Bass fishermen have known for years that working structure and edge helps them catch more fish. Hunters, to a lesser degree, have understood this as well. Unfortunately knowing something has an impact on your hunting success and putting that practical knowledge to work are two different things.
Most hunters still hang their hopes on easier to find physical deer sign-tracks, rubs, droppings, etc. Breaking the mold and looking beyond the sign that may or may not be there can improve your odds even more.
Not all edge is equal
Edge can be changes in timber, terrain or elevation. Look for areas where timber meets a field or pines meet a strip of hardwood. Don’t bank on a lot of sign, however. You’re after the big guy who travels solo.
Good edge has something about it that appeals to deer. It could be a safe travel route, a preferred food source, or even some reason that you may never figure out. The trick is learning to see what’s really there.
Making good edge better
Charlie Cotten manages more than 15,000 acres in South Carolina, and uses edge to his advantage daily during hunting season
“Stands that operate on edge or a timber change don’t seem to burn out as fast as [those hung on] scrapes, or even food plots,” said Cotten. “I think a big part of that is we can predict their travel lanes better and can get in and out without spooking as many deer.”
Cotten is careful about where he places food plots as well.
“Before we ever fire up the bulldozer or tractor, we look at how the land we’re clearing relates to what’s around it,” Cotton said. “We also take into account how the deer will most likely use them and where we could place a hunter to take advantage of that. In essence, we put edge where it will maximize our hunting success.”
The real world
Most hunters don’t have the kind of land control Cotten enjoys. The best tip for hunting productive edge is to get a map of your area or sit down and draw one out. Next make all the areas that were hunted more than 10 times in a single season. Then put your boots to work and walk the rest.
No matter how good you think you know a place you can learn more from it. Getting away from areas that receive pressure allows you to hunt areas where whitetails are responding to and using the terrain in a more predictable matter.
Change is good
After several less than banner years on a small property, I took a chance and changed my attack. On a far corner, in an area no one ever hunts, I took a risk that paid off. In this spot planted pines about 15-years old, mixed mature pines and hardwoods and a smaller 3-year old pine plantation come together to form an interesting triangle.
I just liked the place for some reason, even though there was no deer sign in it at all. It just felt deery. So I hung a stand and waited on fall. I guessed later in the season it would be prime. I let a friend hunt it once in the early season but he drew a blank and wouldn’t go back. That was fine with me as the one time I went to it I saw two deer and shot an old, high-racked seven pointer.
Taking advantage of edge generally keeps you away from the more obvious and therefore over-hunted areas. Deer learn faster than we give them credit for and they will avoid those places especially during shooting hours.
Clues to good edge
Finding a good edge stand is a skill that gets better with time. Timber changes, funnels, openings or old windrows in timber all make for edge. In the southeast finding typical funnels can be tough as most ground is in some stage of timber production. So a successful hunter develops a keen eye for subtle changes. A few feet of difference in elevation can have a huge effect on where deer walk. The one thing that will really put the odds in your favor is to start hunting areas that you have not been hunting. Just use some patience and you will be rewarded.