Everyday Outdoors: Hunting on the edge

Whitetail deer are largely creatures of habit. Their movement patterns will change some from season to season and in accordance with available food sources, and bucks may be much more active and cover a lot more ground during the rut (mating season), but the herd generally spends most of its time within their home range.

As hunters, whether with bow or gun, it’s very beneficial to be able to recognize the areas deer are likely to frequent. Deer, and other game animals, need three things to survive, and thrive, in a given area. Those three things are food, water, and cover (security).

Here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, and in nearby surrounding states, the deer have a virtual smorgasbord when it comes to food. The variety of farms, orchards, and other food sources created by humans gives them plenty of options. This is in addition to many thousands of acres of hardwood forests that produce different types of acorns and other natural food sources in widely varying amounts from year to year. So, since the deer have plenty of options, hunters need to stay up on what food sources the herd is using, from season to season and year to year.

Likewise, water is usually not a problem for deer in this neck of the woods. In many Western states, various game animals are routinely and successfully hunted by folks setting up ambush sites at water holes. This is also a very popular technique for hunting a variety of game in Africa. Most of the time, there are so many water sources in this area, it’s not a very high percentage method to try to take one of our local deer.

Whitetails are masters at using various types of cover to hide their movements and when they are resting. The public land in our region often has clear-cut areas of different ages, with different sizes and thickness of regrowth. Private land may have dense standing cornfields, Christmas tree farms, and other types of heavy cover. Public and private land may have large areas of replanted pine trees, old orchards that are overgrown with briars, or deep brushy ravines that are too rough for farming or building. Deer in the mountains often bed in patches of laurel, and use that same cover to conceal their movement. More mature deer, especially older bucks, may not venture out into the open woods or fields until after dark. They have plenty of places to hide.

A mature Morgan County buck from one of the author’s hunts.

So, if there is so much food, so much water, and so much cover in the area we are hunting, how do we find where the deer want to be? The answer is often to hunt the edges.

Deer love to use various edges. If they are traveling through open hardwoods, feeding on acorns as they go, you will often find they’re not far from the edge of a thicker area of younger timber, a strip of laurel, or a stand of thick pines. Deer feeding on high mountain ridges are often only a bound or two from a steep edge, where they can disappear to safety. Trails often follow stream edges where they can feed on the lush vegetation and have easy access to water, but can quickly slip back into thick cover.

When I am deer hunting unfamiliar territory, I will first look to the edge of two different types of forest. If I can find where a thick area that has been cut over, or a dense stand of pines, or a strip of briars or laurel meets open hardwoods or another food source, it has often turned out to be a good area to see deer.

If the stand you are hunting is out in the middle of thousands of acres of hardwood forest, or watching a big farm field, and isn’t showing you many deer, or any mature bucks, try hunting the edges.

Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.