areas.)
#3 – The Skidder Trail
Abandoned skidder trails draw rutting bucks because the easy routes save them calories. Commonly marked with rubs, scrapes, tracks, and droppings, they may be too overgrown for you to still-hunt effectively. But setting up a tree stand can pay off for the patient hunter. Avoid walking on the path itself getting to your stand. And don’t call much once you get there. Left alone, a buck that’s on the trail will likely stay on it–and walk right to you.
#4 – The Shoreline
Finally, big-woods bucks also parallel the edges of creeks, rivers, and ponds. You should have no trouble finding rub and scrape lines within sight of the water. If you’re still-hunting, look for a lightly worn deer trail along the shoreline or stream bank and parallel it just downwind.
Good spots for stand hunters include gentle slopes that lead down to the water, jutting points or peninsulas, and crossings, such as riffles, narrows, or beaver dams. Bucks also tend to hug the shore as they sneak around bays. If you can approach such an area by canoe and position a portable stand so the wind blows your scent toward the water, you’ll have a good shot at paddling a buck back to camp.