Across much of the Midwest, the cold chill of fall has finally arrived. With that brings most hunter’s favorite time of the year, the whitetail rut. Though there are a variety of tactics that will land you a big buck this fall, one of the most effective is hunting a funnel. A funnel is any natural barrier that funnels animal movement in or out of a certain area. These funnels could be ridgetops, river bottoms, strip fields, sections of timber connecting fields, and the list can go on. One of my personal favorite funnels is a section of timber that connects two fields or pieces of farmland.
Why are these features so attractive to wildlife? Most of the time, a piece of connecting timber was left that way for a reason. It could have a creek running down the center, it could be a fencerow, a pipeline, or a property boundary. Any of these features make these funnels dynamite, especially in the rut. Whitetails, especially, are creatures of edge habitat. A funnel like this allows deer to slip between food sources or bedding areas without having to cross an open field or risk danger from predators. For bucks in the rut, these funnels provide a travel route in which they can run does, scent check bedding areas, and cruise food sources all without being detected.
So, how should you make the most out of a funnel during the rut? First, it is imperative to choose a location that the deer will be frequenting because where there are does, there will be bucks. The easiest way to pick a location is just to put your boots on the ground and look for fresh sign. Many times, these funnels will be littered with rubs and scrapes throughout. If you can find a well-beaten trail combined with fresh rubs or scrapes, you have likely found a great place to set up. Make sure to put yourself in a funnel that connects food and bedding. Bucks will frequent these paths often during the rut as they scent check for does. Putting yourself in the middle of these will up your odds of connecting with a mature whitetail. Keep yourself away from sight and pick a location high up from where you can use a good red dot sight to get the perfect aim, making every single shot count. Do not forget your weather proof hunting backpack as it is essential to have.
My best personal experience in the Whitetail woods comes from hunting a funnel. My target buck for the 2014 season in Kentucky was a buck we named “Triple Crown,” aptly named for his matching triple brow tines. Throughout the summer, I videoed this buck in a soybean field in a bachelor group with three other bucks. Once the summer bachelor groups parted ways, Triple Crown was nowhere to be found across the entire farm. In fact, I hadn’t seen him in so long, I began to focus my efforts on other bucks.
On the first evening hunt of November, my brothers encountered Triple Crown chasing a doe through a hay field nearly a mile away from his summer range. The next afternoon, I decided to try and locate the area where the boys had seen him the night prior. The hay field where they had seen him was in a place I would have never guessed a big buck to hide. To one side of the field was a large cedar thicket bordering the neighbor’s property, and to the opposite side, there was a thin strip of woods around 100 yards wide and approximately 800 yards long. This thin strip of woods had a highway at the far end and a creek bottom block of timber at the other. This strip of woods was a perfect funnel, and I was amazed I had never noticed that in seasons prior. I decided to walk this strip of woods based on where my brothers had seen Triple Crown.
Immediately after entering the woods, I walked up on one of the biggest rubs I have ever seen. Further investigation revealed a line of cedar rubs that I speculated had been personally victimized by a huge whitetail. I briefly scouted the surrounding area only to confirm what I already knew- without a doubt this was home to one of the largest bucks I have ever been fortunate enough to chase. With this newfound knowledge, I began to plan how I would hunt Triple Crown. I returned to the house and grabbed a hang on stand and a stick ladder and packed my bag for an evening sit.
It was an unusually warm day for early November, with highs in the mid-sixties. However, I knew how magical the beginning of November could be and decided to capitalize. I set out into this strip of woods to find an ideal tree, but there were few decent trees near the area I wanted to sit. I decided to push slightly farther into the woods to find a better set up. Eventually, I settled on a small oak tree about fifty yards inside the oak flat which had two fresh scrapes within twenty yards. Once I got the stand hung, I was extremely confident in my setup and settled in for the evening. My hope for the night began to dwindle as the hunt wore on and I had yet to see a deer. I recall texting my brother, Adam, and asking him what time he had seen Triple Crown the night before. He replied and told me it was around 5:58 PM, just before six. Almost on the dot, I heard footfalls in the leaves coming from directly downwind in the timber. To my surprise, as I turned to see what was heading my way, I was met with the largest set of antlers I had ever seen on the hoof.
Triple Crown was on a mission and was moving so quickly through the woods I barely had a chance to get excited. He came on a beeline to my tree and popped out of a creek bed at ten yards, standing at full alert surveying the field through the woods. After what felt like hours, he slowly eased down the path to my tree and began to work a scrape no more than five yards away. At this point, my nerves were through the roof. In fact, I thought my arrow was chattering so loudly on the rest that he would hear it and spook. Thankfully enough for me, he was satisfied with the scrape and began to walk towards the field, presenting me with a small shot opportunity. As I drew back, he froze behind a hickory tree. I thought I was busted, but he settled down and stepped into my shooting lane. When I got a glimpse of the pocket directly behind his shoulder, I let the arrow fly. I was so in shock of what had just happened, I didn’t even realize that it was Triple Crown I had shot. I called my brothers and a few of my close friends, and the search party began. After a short blood trail, we found him piled up less than 100 yards away, ending the chapter on the largest buck I’ve ever been lucky enough to chase.
From this hunt, I learned the importance of hunting overlooked funnels, and how hot the hunting can be when it all comes together. This fall, don’t be afraid to lace up your boots and hit the woods in search of a funnel, and you just might find your biggest whitetail in the process.
This Hunters Highlight has been provided by Isaac Kent. Find him on Instagram @midwest.madness & Twitter @MadnessMidwest