Bowhunting Thickets Effectively Across the Midwest
Thickets provide quality food and security for mature bucks. Especially in the Midwest, thickets consist of quality browse food sources such as dogwood, honeysuckle, and green briar. Hunting a thicket, commonly used as a bedding area can be extremely tough mainly due to location of the thicket, wind thermals, access route to stand, and finding a clear shooting lane through a thicket can be challenging. If you believe a specific buck is using a thicket as his dominant bedding area you have to be extremely cautious hunting them. The wind, thermals, and phase of the rut all have to align, second chances after spooking a mature buck in his domain are hard to come by.
Bowhunting Bedding Areas
I believe the most effective way to hunting thickets or bedding areas is to set up on the downwind side and intercept mature bucks scent checking for estrous does. Especially during the early stages of the rut, it seems bucks will cruise from one doe bedding area to another searching for the first estrous does of the season. Here’s a few tips and an example of how you can effectively bowhunt a thicket.
One of the farms I hunt in the Midwest consists of an overgrown cow pasture thicket that consists of greenbrier, honey locust, multiflora rose, and hedge. The thicket itself is approximately 10 acres in size and in some places hard to walk through. It’s an ideal example of the types of thickets you can find across the Midwest. Farmers of yesteryear used to run cattle or hogs in small 1–10-acre areas. Several decades later, those areas are now wildlife meccas. Centered in an oasis of agricultural fields, cow pastures, and open hardwoods, it’s no surprise that every year it seems to draw some of the biggest bucks in the area. Hunting it however, has proved to be challenging.
This thicket, like most does not provide a tree big enough to support a tree stand. So, we have had to hunt the fringes of the thicket, setting up over the primary trails leading into and out of the thicket. There are only a handful of trees that we could put stands in and every year it would seem that the mature bucks would randomly access the thicket on the downwind side using trails that we were not set up on. Because there were multiple trails accessing the thicket on primarily flat ground, mature bucks were not funneled down to any particular route. Because it was so thick, getting a clear shot on more than one trail seemed to be almost impossible.
After a frustrating season of playing cat and mouse with a dandy 5 ½ year old that had been utilizing the thicket regularly, we came up with a game plan to “narrow down” where the deer could access the thicket on the downwind side and manipulate the trails so that it would bring them within bow range.
We decided the best plan of attack would be to take a walk behind brush hog and create two primary trails that would access the thicket. Trail A would be a bit wider and more distinct; we made it about four feet wide and really cut back all the branches and other debris that acted as obstacles to deer. We ran it horizontally to our tree stand position. Trail B however, was created with the buck in mind. We cut only about a two foot strip out and didn’t clear it out as well as trail A. We cut trail B angling slightly toward trail A and all the way into the thickest part of the bedding area.
The idea was to make trial A (white line), a primary “doe trail” leading into the thicket, while trail B (yellow line) would be thicker and would allow a mature buck to feel more secure, with a northwest wind the buck would be able to scent check the thicket and trail A for estrous does, all the while being upwind of our treestand location (red dot) and downwind of the primary bedding area.
A few months before season, we went in with a D.R. brush hog and chain saw and opened up the trails. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, mosquitoes, ticks, and ground hornets prolonged the cut but we were able to get everything done within a day.
A few months later, in late October, the weather conditions aligned, and the stage was set. With a cold front moving through the night before, and the winds switching to Northwest, I slipped into the treestand. Just 15 minutes after daybreak, I heard movement to my left and peered around the tree to see antlers bobbing through the fog directly towards the stand. Just as planned the buck hit the first trail and walked directly down trail B. I stopped him with a grunt quartering away at just 18 yards and made the shot.
*Several years after creating the buck “sneak trail”, we have harvested 2 more mature bucks off the same trail on a crosswind from the doe bedding area!
In conclusion, if you have a thicket on your property that you can access without bumping deer and leaving scent over trails leading in or out of the thicket you may have a perfect ambush opportunity. Find the main access trails to the thicket on the downwind side and determine whether or not you can manipulate them to put a mature buck within bow range. If you do not have access to a brush hog, you can still funnel deer down using other techniques. Some people build short sections of fence, hinge cut trees, or cover trails with brush to improve their chances of funneling deer past their stand.
To read how Scott Pyle harvested a 170″+ while hunting a thicket in Mid-November at Heartland Lodge click here>>.
Last Updated: September 29th, 2022