The whitetail strip

Adjacent to that brushy hillside was a huge woods the only big
woods in the county and whitetails from surrounding croplands
migrated there to spend the winter pawing acorns in the snow. But a
big part of the herd had discovered the farmer’s isolated feed
storage area, one with a fence that could keep out Herefords but
not whitetails.

The strip was barely visible from the road, but the first time I
went by the place at dusk, I hit the brakes. I hadn’t seen a deer
in two weeks, but there, in the distance, were the shadowy forms of
two dozen whitetails working their way along that scant line of
cover. My binoculars focused in on the large, weather-bleached set
of antlers pulling up the rear.

It wasn’t hard to get hunting permission from a farmer fretting
whether the deer would deprive him of enough feed to see his cattle
through winter. I set up my stand in a fenceline pine and counted
22 baldies that walked within 20 yards of my stand as I waited for
Mr. White Antlers. He never showed then or the next two days I
hunted the stand. But the does arrived like clockwork, and one
eventually found its way to my freezer just as the hunting season
waned.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is typical of strip
strategy, provided you select one well and hunt it right.

What’s the best cover strip for bowhunting? Ideally it’s no more
than 40 to 50 yards wide, at least a couple hundred yards long, and
connecting a bigger woods, food source, or optimum bedding area. It
should be in an area with a big deer herd, or maybe where you know
of a particularly desirable buck. Preferably, it’s the only game in
town the only option deer have to travel back and forth to the food
source under cover. It should offer at least one ideal site for a
treestand one that offers good shooting, protection from scent
detection, and cover in the form of a large trunk, branches or
concealing foliage behind you. The strip should cut through an area
as open as possible, which discourages deer from straying from the
path, and gives them confidence to travel with the wind at their
backs because they can use their eyes to detect danger in most of
their foreground.

How do you locate and identify these strips? As I indicated
earlier, I prefer to do homework with topo maps. I spend a blustery
winter evening scanning the topos and marking likely places. I
especially look for spots that are likely to hold concentrations of
deer, such as areas adjacent to refuges or municipalities where
deer are plentiful but hunting is prohibited. I also look for
strips along lakes and other travel obstacles that will reinforce
deer movement along certain strips.

As soon as snow cover is gone in spring I begin scouting these
strips. Deer sign will be evident from the previous year.

When scouting, keep in mind that deer habits along cover strips
often change seasonally. The hay-fed deer I referred to earlier
used that strip in winter. In the fall, surrounded by tall weeds
and corn, it was almost useless for hunting. If you scout during
the winter or spring for an early fall hunting strip, be aware of
how the greening of summer can affect it. One way to tell if it
will be good in early fall is by buck sign. If it is heavily used
in fall, and there are trees of the right size, there should be a
large number of rubs. Crop rotation can still foil your plans: One
year, a brushy ditch between two soybean fields may be fantastic,
but nearly useless if corn is planted there the next fall, until
harvest.

Stand location isn’t as critical as hunting in the big woods,
because hopefully, anywhere you put your stand in a long, narrow
strip will be within range of travelling deer. But precise stand
setup can make a difference.

The most important consideration is wind; always choose and use
a strip so the wind is to your advantage. Strips hunted early and
late in the season are optimally parallel to the prevailing wind,
which is out of the west or northwest in most places. Analyze the
daily deer movements to decide whether the strip should be hunted
morning or evening. For example, under normal wind conditions, a
creek bottom connecting a swamp to the west and a bean field to the
east should be hunted in the evening, as deer head from bed to
dinner. An east-west fenceline with an acorn-laden oak grove to the
west is a morning stand where you try to catch deer heading back to
bed.

Ideally, there should be big trees and canopy cover, and it
should be open enough that you can make shooting lanes with just a
little trimming here and there. I like it to be a spot where there
are several big trees within 25 yards of my stand. I place sex or
curiosity scent behind the trunk so the deer stop to sniff with
their eyes hidden, giving me a chance to draw the bow unseen. It’s
best to be at a narrows in the strip, for the closest shot.
Sometimes you can find an intersection where a good trail runs
perpendicular to the strip, though such is rare in good cover
strips. Pay close attention to the deer sign, mainly the numbers
and apparent use of trails, and concentrations of fresh
droppings.

It’s possible, but rare, that you’ll find where all these come
together perfectly. In most cases, you have to make compromises
when deciding where in the strip you want to set up. You’ll have to
weigh the factors to decide which site has the best odds.

I had such a dilemma at a cover strip I hunted early last fall.
At one point a pond jutted into the strip, both attracting thirsty
deer in warm weather, and funneling traveling deer around the
pond’s brushy end. There was a huge rut of a deer trail passing
here. It looked perfect, because deer were not only sure to come
by, but to pass at a spot I could predict precisely.

But a hundred yards down the strip I found an indistinct,
intersecting trail. It came from a grassy dip in the field to one
side. Near this intersection were a couple of fresh rubs. Could
this be the trail a buck was in the habit of using?

After careful consideration, I made the decision. I put up
stands at both sites, with intentions to hunt the pond stand first.
I knew exactly where deer would pass at that site, and that if I
waited for a steady west or northwest wind, there would be no
chance of ruining the spot by having deer detect me. If it turned
out the buck didn’t like this corridor and never showed, I’d try to
head him off at the intersection. Hunting the intersection would be
risky, though; there would be a better chance of being scented and
losing any chance at the buck from this setup.

It took a few days of waiting, but finally the wind was right
and I had confidence it would stay right. I snuck in to the stand
for the last couple hours of daylight. A group of four does came
by, but no buck. The next night, nothing showed.

The following weekend turned overcast and blustery, with a windy
cold front moving in out of the northwest. It was perfect for the
pond stand, so I decided to give it one more chance before moving
to the intersection. My tree was swaying and leaves were falling
everywhere when, strangely, a piece of the brown forest floor
seemed to move. It was him.

Getting back to the pickup was something of a chore that night,
what with a load of 185 pounds more than I had going in. But I
didn’t mind. In fact, I had to shake my head at how easy this strip
hunting really can be.

Mike Strandlund is editor of Bowhunting World, a nationwide
bowhunting magazine based in Maple Grove. Strandlund was recently
elected to the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame.

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