Bowhunting Tactics That Deliver Trophies—Part 1

August 29, 2011


The ability to effectively read topo maps empowers hunters to scout a property from the comfort of their own home.

Studying the contour (topo) map, I knew I’d found a killer stand site. A sharp erosion cut sliced up the side of a steep wooded ridge, stopping about 20 yards short of a deep saddle. It was the merging of three funnel features into one. If the cut was even half as deep or sides anywhere near as steep as the map indicated, deer would not want to cross it. They also wouldn’t want to needlessly climb the extra 50 some feet of steep ridge that flanked both sides of the saddle. With ridge snaking through the woods for over a mile, it was a safe bet that bucks would be running that, as well. As if to add a cherry on top, that map showed that swampland, highly likely to be used as bedding areas, was positioned on both sides of the ridge. There was little doubt that this spot had tremendous potential.

Located over a mile and a half from the nearest access point, with map in hand and a stand and set of climbing sticks on my back, I began the walk to see this funnel for myself. Though I’d only have one day I could hunt this spot, I was far from disappointed that I’d have to work this hard to get to the location. Because I was hunting public lands, I wagered the extra work of packing the stand in with me that the local hunters hadn’t studied a topo map of the area and that they’d be hunting much closer to the road. I was right, and I wasn’t disappointed with what I’d found.

With the stand set, well before first light, I made my way back to the funnel the next morning. Even as I climbed into the tree, I could hear the distinct trotting sounds of an approaching buck. Still well before first light, the large shadowy figure slipped through the saddle within easy bow range of my stand. I won’t even pretend to know how big he was, but I can safely say he had a lot of bone on his head.

The rest of the day was one I’ll cherish for the rest of my bowhunting days. From my stand, I can’t even tell you how many different bucks I saw. As I put in my hunting logs, “somewhere between 12 and 17 different bucks, 2 or 3 of them shooters. Too many to give antler and age stats. The times ranged from before first light to ten minutes before dark, with spurts of action spread out over the entire sit. They were everywhere, but more passed the stand than anything else. Only change would be to shift to the tree 10 yards down from southeast corner of saddle to pick up shots at where the two slobs crosses the cut. Amazing stand location! 9.5 (out of 10 rating)”

As you probably figured out, I didn’t shoot a buck that day. I didn’t even draw my bow. To be honest, the only reason I didn’t was because I ignored a faint crossing that occurred in a comparatively easier spot to cross than the rest of the cut. One big boy followed the cut up to that point and crossed, instead of climbing the extra 20 yards to the tip. He may have been the same buck I’d seen before first light. The other was running the ridge side and crossed there. Still, despite the property being hunted heavily, the ability to effectively read topo maps had provided me with one of the best day’s I’ve ever had on a stand. If I hadn’t had to leave the next day, who knows what it would have produced.

Benefits Of Map Reading

As was the case with that hunt, topo maps can be very valuable scouting tools. I personally rely on them so heavily and have had such success using them to locate potentially hot stand locations that I feel blind scouting without one.

One of the main benefits of reading topo maps comes from minimizing the risks of missing good stand sites. As the public land hunters illustrated by missing the funnel stand that began this piece, it can be easy to miss stand sites while foot scouting that stick out like sore thumbs on a topo map. The bird’s eye view they provide displays a big picture overview that can’t be found from the ground.

As beneficial as using maps to uncover stands during off-season scouting is it even more so when in-season scouting is required. When scouting during the season, finding quality stands is certainly a goal. However, keeping deer ignorant to being hunted and not pushing them off their current patterns is every bit as important.

That’s where the ability to read topo maps can be worth its weight in gold. Instead of blindly stumbling around the woods, if there is any relief to the property at all, one can find the many of the most promising stand site locations before even hitting the woods.

Of course, one still must foot scout the locations to gauge their true value. However, one can first generate a list of the top potential spots. Then, the lowest impact routes to these locations can be determined. The ability to slip in and out, without trashing the entire woods scouting, greatly reduces the disturbances typically required to find a property’s hot spots.

Another advantage that topo maps commonly provide is the ability to piece travel patterns together more effectively. Assuming a basic knowledge of the property’s food sources, the topography often shows the best routes to and from these areas. Furthermore, many bedding sites are also based on topography. From simply knowing where the deer feed, this ability to read maps often enables savvy hunters to make educated guesses on where the deer bed and how they travel back and forth to feed.

Luckily, all of this can be accomplished through some basic map reading skills and a little experience. Even for map reading novices, learning to read maps can be done relatively easily.

Next Part 2: Map Reading 101: Woods, Water, Ridges, Saddles…

Courtesy Steve Bartylla

Want To Know More?

Bowhunting Tactics That Deliver Trophies ($30) and Advanced Stand Hunting Strategies ($22.50) delve deeply into critical details you must address to consistently arrow the big boys. For an autographed copy ($50 when ordered together), send a check or money order (shipping & handling already is included) to:

Steve Bartylla

1406 St Joseph Ave

Marshfield, WI 54449

Include your name and shipping address.