Mapping Whitetails #07: Advantages of Hunting Hilly Terrain

Driving in to work today, I passed a recently harvested corn field and thought to myself…Man, I wish I could hunt there.  Now, you are probably thinking I say that about every piece of good looking, deer hunting property I drive by and can’t hunt.  While that may be more true than false, there was something special that stuck out about this field compared to other fields in my area – it was the shape of the field that had me dreaming I was 20 feet up overlooking the back edge.  As I continued along my daily commute, I continued to dissect and digest the field and it lead me on to a topic that I thought was article worthy – the true benefits of hunting non-flat land.

Huntable Fields

The sole reason this article came to fruition was because I drove by a huntable field.  In my opinion there’s a big difference between a field you can hunt over and a huntable field.  Let me explain: When I say huntable, I’m usually referring to bow hunting, as that’s what I do the most of.  Just about any field can be considered huntable with a rifle because if you’re skilled you can shoot a country mile. Bow hunting is obviously quite different and big rectangular fields present plenty of challenges. Which takes me back to what caught my eye during this morning’s drive… the field was an irregular shape with different outcroppings of timbered points and pockets of secluded field – basically a bow hunters dream.

Aerial of whitetail hunting landHere’s the field I drove past.  The little pocket and extending timber points in the middle of the screen are what had me excited. Compare that to the image below, which is what most of the fields look like in flat areas.

Aerial of whitetail hunting landNotice how rectangular the fields are in flat country.  The lack of timber outcroppings and narrow fields makes them tough to bow hunt.  Hunting the inside corners is an effective strategy in this scenario (click to learn how).

What you see in the top photo is a rare find in the area I hunt because it is so flat.  There’s no terrain features to dictate where a farmer can plant like there is in hill country, thus, they plant rectangular fields.  This is one of the reasons places like Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Iowa offer some tremendous hunting.  In hill country, ridgetops and wide valleys are typically the only areas planted, while the sloping hillsides remain forested.  This scenario provides excellent bowhunting opportunities because the fields are often long and narrow with plenty of little spurs planted. Take a look at the following image to see what I’m talking about.

Ridge tops and spurs on deer hunting propertyThe ridge top is identified in red and the spurs are denoted with yellow stars. This is an aerial image from Southwestern Wisconsin in the heart of hill country.  The shape of these fields are dictated by the terrain. The flat ridgetops and spurs are planted, while the hillsides provide plenty of cover for big bucks.  Not only is it a great habitat mix for whitetails, but the fields are very bow huntable due to the long and narrow shape and small spurs.

More Land

You might think 100 acres is 100 acres no matter how you spin it.  Not true!  The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is what we use in the U.S. to survey land boundaries. The system requires measurements to be taken according to the horizontal distance, thus, slope is unaccounted for. Here’s where the advantage of owning a hilly property comes in.  Owning a hilly property means you actually own much more surface area than someone who owns a flat property, thus, more land to deer hunt.   A hilly property simply hunts bigger than a flat property.

Funneling Features

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again – deer prefer to use the path of least resistance.  They’re just like humans and will routinely use terrain features to their advantage when trekking across the country side. Whether it’s a shelf, ridgetop, creek crossing, or saddle, a hunter can utilize these terrain features to get within shooting distance of a deer.  Flat land properties simply don’t have those advantageous terrain funneling features to key in on when hunting.

To learn more about how to use these features to your advantage, check out the following:

Mapping Whitetails #06: Prime Rut Runways

Mapping Whitetails #05: 3 Must Hunt Funnels

Cleaner Access

Your treestand location is only as good as your access route.  Too many hunters fail to consider the impacts of their walk in and walk out.  Typically, we are most concerned with the wind direction, but we shouldn’t abandon our abilities to stay hidden as we approach a stand.  Rolling terrain has many advantages when it comes to sneaking into and out of your deer stand.

Creek bottoms with steep banks allow you to stay low and enter quietly. While hills and rises break up sight distances, ultimately preventing deer from seeing you first.  Subtle elevation changes can go a long way in keeping hunting pressure off of deer, especially when you think about exiting stands near feeding fields during the evening.  Hunting primarily in the flat land areas of Southeastern Wisconsin, it sure would be nice to have a stand over a field where I could exit by dropping off a ridgetop and into a small creek and walk out without alerting the deer feeding in the field.

In the end, terrain is a tremendous dictator of deer movement and the huntability of any given property.  Consider these tips when scouting, hunting, or buying your next property.


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