Almy: Small creeks a buck hotspot
Ponds and lakes offer deer the water they need every day, but streams provide whitetails a lot more than just water. They allow them to quench their thirst while also finding cooler temperatures and thick cover. This makes them terrific early-season hotspots that are often neglected by most hunters.
I’ve found mature bucks hunkered down against cedars and shrubs almost touching the creek’s edge.
Hunting deer along streams offers other strategic advantages as well. Not only do they offer water, cooler temperatures and cover, they act as natural funnels for buck travel. This gives you the perfect opportunity to set up along them. Intercept the quarry both going to the water to drink and traveling along the stream to reach feed areas. You can also catch deer paralleling them in the morning heading back to thicker bedding cover nearby.
Here are three ways to hunt small creeks for big bucks depending on whether they are using the creek as a water source, traveling along its edge or simply crossing it.
1. Water Hole — The first setup involves the creek as water source. In this situation bucks aren’t bedding on the stream, but rather a short distance away.
They may be on a knoll or finger of cover branching off the creek. A strip of the cover should extend from the bedding area right down to the creek, so a dominant buck will feel comfortable traveling to the water in daylight.
Locate large tracks in the damp soil next to the stream on just one side (so you’re sure it’s not a crossing). A good spot is where a pool backs up the creek for easy drinking. Then set up downwind.
In early to mid-afternoon a buck might slip in for a drink before heading to feed. Be extra cautious getting in to this stand site, since you’ll be close to his daytime hideout.
2. Travel Lane — In this situation bucks are traveling along the stream’s edge. From bedding cover you’ve located near the creek, find lightly outlined trails with large tracks paralleling the stream heading towards a major feed area. Set up far enough from the bedding area that you don’t spook the deer getting in — as much as several hundred yards towards the feed area if possible.
But don’t get any farther than you have to.
The closer to the bedding area you can set up, the more chance a mature buck will show in daylight. Place your stand across and slightly downwind of the thinly-defined trail.
The wind should be blowing from the feed area towards the bedding cover for the buck to feel comfortable using this route. You’ll be off to the side, with your scent blowing parallel to the buck and slightly away.
3. Crossing — In this situation you’re simply looking for an area where a deer is crossing the creek. A shallow riffle area with large tracks on both sides will reveal it. Rubs on trees near the creek will further confirm that a buck is using the trail.
Wary bucks may cross a creek and circle a feed area to come in from the downwind side. Be there waiting for them. You can also hunt these crossings very early in the morning as bucks head back to heavy cover to bed.
There are lots of these small creeks winding through the Shenandoah Valley. But always be sure you have the landowner’s written permission before hunting along them.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.