Edge Your Way in to a Trophy Buck

With archery season quickly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about stand placement.  Hunting is an odds game, you have to be in a high percentage location for the most success.  Those locations are often funnels such as bottle necks and travel routes such as edges. Deer along with many other animals, including humans are creatures that love to travel along edges.

Hard Edges

There are two types of edges. The first are hard edges, they are a major break from one terrain to another. An example of a hard edge is a field meeting woods, the location of two terrains meeting together. Deer love to travel these edges; however most bucks love to travel the hard edge from inside the woods.

This map shows the line of a hard edge. Expect a mature buck to travel inside the cover of the woods and not in the open field.

A classic example of how deer travel hard edges was a hunt in Bayfield County during the pre-rut when I was scouting the edge of a large clear cut. I noticed several scrapes out on the clear cut’s open edge, however inside the woods approximately seventy five yards along the south east corner of the clear cut there were numerous large rubs. The rub line paralleled the clear cut’s edge. The dilemma I had was deciding if I was going to place my stand on the open edge overlooking the clear cut that had scrapes along it, or inside the woods overlooking the rub line. Knowing that most trophy class public land bucks won’t feel comfortable exposing themselves out in the open of the clear cut, I opted to hunt the trail that followed along the rubs that parallel the open edge.

As the sun began to rise that cold November morning it wasn’t long when I heard a snap from a broken twig and the swishing of leaves from shuffling feet. A big north woods eight point was walking along the trail of rubs inside the wood line. I quickly came to full draw, made a grunt with my voice to stop him, and made a perfect shot on a stump just over his back, never to see that big brute ever again. Yes, buck fever got the best of me. As I sat there in my stand I began to analyze what made that set up a productive one, minus the poor shot.

For starters there where several trails that ran straight from the woods to the clear cut, there were about a half dozen of these north and south trails (from woods to clear cut.) Then inside the woods on the south and east side of the clear cut approximately seventy five yards in the woods was a trail that traveled parallel to the clear cut that was littered with rubs.

The above map shows how deer use hard edges. Hunt the cross trail to intercept a buck this fall.

What this big brute was doing is waiting till mid-morning, to let any possible does that were feeding out in the clear cut time to travel the north and south trails directly back to bed for the morning. By traveling on the east and west trail, he was able to cross trail or check each north and south trail as he crosses them to scent check for a hot doe. After checking one trail, he continued east until he came to the next trail and checked that one. He continued to do this until I decided to send a warning shot in his direction. Big bucks are opportunistic and during the rut they are working at peak efficiency trying to scent check and cover as much ground using as little energy as possible. This buck was not only scent checking trails but he was traveling in the south east corner of the cut over. By doing this he was also able to use the wind to his advantage. With a North West wind, any scent of a hot doe would be blowing to the south east right into the nose of this old north woods buck. Also the rubs I found where made either by him or other bucks taking out their aggression and leaving scent markers of their travel route which was on the cross trail.  Even though I was not able to seal the deal on this buck, it is a classic example of how deer use hard edges.

The author’s brother, Clint Fletcher harvested this buck while hunting a hard edge consisting of a pine plantation meeting open marsh grass.

 Recap About Hard Edges

•You will find majority of scrapes along the open side of a hard edge. •Look inside the woods of a hard edge for a cross trail that parallels the field. •Hunt the cross trail on the downwind side of a field especially during the pre-rut and seeking phase.•Focus your efforts just off of the field edge into the woods. Unless during the rut, most trophy class bucks will not expose themselves to the openness of the field.   They will always maintain a position of cover.•Hard edges are most productive during the pre- rut.

Soft Edges

The second type of edge is called soft edges. These are two terrains that are semi different meeting in a same location. An example of a soft edge is an oak hard woods meeting a cedar swamp. Soft edges can also be a location in the woods of the same tree species but different arrangement, basically where a thick stand of pines meeting a more open stand of pines. The soft edges are my favorite edges to hunt, however you must be observant to spot these edges, as I have often found that the most productive soft edges can be hard to spot.

The above picture shows thick short pines meeting tall open pines, creating a soft edge.

An example of a soft edge is an area on a piece of property I used to hunt. It was an oak hardwoods draw that was approximately two hundred yards wide. I set up my stand more in the center of the draw hoping to catch a buck traveling in the draw feeding on acorns. On every occasion I saw deer traveling approximately eighty yards to the south of me. Enough was enough and I knew I needed to move. As I walked over to where I was seeing the deer traveling, I noticed right away why all the deer where traveling to the south of me. Most of the draw was open oaks, however south of my original stand location was a thick line of blackberry brush and the deer where walking along the edge of the brush. With most of the draw being wide open, the deer felt more comfortable traveling along the thick black berry brush, using it as a point of reference for them to travel though the draw. Another example of a soft edge was the buck I shot last fall. I was hunting a soft edge consisting of jack pines meeting poplar trees along a drainage ditch. There was a trail that funneled down through the jack pine point, leading to the drainage ditch, the trail then crossed and followed the drainage ditch to thick red willows. It was the end of October and a doe being chased by two bucks, the second was the one I shot. The doe used this soft edge to elude the two boys that were chasing her.  Whether it is early season or late fall, deer travel soft edges to get from one location to the other.

The author harvested this buck last fall as he chased a doe along a soft edge.

Recap about soft edges

•Soft edges are subtle and often over looked.•They can be productive at all times of the season.•Soft edges make great travel corridors during the rut.•Deer often travel along soft edges because they use them as a point of reference when traveling. Much in the same way we travel on a particular road to work every  day. •Unlike hard edges, set up on the more open side of the edge, and make sure you are with in shooting distance of the soft edge.

In conclusion, animals are creatures of habit and edges. The next time you take a walk in the woods, pay attention to the terrain that you walk though. When you stop and think about it, you also travel edges just like deer. The key is to take a step back and study how you would travel through the woods because often deer travel the exact same way, and that travel is along some form of edges whether it be a soft edge or a hard edge. Pay attention to this and key in on edges this year to edge your way in to a trophy buck this year.

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