Mow — and Shovel — Your Way to Whitetails

Private land deer hunters can steer whitetails passed their ambush locations with help of a string-trimmer, mower — and even a snow shovel.

Mow — and Shovel — Your Way to Whitetails

An example of a mowed path on the author’s hunting land in South Dakota. Photo taken in mid-November 2021. The path was last cut with a tractor and rotary cutter in late August.

There is one way in which whitetails and humans are similar; both can be lazy and prefer to travel from point A to point B along the path of least resistance.

Example: If you were in a massive field covered in thick waist-high native grasses, and as you hiked from one end of it to the other you discovered a 3-foot-wide mowed path that headed your preferred direction, then you’d stay on the path. Why? Because walking on 4-inch grass is easier than trudging through 40-inch grass.

This is important to understand because a whitetail in this same scenario would likely take the same route. The good news for hunters is we can use this whitetail travel tendency to our advantage.

Mowing for Whitetails

I discovered this aspect of deer behavior by happenstance. A landowner friend of mine in eastern South Dakota often mowed hiking paths with his tractor on his 160 acres of mixed pasture and river-bottom hardwoods. He cut these paths because his wife, who isn’t in great health, has trouble walking through tall grass. He wanted her to enjoy the beauty of the river-bottom and its spring-fed creek. Their occasional hikes took place during spring, summer and early fall, and by the time I was on the property deer hunting in October and November, I noticed a strong preference for whitetails to use these same mowed paths. (FYI: Turkeys love these mowed trails during spring, especially when the surrounding waist-high grasses are wet.)

It’s no coincidence that many of my ladder stands and hang-on portables now sit within 20 yards of one of these many mowed paths. I might not be the sharpest hook in the tackle box, but when I see a mowed path littered with deer tracks and scrapes, I look for an ambush spot nearby.

One of the author’s hunting buddies killed this South Dakota buck as it walked on the mowed path shown here (photos taken different years). Whitetails could easily travel 5, 10 or 15 yards on either side of the mowed path, but they choose to use it almost every time.
One of the author’s hunting buddies killed this South Dakota buck as it walked on the mowed path shown here (photos taken different years). Whitetails could easily travel 5, 10 or 15 yards on either side of the mowed path, but they choose to use it almost every time.

I understand that most readers won’t have a tractor and rotary cutter to mimic my landowner buddy’s mowing patterns. That said, you can achieve a similar result with a string trimmer and some time and dedication. Important: The path doesn’t have to be 6-feet wide to attract the attention of whitetails. In fact, using a string trimmer to clear a 1-foot-wide mowed path will do the job nicely.

Of course, a string trimmer isn’t the quietest tool, so plan accordingly by mowing well in advance of planned hunting days. The good news is native grasses are generally finished growing by late summer. Cut or mow everything you desire on a weekend in August and the intrusion will be forgotten by whitetails when you begin hunting in September and later.

Can you spot the whitetail doe in the background of this pic? She’s walking a 2-foot-wide cleared path through thick cover on her way to bedding. The author cleared a 15-yard-long stretch to encourage deer use, and it’s worked effectively.
Can you spot the whitetail doe in the background of this pic? She’s walking a 2-foot-wide cleared path through thick cover on her way to bedding. The author cleared a 15-yard-long stretch to encourage deer use, and it’s worked effectively.

Kill a Deer With a Shovel? Yes!

Tip for deer hunters in the Midwest and North: Just as mowed paths will focus deer movement, cleared paths through deep snow work even better. Whitetails want to conserve as much energy as possible during late fall and winter, and to avoid deep snow they’ll walk a cleared path from bedding to feeding and vice versa whenever possible.

Yes, I understand that hauling a snow blower into the woods to clear lengthy paths for deer is impractical. And I don’t take it to that extreme on my Midwest properties. However, I will carry a snow shovel into the field and clear a short, narrow path — 10 feet to 10 yards long — when I want whitetails to walk in a specific location. By shoveling these paths in spots where I want deer to cross a creek, jump a fence, or step onto a feed field, deer walk by my ambush locations in the exact spot I desire. It takes some work, but the rewards are worth it. More good news: To my knowledge, shoveling snow is legal on public lands everywhere.

When it comes to steering whitetails, I’ve found that clearing a path with a string trimmer, mower or even a snow shovel works even better than blocking multiple trails with logs and brush. Give it a try next deer season and see for yourself.

This photo was taken in mid-November 2021 in South Dakota, and as you can see, the mowed path features much more green growth than the surrounding habitat. As a result, deer not only walk the path, but they feed in it, too. Bonus: These mowed paths are outstanding spots to ambush turkeys during spring.
This photo was taken in mid-November 2021 in South Dakota, and as you can see, the mowed path features much more green growth than the surrounding habitat. As a result, deer not only walk the path, but they feed in it, too. Bonus: These mowed paths are outstanding spots to ambush turkeys during spring.

Check out the 2-minute YouTube video below where a deer hunter in the upper Midwest used a snow plow on his utility vehicle (side-by-side) to clear a path leading into and through a small food plot of standing corn. As you'll see, the whitetails take the easiest route.

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