Funnels Equal Shot Opportunities

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Find the funnels and you have a better chance of finding your game

Most game animals prefer the safety of cover; when they move, they often follow topography. Set up along ridges, along valley floors and at pinch points and shot opportunities will follow.

Perched on a high ridge, only a stone’s throw from a meandering creek bottom, I was comfortably tucked into my portable blind. It was a textbook scenario. Prevailing winds carried my scent well away from the main trails below me and visibility was excellent from my elevated position. To the north, the valley opened up with mixed timber, offering plenty of cover for the deer. To the south, a heavy old-growth stand of spruce trees offered similar cover. Directly below me was a narrow, open strip of mature aspens, spanning no more than 40 metres between the creek and pasture – an ideal location for an ambush. To top it off, it was mid-November and the whitetails were moving. Any travelling bucks migrating up or down the valley would be forced to move through the very funnel I was watching.

Indeed, over several days, a bunch of deer skulked through this classic pinch point. Lots of does and several small and medium-sized bucks made an appearance. Then finally, during my fifth sit, a mature buck made a mistake. Just before 11 a.m., with his nose to the ground, he broke from the evergreens and meandered down the well-used trail. Now fully exposed, his pace quickened. Carefully raising my rifle and resting it on the crossbar in the window of my blind, I settled my sight on his right shoulder. I grunted and he paused, allowing me the perfect shot opportunity. Following the bark of my rifle, he collapsed. It was a picture-perfect whitetail hunt, made possible by capitalizing on a strategic funnel.

Think about the areas you hunt. Consider the terrain. In all probability you too can take advantage of natural movement to create shot opportunities. The secret to hunting funnels lies in understanding what topographic features force animals to move through a certain area and when, where and how to set up.

 

Forced exposure

Understanding how funnels work is the key to hunting them. Depending on the species you target, most game animals will follow trails. Year to year these may change depending on available food sources and bedding cover, but in many situations trails are evidence that game migrate along those same routes on a regular basis. Often the topography itself facilitates movement – ridges, valleys, pinch points, connections between woodlots and strips of cover. Why? Mainly because animals favour safety, and this means moving not only where they feel they are hidden under cover, but also where they can sense danger. In many situations, treed areas are inconsistent and often narrow. Game animals naturally move to these areas, even though they may be sparse. For them, even a little cover is better than none at all. It is in these highly predictable locations that hunters can more or less force them to expose themselves for a shot opportunity.

Driven hunts are a prime example of hunters forcing exposure. Many deer hunters who conduct deer drives will often place shooters at, or near, these bottlenecks or funnels. The shooter then waits in anticipation for game to be pushed through the woods and forced to expose themselves as they move from one area to another. Study aerial photographs of the ground you hunt and you should be able to identify natural pinch points or funnels where game are sure to move if pushed from one sector to another. Whether you are part of a driven hunt, or simply waiting for natural movement to occur, it is at these natural funnels that game will be forced to expose themselves. I can remember several driven hunts in which members of my hunting party were able to score by taking a stand along a narrow funnel. As the deer moved through, they were afforded a close-range shot and, in turn, took home some fine venison for the freezer.

A lot of different topographic features funnel animal movement. Big game animals will most often take the path of least resistance, but some species, like deer, elk and moose, will also stick to available cover. The key to identifying funnels lies in evaluating how animals will move from one spot to another, where they are most likely to travel and then setting up accordingly.

 

Ridges

One of my favourite types of funnels is found on aspen ridges, especially those that follow creeks or other waterways. Most big game animals will follow ridges, but just finding a ridgeline alone doesn’t necessarily make an ideal funnel. Locate other topographic features that manipulate movement to these ridges and you’re well on your way to narrowing down your search for an ideal ambush location. When I look for the best tree stand or ground blind locations, I like to focus on spots along ridges between a waterway and agricultural activity where there are narrow strips of timber. I can think of several stand sites where there are no more than 100 metres of treed cover between the water and barley fields. By setting up a tree stand or blind in the middle of these strips, we are able to see any and all movement through these areas. Shot opportunities are inevitable in these locations, especially during prime rut times. Year after year, we hunt these stereotypical funnels and enjoy deer movement day in and day out, especially during the pre- and peak rut times. In this type of situation, it is only a matter of time before a mature buck walks by and presents a shot opportunity.

 

Drainages

In a similar manner, valley floors along flowing waterways can also be fantastic funnels for animal movement. Heavily used game trails can almost always be found right along these creeks and rivers. Most big game, including predator and prey species, use these trails consistently. Bears are notorious for migrating up and down this type of terrain and ungulates use these corridors as well.

 

Saddles or alpine passes

Mountain hunters focusing on wild sheep and mountain goats will commonly focus on saddles or alpine passes that funnel animals between ranges. The Canadian Rockies are extreme, with sheer rock faces presenting seemingly impassible barriers. Experienced bighorn sheep hunters often target alpine saddles that connect mountain ranges, knowing that sheep, and other animals as well, will inevitably use these funnels to move from one area to the next. I know one sheep hunter who literally camps out on a favourite saddle whenever he has a sheep tag to fill. Sheep may not show up for several days, but he knows that, in time, they will use that movement corridor. As a result, he fills his tags on a regular basis.

 

Connections between woodlots

A lot of us hunt big timber – dense forests that seem almost featureless. In these areas, forestry activity is usually prevalent and where there are clear cuts, there are opportunities to hunt funnels. I know of several guys who hunt these big bush areas by doing just that; they look until they find patchworks of timber interlaced with clear cuts. They hunt these areas very effectively by determining the nearest interconnected corners of the wood lots and using climbing tree stands to increase visibility. Capitalizing on the fact that deer, elk and even moose will generally stick to cover as much as possible, they know that they are ultimately forced to travel these distinct funnels. As a result, these guys shoot big deer year after year by employing this strategy in big bush country.

 

Strips of timber

Most effective in developed areas where agricultural activity is prevalent, focusing on narrow strips of timber is a lot like hunting those ridges between waterways and cropland. Game is forced to stick to the available cover. In many different situations I’ve enjoyed great success by placing stands or ground blinds in the heart of these narrow tree lines. In a similar way, strips of bigger timber surrounding dried up wetlands with willows around them can also funnel movement. I can think of one property that I hunt every year where the bucks and does tend to congregate in the strips of older-growth timber, travelling only periodically through the dried up marsh area. On any given day during the rut, I can watch deer move back and forth through this strip of timber.

 

Choosing an ambush location

Developing the ability to recognize good ambush locations is imperative. It’s a skill that most every hunter nurtures over time. We learn where and how game uses these areas as they travel to and from bedding and feeding areas, and when they need to travel during rut periods. But just recognizing isn’t enough. A friend of mine once asked if I would come take a look at the ground he was hunting. He had been able to identify where a bunch of mule deer were feeding in a field, but he just didn’t know where to set up to ambush them. A relatively new hunter, he had the basics but had difficulty putting the finishing pieces of the puzzle together. With a quick visit to the quarter section, it only took a few minutes to pinpoint the best spot for an ambush. In actual fact, the deer had pounded a heavy trail up a ridge from the creek bottom. It crossed a very small bay in the field and led right into a pea field. Here’s the kicker though: the deer trail funneled right by the tip of a small peninsula of trees. Those trees only spanned 10 metres across, and to make it even better, there was a woodpile at the end of it. A classic funnel, I suggested he construct a natural ground blind using the woodpile and the rest is history. The first time he sat there, four massive bucks walked within 20 metres and he arrowed the biggest one that scored 186 P&Y!

 

When to hunt them

The award-winning question is when to hunt funnels. The correct answer is just about any time, but to really capitalize consider the time of the year relative to the species’ breeding season. Bucks and bulls will always travel more during their annual rut. If you are counting on natural movement, funnels can be effective 24/7 during the peak of the rut. If, on the other hand, there is no motivation to move, for example in the early season when the primary movement times are early morning and late evening, then it makes sense to target those times for the highest odds of a shot opportunity.

In the end, hunting funnels is all about common sense. As you evaluate the ground you hunt, take time to study air photos, go for a walk and assess the trails, consider where the best food source is relative to the bedding cover and then narrow down your evaluation to determine if there are any pinch points or areas that will funnel movement to a small area. Take these steps and you’re sure to get a shot opportunity next fall.

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