WHITETAILS ARE JUST like teenagers. Both look for the easiest way to get from where they sleep to where they eat. Deer hunters who put stands in thick cover can use that trait to great advantage. All you need to do is give the bucks a way to get to you.
Kip Adams, a wildlife biologist with the Quality Deer Management Association, discovered the benefits of deer tunnels after pruning a small, inconspicuous trail to a hidden tree stand. Soon he noticed deer were also using his trail. All he then had to do was relocate his stand.
“Deer almost always follow the path of least resistance when moving between bedding and feeding areas,” says Adams. “As long as they feel secure, deer will follow a man-made trail.”
Here’s how to build a tunnel and bring deer right to your stand.
WHEN: August is the time to do it. Any scent you leave behind will fade, and deer will become accustomed to the trail before hunting season begins. Obtain landowner permission first, or check your state’s regulations if hunting public land.
WHERE: Connect areas that deer already frequent: bedding and feeding areas; or the bedding areas of individual doe family groups during the rut. Mature bucks seldom travel in the open, so build the trail in protective cover.
The brushier the cover is, the better: dense stands of softwoods, hardwood sapling thickets, tangled alder bottoms, even tall CRP fields. If there’s an existing deer trail, making a tunnel that has superior cover will encourage them to take your route instead of theirs, or you can try blocking the existing path with a brushpile.
HOW: It’s as simple as using loppers and handsaws to carve out a low, narrow path. The trick lies in not overcutting.
“You want it to be just a little more open than its surroundings,” says Adams. “You don’t need to remove anything more than about 3 feet off the ground, which is the height of a deer’s back.”
If you can walk through, you’ve made the tunnel too big. Keep it between 1 and 2 feet wide, and remove just enough branches and foliage to shape the passageway. Overhead cover makes deer feel more secure and will increase your tunnel’s appeal.
STAND SITE: Once your tunnel is ready, strategically place your stand downwind of the trail, or where it empties out onto an opening or food plot. Note the prevailing wind, and plan accordingly with feeding and bedding times.
Whitetails will enter fields at inside corners, the tops of ditches, and low swales; your tunnel should lead to such a spot.
When you’re scouting, check for signs that your new route is being used. If it’s not, look for positive deer sign in areas where another tunnel may be effective. Avoid using tunnels a month before and during hunting season. The less disturbed a trail is, the more likely deer will follow it past your stand.