Natural Destination Areas

Wild Game DynastyBucks n Bears, Friends of ELO

By:  John Eberhart.

As bowhunters we oftentimes tend to make things much more difficult than they need be. For
instance from the late 60’s through the mid 80’s the amount of hours I spent on stand per kill was
much higher than what it’s been since. In fact, since the late 80’s the amount of time I’ve spent
on stand has steadily decreased whereas my success rate has significantly increased.
How did I hunt differently back then compared to now? I used to hunt the standard short crop
field edges, perimeters of marshes and swamps and bedding areas, in large stands of mature
oaks, in stands of timber with no security cover understudy, at water sources in areas with other
water and along well used runways in areas with many of them. All of which are a shotgun
scatter approach to hunting.
A shotgun fires a blanket of pellets in hopes that one will hit the target and my old stule locations
required many hunts per season in hopes of hitting the intercepting the exact target date and time
because there were so many entry and exit routes into the bedding and or feeding areas, so many
water sources for deer to choose from, many oaks for deer to choose to feed under, and many
runway options in each type of area.
I’ve abandoned the broad scatter approach for a specific individual approach that requires
targeting very specific natural destination locations.
Since I exclusively hunt public and knock on doors for free permission properties, I deal with
heavy consequential hunting pressure (hchp) where there are 10 to 25 bowhunters per square
mile and the majority of them are targeting any legal antlered buck. In such areas bucks
surviving beyond their first set of antlers seemingly have PhDs at avoiding hunters.
The most critical requirement that every natural destination location in a hchp area should
require is some form of perimeter security cover around the kill zone as well as adequate
transition security cover to a known bedding area. On many occasions I’ve scouted properties
and found natural destination locations that didn’t have those security cover requirements and in
each case, I abandoned the property.
No matter how much or awesome the buck sign looks at a destination location, it’s meaningless
for hunting if it were made during the security of darkness due to the lack of security cover
because the odds of a daytime visit by a mature buck are slim to none. I love hunting as much as
the next person, but hunting over meaningless sign is a waste of my time.
While monster bucks in managed and lightly hunted areas are filmed being taken in short crop
fields, food plots, and in exposed areas on a regular basis, you likely don’t have the luxury of
hunting such area
The security cover required for taking mature bucks in hchp areas immediately negates exposed
open areas as hunting locations. If you’re happy taking subordinate bucks, does or just like
seeing deer, you can hunt exposed areas and be successful.
There’s no better way of explaining the importance of natural destination locations than to put it
in a human perspective. If I wanted to kill someone and couldn’t take another step once I planted
myself for the stakeout, which is what we do when ambush hunting, there are places where I’d
have nearly a 100% chance of an opportunity on the first attempt and all of them are our natural
destination locations. Examples are; in the bedroom, in the kitchen near the refrigerator where
the drinks and food are, along the driveway, or at their workplace.
Remember, I can’t move and notice I didn’t say; in the garage because they may choose to park
outside and go in the front door, in the dining room because they may choose to eat or drink
elsewhere in the house after leaving the kitchen, next to an entry door because most homes have
two or more entries, or along a route to work as they may choose a different route for some
reason.
Hiding in secondary locations would lower my odds of an opportunity and may require I make
additional attempts which would up the odds of either getting caught or altering the victim’s
routine before the task is accomplished.
The point is that the more specific and small the destination location, the higher the odds of a kill
opportunity whereas the more peripheral the ambush site is from an actual destination point, the
less likely of an opportunity and the more likely of altering routines with several intrusions.
For bowhunters pursuing 2 ½ year old and older bucks in hchp areas, if your locations offer
some form of perimeter security cover at them and transition security cover to them from known
bedding areas, the likelihood for opportunities will be far greater than if the locations are visually
exposed to open areas or there’s no security cover understudy in the area.
While I had above average success in my early years it was because I spent a lot of time on
stand. Even back then I paid attention to and evaluated my failed hunts and seasonal success and
adjusted accordingly and as seasons passed I began focusing on precise locations and noticed a
very consistent upswing in my success rates.
By the late 80’s I was focusing nearly 100% of my scouting and hunting time on natural
destination locations and tight pinch points within transition areas that offered both perimeter
and transition security cover. Being laser focused on where and how to prepare locations and
how and when to hunt them became key to hunting smart, spending less time on stand and
having more consistent success on mature bucks.
In no particular order, depending on the time of year or season, mature buck movements revolve
around food, bedding, sex and security during daytime movements and just like us they have
preferred specific areas for each.
During daylight when mature bucks are most vulnerable, adequate perimeter and transition
security cover is essential at destination locations for daytime visits. Perimeter security cover
doesn’t mean being in the middle of a briar patch or being totally surrounded by tall marsh
grasses or autumn olive, it simply means there needs to be some adequate height cover protecting
the location from a visual to open areas around it.
The transition security cover is required for an entry to the destination location as well as for a
quick and secure exit area from the location if needed. If a mature buck uses a transition zone
with security cover to enter a destination location, he will use the same route as an exit strategy if
there is danger because he had already used it safely.
As hunter’s it’s our scouting job to identify destination locations suitable for daytime mature
buck visits, properly set-up at them, choose the right time of day and season to hunt them, and
enter and exit them properly.
If you own or lease property with natural destination locations that don’t offer sufficient security
cover at or to them, you should consider intervention in the form of property manipulation by
creating perimeter security cover around them and adequate security cover in the best transition
zones to them from known bedding areas.
On a few private parcels I’ve scouted for others I was mildly shocked to see food plots where
they were not needed and were in my opinion a hindrance to success. It’s became clear that many
property owners or lease’s think that if they don’t have food plots, they can’t kill mature bucks.
After all that’s what the vast majority of TV and video personalities and print media writers have
programmed hunters to think.
I’ve never owned land, planted or hunted over a food plot and will admit that I don’t know much
about them other than they offer a preferred short food source and are exposed areas. However I
do know deer behavior in heavily pressured areas as well as anyone and am absolutely positive
that if you have access to natural destination food sources and other types of destination
locations that offer adequate security cover, food plots are not only not needed, they can have a
negative impact on your hunting psyche and success.
In hchp areas, if you have motion cameras on food plots, most if not all the mature buck pictures
you have will be taken during the security of darkness. Having bucks you want to kill, yet can’t
because of the manner you altered the property and hunt can impact your hunting psyche. While
food plots in large managed and lightly hunted areas might work great, they are definitely not a
daytime traffic or hunting cure-all on private parcels with natural destination locations.
While the film media may want you to believe their “100% wild” generic hunting methods and
techniques work no matter where you hunt, that can’t be farther from the truth because they
don’t. Successful bowhunting methods, techniques and tactics should vary greatly according to
the amount and type of hunting pressure in the area you’re hunting in.
In Michigan for instance I put much more thought into every aspect of every step I take when
hunting than I do when I travel out of state to areas where there’s far less hunting pressure, more
mature bucks, and where deer in general are far less wary of human intrusions and move with
more regularity during daylight hours than their brethren in hchp areas.
In hchp areas 90 plus percent of my scouting and location preparation is done during post season
when I can still identify the previous seasons rut sign and spooking deer is irrelevant. I learned
over 30 years ago that spooking mature bucks with my pre-season scouting and location
preparation intrusions turns them nocturnal through the early part of the season.
When I go out of state my scouting and location preparation is done the day or day and a half
before I begin hunting. I would never have that as a hunting plan in Michigan.
In order of importance; primary scrape areas, fruit and mast trees, interiors of bedding areas,
pinch points within transition corridors and water sources in areas otherwise devoid of water are
the top 5 types of destination locations I search for.
1.A primary scrape area can consist of one very large scrape to as many as a dozen scrapes in a
relatively open yet small area and they are always located in high doe traffic zones most
commonly within close proximity to a preferred food source, at pinch points within transition
corridors where multiple runways converge and where different terrain features meet and force
consolidation of general deer traffic. A primary scrape area is not to be confused with runway
scrapes along a particular buck’s travel route.
Each ground scrape will have one to several overhanging licking branches that are socially scent
marked by does and bucks in the area with their saliva, preorbital, nasal, and forehead glands and
the appeal of them increases leading up to the rut phases with peak activity being during pre-rut.
While scrape areas are usually perennial, crop rotations and fruit and mast production can cause
them to appear only during the seasons the trees produce food and the fields are in the right
crops. In hchp areas, if a scrape area is located on the perimeter of a short crop field or large
exposed area and it’s being used by a mature buck, it will likely be during the security of
darkness whereas subordinate bucks may visit it during daylight.
While rare, if a scrape area is too large to cover or the terrain design doesn’t allow full coverage
from a single ambush point, choose a location within a comfortable shooting distance to the
largest and most cupped out scrape as it will likely be the one most used by older bucks. If
they’re all similar sized, set up to shoot to as many as possible while keying on the one with the
most utilized overhanging licking branches.
No matter the area or state, well over half the bucks I’ve taken in the past 30 seasons were from
active primary scrape areas surrounded by some form of security cover with adequate transition
cover leading to them.
2. When fruit trees such as apple, pear and crabapple, and mast trees such as oaks that are located
within perimeter security cover bear food they are awesome locations that oftentimes become
primary scrape areas due to the consistent doe traffic feeding at them.
During post season scouting you won’t know if the trees will produce food in the fall, but if they
fit the security cover requirements, they should be set up as hunting locations and checked prior
to season for food and deer sign. If they don’t produce that fall it will be less work you’ll have to
do when they do produce food.
Isolated fruit and mast trees are excellent early season as well as rut phase locations if they are
still dropping food. The fewer of them there are in an area the more deer will compete to get
there first in the evening. I will not hunt fruit trees on morning hunts because I used to
consistently spook deer feeding at them with my before daylight entries and in big timber areas
with no surrounding ag fields I don’t hunt oaks in mornings for the same reason.
I will hunt oaks in mornings in agricultural areas where deer are typically in crop fields at night
and I will be on stand a minimum of an hour and a half before the crack of dawn so as not to
spook a mature buck that may leave an exposed crop field before daybreak and may feed on
acorns in a more secure area until dawn.
If in timber with lots of oaks, search for white oaks, and if there are a lot of them, choose the one
closest to the best transition cover or nearest a known bedding area as it will likely be the first
tree a mature buck would visit in the evening.
White oaks are identified by their; rough bark up the tree and out each branch, rounded lobes on
their leaves, and their dime sized acorns. Burr oaks found in wet areas like swamps or along
rivers are a species of white oak that have big fuzzy caps on their acorns.
Red oaks are identified by their smooth bark up and out each branch, pointed lobes on their
leaves, and large quarter sized acorns.
Do yourself a favor this fall and pick up one of each. Shell them and eat the white first and then
the red. You will not forget this test and will immediately know why deer prefer whites. You’ll
spit out the red due to its strong bitter tannins.
Deer definitely eat red oak acorns, but if there are whites in the vicinity and they offer similar
security cover, they will visit them first during daylight.
3. Depending on the circumstances, for the life of me, I can’t understand why hunters don’t
strategically hunt within bedding areas where mature bucks spend most of their days.
Bedding areas have many entry and exit routes with unlimited directions a deer can go when
outside them, so with limited rut phase hunting time, why not strategically hunt within the tighter
confines of their home?
In hchp areas the vast majority of daytime chasing and breeding by mature bucks takes place
within the secure confines of bedding areas. Never forget that killing and not listening from the
outside perimeter of a bedding area, is the end goal.
Many state gun seasons coincide with the peak rut when mature bucks are typically with or are in
search of estrus does, so unless you have control over a large area, the likelihood of a mature
buck wandering beyond your fence line and getting shot is pretty good. So why not strategically
plan a couple all-day interior bedding area bowhunts just prior to gun season.
Interiors of bedding areas need to be scouted for more precise destination locations. This
scouting and location preparation must be done during post season when spooking deer with
your intrusions will be irrelevant to fall movements.
When scouting within bedding areas search for; scrape areas, isolated mast and fruit trees, scrape
and or rub lined runways, rub clusters, and small openings where several runways may converge.
Large standing cornfields are bedding areas and mature bucks will transition between them and
bordering timber wherever the most secure transition route butts up to them. While I never hunt
perimeters of short or picked cornfields in Michigan, I do hunt perimeters of standing cornfields
and punched my first 2015 buck tag on a 10 point from such a location.
If you know a field will be planted in corn and there’s a lone oak within it, it needs to be
prepared as a location. During the years the oak has acorns and the field is in standing corn,
hunting it at any time of season can be productive.
Swales or openings in standing cornfields are also great locations as deer will oftentimes skirt
their edges when transitioning. These locations may require a ground blind be prepared later in
the summer.
On private parcels, if there are several hunters with equal authority, if you hunt within the
bedding areas, they may want to as well. Interiors of bedding areas are for very specific and
strategic solo hunting so if this is the case, leave them as sanctuary areas otherwise multiple
hunter intrusions will severely alter daytime movements.
Most public lands are large enough that if you research aerials and do the legwork, you can
usually locate an isolated honey hole where others are unwilling to go due to the work involved
in getting there and those are the exact locations mature bucks are pushed into once the
avalanche of pre-season scouting and hunting begins.
Two musts when hunting with bedding areas, you must be quietly on stand and hour and a half
prior to daybreak so as not to spook bucks transitioning into them prior to daylight, remain on
stand all day and not leave until after dark. Anything short of that and you’re likely going to
spook deer.
Another must is a serious scent control regimen as deer may come in from any direction.
4. While rare, a small pocket of water in an area otherwise devoid of water is a phenomenal
destination location, especially during warm weather. Areas devoid of other water sources
excludes areas with wet swamps, creeks and rivers and areas after a hard rain when there would
be standing pools of water. Deer have to have water and if the source offers the right security
cover it will have daytime traffic.
5. Pinch points or funnels within transition corridors can be simulated to an hour glass where
deer movements from one area to another tapers down to its narrowest passageway point. While
pinch points are not true destination locations where deer linger, they are natural travel corridors
that connect destination sites or areas.
Funnels can be between or in; large stands of timber, long meandering saddles and draws, along
brushy and marshy areas that border and follow rivers and creeks, bedding areas, along terrain
feature breaks such as along bottoms of ridges, at the tip of a protrusion of cover that extends out
into a crop field, dry ground gaps in boggy marshes and swamps, and where crop fields are
misconfigured.
One of my favorites which are visually difficult to identify are shallow areas of creeks and rivers.
Deer know where shallow areas are in waterways and will go out of their way to cross there
because they can walk across the waterway as opposed to having to swim across.
Pinch points between bedding and feeding areas get used the entire season however the amount
and type of hunting pressure an area receives coupled with the security cover the transition
corridor offers will dictate whether or not a mature buck will use it during daylight hours.
From an amount of sits standpoint, my history of success on mature bucks in hchp areas in
funnels between bedding to open feeding areas is so dismal that I rarely prepare those types of
locations anymore.
Transition corridor funnels between bedding areas are a preference and are only hunted during
the rut phases as mature bucks are laser focused on searching their core areas for estrus does and
the most likely places to find them are within bedding areas. The odds of mature bucks searching
these haunts for hot does during daylight hours are high due to the peaking of their testosterone
levels and hunting them midday between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm have proven to be the
most productive.
My top 4 location options all have one common denominator; they are all natural destination
locations where deer will linger for a period of time making proper location preparation an
absolute must so you don’t get picked. Because I hunt from a harness I set up on the opposite
side of the tree and use the trunk as a blocker from the destination site. For stand users make sure
you’re set up high enough to not get picked as lingering deer are always looking around in trees.
I can’t reiterate enough that a requirement every destination location in an hchp area should have
is some form of perimeter security cover around the location as well as adequate security cover
along the transition routes to it.
Editor’s note: John has 31 bucks in the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan record book from
19 different properties in 10 different counties and has another 19 P&Y bucks from 13 different
properties on 22 out of state bowhunts while exclusively hunting public and knock-on-doors for
free permission properties.
Eberhart’s Whitetail Workshops – Whether you hunt public, free permission, family owned,
leased, managed or out of state properties; attending one of John’s 2 day in-field/classroom
workshops will give you the knowledge to take those big bucks you get on camera.
For information on Eberharts Whitetail Workshops please visit: www.deer-john.net or contact
John by e-mail at: deerj[email protected]gmail.com