Cutover forests or clear-cuts require a different approach for hunting deer
A pair of hunters excited about the upcoming firearm deer season decided to scout an area. The site was on public land, but not heavily hunted.
As they rounded the curve, their hearts sank. Hundreds of acres were clear-cut. What was once prime hardwood ridges and bottom was gone.
The two hunters reminisced about previous hunts and big bucks each had taken. They were at a loss as to how to hunt on what appeared to be a vast wasteland. Stumps, brush tops, and rutted-out trails crossed the property. However, they knew the deer were still around.
Many deer hunters may shy away from large vast clear-cut areas. But, understanding deer behavior and with some scouting, you can punch out a spot on your deer tag.
Newly Cutover Areas
Forest sects that have been recently cut—less than one year—are probably the toughest to hunt. One glance across the barren terrain will have you thinking no deer are present.
However, deer are creatures of habit and will use some of the same trails, even if the trees are gone.
“Deer will walk along the tree lines in and next to cutovers,” comments Ken Ballard of Lincoln, Ala. “At times they will walk up a ridge into the wind across the open cutover.”
Weather can be a major factor in hunting clear-cuts. Cold, overcast days are best. Deer will be up and moving. On windy days, some deer will bed down on the side of a ridge out of the wind. The openness of the cutover area allows the deer to see any predators approaching, including you, the hunter.
Deer hunters will want to approach from a different ridge or direction to where the deer are bedded. It’s more like a spot-and-stalk approach used by western hunters. Locate the deer and slip around in a position to get a shot.
In vast clear-cut areas, some trees may have been intentionally left uncut. Stream management zones (SMZ) and steep gullies will have remaining trees to create a break line. Deer will often walk these break lines. These areas are ideal spots to erect a tree stand.
“I like to set my stands up in the corners of a cutover,” Ballard explains. “Deer will usually walk and slip in and out of the tree line cover.”
Hunters can scout for deer trails entering and leaving the tree line. Also, tracks should be noted up, down, or across ridges. Some deer will venture out in the clear-cut and, knowing where the trails are, will help you pinpoint a setup. Pop-up style blinds can be placed near the intersection of two trails. Sometimes deer will walk along the skidder trails where logs were dragged out to a loading area.
Cutover sections in the two- to five-year-old growth range are the ideal areas for deer and hunters. This age group of clear-cuts provides food and some concealment for deer. Even if the cut area has been replanted in pines, there is a tremendous amount of browse and forage for the deer.
Deer will eat just about any type of growing vegetation. Granted, they do prefer certain types of forages over others. However, there are many different varieties of native plants that thrive in clear-cuts. Briers, honeysuckle, and certain grasses will have deer feeding on a regular basis.
“Look for areas that get a lot of sun during the day,” comments Ballard. ‘These areas will usually have more growth of different plants.”
“Briers, honeysuckle, and certain grasses will have deer feeding on a regular basis”
Ballard also suggests checking out log loading areas. The soil in these spots has been disturbed and seeds can sprout easily in the soil. Some loggers pile up tree limbs and unusable logs near the old timber loading areas. These locales also support new plant growth that deer will want to feed on.
Planted pines in mid-growth clear-cuts are usually from around two- to six-feet tall. Certain areas may even be void of any tree growth due to weather or soil conditions. These non-growth areas will have some underbrush but few trees. These are top spots to target for deer, as they will be more open.
Shooting houses can be erected on private or leased lands in clear-cut areas. Face the house to the north if possible. This position puts the sun in the face of any approaching deer. Also, locate the shooting house near the point where two or more ridges come together.
“An elevated shooting house overlooking a clear-cut is a good way to hunt,” mentions Edwin Taylor of Talladega, Ala. “Sometimes you just have to sit and watch for deer movement.”
After about seven years of growth in young pines, the trees are too tall and thick for effective hunting. It’s almost impossible to see a deer, much less squeeze off a shot. Once the trees reach a height of eight feet or more, hunters should target fire breaks or SMZ.
Time to Drive
In younger, less dense clear-cuts, Ballard has had success in stalking deer. He says many hunters don’t want to venture off into the thicker sections of a cutover. However, the deer are there and, depending on the approach, they are less likely to bolt out of sight.
“In younger, less dense clear-cuts, Ballard has had success in stalking deer.”
“I’ll pick up a few rocks about golf ball size before entering a clear-cut,” Ballard explains. “When I’m in a spot near a drainage or just off the ridge, I will throw a couple of rocks way out ahead of me.”
Ballard says sometimes the deer will stand up or only move a few feet. This few seconds of delay is enough time to get a shot before the deer moves again. He also says don’t be afraid to use a grunt call. The deer are curious and will come in to get a closer look.