Hunting Whitetails Exits and On-Ramps

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deer rut from a tree stand
During the deer rut, don’t be afraid to sit all day in a tree stand that overlooks “on ramps” bucks use to reach long ridgelines.

They’re not all created equal. Besides noting the topography for its grade and ease of travel, pay attention to the undergrowth and trees around each site. Also look for internal edges, sites where two types of cover merge. These can be obvious edges, such as where regrowing clearcuts meet mature timber, or where lowland alders give way to upland softwoods and conifers. More subtle edges are defined by hardwoods merging with pine, spruce, cedar or other conifers. Those who deer hunt regions with few deer and even fewer deer trails must identify internal edges and the topographical features deer prefer to follow.

Kinkel’s group documented that sites attracting the most deer activity are secondary points where two types of cover come together. Consider the buck mentioned atop this article. The ridgeline he crossed had no textbook saddles within a quarter-mile of where he was shot. But the secondary point he ascended was covered with young jack pines and poplar, which gave way to a patch of beaked hazelnut as the ramp neared the ridgeline. Such cover, when combined with an easily accessed on-ramp, is ideal for deer. Whitetails feel safe in dense new growth, and the topography often allows for easy walking. If deer decide to dawdle by rubbing or browsing before crossing over the top, the cover provides a safe, food-rich place to do it.

No tracks except those made by the buck marked this snow-covered route that day, but judging by the buck rubs and gouge marks on the pines and poplars, he or other bucks had been through there many times before.

Find the Busiest Ramp

There’s another good reason to compare and contrast the ridgelines and points where you deer hunt. Kinkel’s group found that as bucks increase their activity during the rut, they often move one or two ramps up or down a ridgeline when making their approach or departure. In some parts of North America, individual ridgelines run for miles, so it’s possible to mistakenly watch a ramp that’s closed for the season. Scout often to locate ramps that provide cover through autumn’s ever-changing scenery and, possibly, provide access to changing food sources that attract does.

As the rut heats up and bucks stay on their hoofs for hours on end to find willing mates, these ridgeline ramps can be deadly as bucks take the shortest, easiest routes between doe groups and food sources. If you weren’t sitting on a ramp before, do it now. And if you have all day, don’t leave. For some places, the magic hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Ontario buck mentioned earlier nose-dived into the snow at 1:50 p.m.

Bucks aren’t the only deer using these ramps. Does often clamber up them before popping out on a ridgeline when eluding a buck on their tail. One deer hunter will never forget a beautiful 9-point buck he killed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a few years ago. This deer hunter was in a ground blind on a meandering ridge about 50 yards downwind from a secondary point that tapered into a wet cedar bottoms. This was his third day on the spot, and he had seen only one other deer so far. About 9:30 a.m., he turned my head and saw a buck hound-dog his way out of the bottoms and head toward the on-ramp. Judging by the buck’s half-raised flag and intense nose work, he figured I had already missed the doe he was trailing.

When he swung his head and raised his nose to locate her, the deer hunter saw his rack and instantly decided to shoot. The first shot from my .35 Whelen gutted a 4-inch diameter balsam fir, but the second shot took out the buck’s heart. Later, after back-tracking him, he confirmed his suspicions. Fresh tracks in the snow indicated a doe had sneaked past earlier. Not surprisingly, her tracks went up the ramp and onto a ridgeline trail.

Avoid the Wind Tunnels

Once you’ve located the best ramps, don’t mess them up by disregarding the wind. Although it’s true you never know which direction a deer will come from, realize that some sites make it impossible to predict wind directions minute to minute. On windy days, it’s tempting to drop far off the ridgeline and set up in a sheltered valley, but be warned: Winds swirl and twist through gullies and valleys, spreading your scent across every square inch of trails used by approaching deer. You might have an easier time staying warm in such a setup, but what’s the point of hunting if you’re telling every deer you’re there?

Some deer hunters prefer to pick out three tree stand sites near the junction of ridgelines and secondary points to take advantage of different wind conditions. When you pick a site to hunt each day, you might want to place your tree stand downwind of the junction and just below the skyline to get a little relief from chilling winds. These sites are also less prone to swirls, eddies and other unpredictable air currents. The wind comes across the top in a fairly straight, constant direction and carries away odors if you’ve chosen your ambush site wisely. Granted, you might also use scent control clothing and scent control spray, but also try to use every possible advantage by monitoring the wind.

Conclusion

Chances are, you knew about the importance of secondary points and ramps before someone gave them a name. You’re not alone. Kinkel and his crew can relate. Before they attached names to such places, they were der hunting these sites with success, but not fully appreciating their significance. In fact, they checked their harvest data and realized 70 percent of the mature bucks they killed on their property fell on ramps tapering up to a ridgeline.

If you weren’t already convinced, numbers like this shoul make me you believer.

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