The draw brimmed with dense fog as I nestled into a stand my brother had hung during the summer. I hunkered deeper into my camo coat as an ice-cold mist spewed from the sky above. The air was bone-chilling and damp – a classic November morning. Still, the funnel remained stagnant as feelings of failure imposed doubt. After eight straight days of bowhunting, I had nothing to show for myself. Time was running out. The clock was ticking.
The tranquility was suddenly interrupted when a doe sailed into view, trailed by a good-looking buck. I jerked my bow from its hanger but soon realized his tines were mostly busted. The duo squeezed through the funnel, but the buck was slightly beneath my standards. I kept my arrow on the bowstring. Before I could rehang my bow, another buck appeared, also trailing the estrous doe. I sized him up through my binoculars. His mass and tall tines sold me.
On a suicide squeeze, the heavy-duty South Dakota 8-pointer was trotting swiftly through the funnel when I mouth-grunted to stop him at the narrowest point. I bracketed my 20- and 30-yard pins behind his front shoulder for the 28-yard shot and sent an arrow on its way. His death sprint was short, and I shivered wildly from the adrenaline rush and bone-chilling elements. I looked heavenward in thanksgiving for the end result of the difficult nine-day rut hunt.
Don’t Be Fooled
Television shows on outdoor networks often make rut hunting seem easy: set up where does feed, and monster bucks come out of the woodwork. However, TV often instills unrealistic expectations for those of us who hunt pressured deer.
Though most bowhunters blame a lack of buck sightings on spotty rutting activity, it’s more often the result of hunting unproductive stands in correlation with the rut’s phases. When the rut’s in full swing, I’ve found bucks actually intercept most estrous does closer to bedding areas.
Field-edge setups can and do yield bucks, but when they don’t, you must revisit your rut playbook for a high-odds alternative. During 15 years of bowhunting pressured whitetails, I’ve found funnels consistently produce buck encounters during the rut. And if you position your stand properly, bucks traveling through funnels are basically on a suicide squeeze. In other words, they’re traveling a route that leads them within slam-dunk range of your sharp broadhead.
What To Look For
Aptly named, funnels are natural or manmade pinch points that squeeze deer through narrow spaces as they travel from point A to point B. Funnels include gate openings, timber-dotted creeks or rivers, logging roads running through unnegotiable brush, openings between large brush heaps, shallow creek crossings with sandbars, or narrow oak ridges leading from bedding to agriculture. Rivers often have shelves or benches that naturally funnel deer, too.
Locating funnels is as simple as studying aerial imagery of your hunting area. Locate obvious food sources and bedding areas, then study the terrain between these two whitetail necessities. Next, put your boots to work.
Don’t become discouraged if you’re not finding lots of buck sign once you locate funnels. Bucks are usually mission-minded as they travel through them – they’re either chasing a doe or looking for one. They rarely stop to rake a tree or paw out a scrape.
Plotting Your Setup
If possible, position your stand or ground blind near the funnel’s narrowest point so deer pass through within easy bow range. Deer are liable to travel funnels in either direction, so set your stand for the prevailing winds, if possible. For example, if you’re hunting a funnel that runs north/south and the wind blows predominantly from the west, position your stand east of the funnel so you can hunt it more frequently without getting winded.
When hunting funnels during the rut, be prepared to sit all day. Deer are liable to pass through at any given time, so pack a sandwich, some snacks and a water bottle for a dawn-to-dusk shift. When possible, have a second funnel stand in place in case the wind changes unexpectedly midday in your primary location.
Put It Into Play
An estrous doe is a whitetail buck’s biggest weakness, and where she goes, he’ll follow. Exploit that weakness by buckling down in a rut funnel. Abandon field edges, hit the timber and execute a killer suicide-squeeze play to peg your next November buck.