Hunt Ridges And Benches for Whitetail

July 17th, 2009 / Posted by
Hunt Ridges And Benches for Whitetail

Hunting ridge-country requires a very keen understanding of how deer are influenced by terrain. Once you figure that out and the puzzle solves itself. Two terrain features – ridges and benches – hold the most promise and are the easiest to hunt. Learn how deer relate to these two terrain features and you’ll take more than your share of big bucks.

Understanding Ridges
Ridges are heavily used where ever they exist because they offer excellent visibility and maximum security to bedded deer. Most ridges extend out over a bottom or ravine, and the point where the ridge ends is always a heavily used bedding area.

As you move farther back along the ridge, away from the bedding points and generally toward feeding areas, (oak flats or ridge top crop fields) you’ll find at least one heavy trail on top. It will most often be used by does and fawns, but bucks will also travel here if the hunting pressure is light and the rut is near its peak.

The Wind Will Kill You!
Anytime the wind encounters protected air it will swirl, just like the eddies of current in a trout stream. And like the stream, the swirling gets more violent and unpredictable as the wind speed increases and gusts.

Hollows and draws funnel wind and change its direction. The most severe case occurs when the wind flows 90 degrees to a ravine. Because of the way the wind hits the downwind side of the ravine, and how it swirls over the upwind edge, it will usually be flowing in the opposite direction at the bottom of the ravine. This can be a little unsettling. A more predictable situation occurs when the wind is quartering to the direction of the ravine, or actually blowing in the same direction that the ravine lies. In these cases the wind will be funneled to follow the topography.

To overcome the affects of swirling either hunt near ridge tops where the flow is unbroken and consistent, or sparingly in wide draws where swirling is kept to a minimum. If you take nothing else from this article, remember that getting the wind right is one of the greatest challenges when hunting ridge-country.

On either side of the ridge will be trails about 40 to 50 yards down the hill. These won’t be as heavily used and will often be marked sparingly by a rub line. In order to keep a low profile; bucks are most apt to travel these side hill trails. Look for rub lines as the primary indicators since you may not really find a trail. The travel route on the downwind side of the ridge top is the best choice for buck hunters. Success tends to be best in the morning as deer are heading toward their bedding areas.

Ridge Top Travel Routes

The author took this buck from a stand located along a brushy fence line that crosses an otherwise open ridge top. Bucks use the cover of the fence to cross from the cover on one side of the ridge to the other.

The author took this buck from a stand located along a brushy fence line that crosses an otherwise open ridge top. Bucks use the cover of the fence to cross from the cover on one side of the ridge to the other.

Ridge crossing pattern: When you find a brushy fence line or strip of cover that crosses an open ridge you’ve found the perfect travel route for a buck trying to keep a low profile. Without a doubt, there will be a deer trail (however faint) on each side of the fence or cover. Now follow the structure down the side hill on what would normally be the prevailing downwind side. You should hit the edge of the timber and then the edge trail that runs just inside. All that’s left is to find a tree that allows you to keep all three of these trails within range. Hunt it when the wind is blowing from the ridge out over the side hill.

Upwind stand placement: More than likely you’ll have to set up above the edge trail in order to cover both sides of the ridge crossing funnel. You can get away with this and still not spook deer on the edge trail downwind if you keep your stand high enough (at least 18 feet, more than 20 is better) and keep the stand location within about 15 yards of the downwind trail.

When there’s no crossing: If you can’t find a fence line or an unbroken band of cover that connects both side hills across an open ridge top, look for fingers of timber extending toward each other from opposite sides. Even though they don’t offer complete concealment for a traveling buck, the fingers do hide him for a portion of the crossing. The closer together they come the more they’ll be used.

The best way to access a ridge crossing stand is from below, straight up the hill into the wind. You should be able to get your stand without any deer knowing you are around. And because the wind is coming from the top of the ridge, once you get on stand your scent should stay above any downwind deer for a long ways. Don’t try to access these stands from above because the required wind direction to make the stand effective (from the ridge top toward the stand) will carry your scent to too many deer.

Ditch Crossings
Ditch crossings are my favorite stand location when hunting a new area for the first time. They are very easy to find and hunt requiring little in the way of scouting. Anytime there’s a slope there’s bound to be run- off and erosion. Some of the erosion ditches that cut down the sides of a ridge are so deep and steep that deer moving naturally are very reluctant to cross them. They are much more likely to go around such a ditch, meaning the upper end and the lower end are natural hotspots that nearly every deer using the side hill will pass.

When scouting a side hill, look for deep ditches and follow them until you come to the upper end, usually near the field edge (if the ridge top is wide enough to cultivate). The wind will be most consistent here making it the best place for your stand. Near the bottom, the swirling effect of the wind is too difficult to anticipate for good hunting. You can find these locations on a topo map and often even on an aerial photo.

Hunt the ditch stand only when the wind is blowing toward it from the top of the ridge. Your scent will be carried aloft for a long ways before it’s pulled to ground level below. When approaching or exiting this stand, walk right up the bottom of the ditch. This eliminates any chance that deer will see you, and reduces the risk that they’ll hear you. It’s worth taking the extra time to clear out a path if the bottom of the ditch is choked with deadfalls. I’ve carried a chainsaw into my hunting areas several times during the off-season to clear ditches. It’s hot, miserable work but it makes getting in and out a breeze. And after all, easy access is the very definition of a good stand location, making the effort very worthwhile.


Deer are opportunists and will take the path of least resistance any time it doesn’t compromise their security. Saddles offer traveling bucks the perfect place to cross a ridge top. These terrain features reduce the work involved and keep a buck from being sky lined.

In general, set up on the downwind side of the ridge top, within range of the side hill trail that invariably will be located near the downwind edge of the saddle. The wind direction required to hunt the spot will depend upon where the deer are coming from as they converge on the saddle. Likely they will be following the side hill around, giving you an opportunity to set up just below the edge trail near the bottom of the saddle.

Benches Are Tough But Worth The Effort
Benches are the hottest places to hang a stand in ridge- country, but only if the wind will cooperate – which unfortunately, it rarely does. Every bench I’ve ever looked at was torn up with trails and rut sign. It is obvious that these bedding and travel areas serve as major contact points for bucks looking for does, and much of an area’s activity takes place here.

Benches aren’t easy to find. In fact, the majority of those that I hunt are actually old, overgrown logging roads. But regardless of how they were made, swirling winds make all benches tough to hunt. Only those benches located on a side hill facing the wind can be hunted effectively. Benches down in narrow draws won’t work because the wind will swirl too much. The valley has to be sufficiently wide to give the wind a straight shot at the side hill so it will be pushed up the slope in a predictable fashion.

The best way to access a bench is from above. I like to slink down a ditch whenever possible to stay out of sight. A stand near the point where the ditch meets the bench is a good choice because the ditch creates a second travel route by funneling side hill deer travel onto the bench.

On those rare occasions when the conditions allow you to hunt one of these hotspots, plan to stay on stand all day long. You may only get to hunt the stand once or twice per season, but if you don’t mess things up by hunting it at the wrong times, once or twice may be enough.

Hunting rugged terrain can be perplexing but when you keep things simple by focusing on how deer relate to only two terrain features you make the landscape seem a lot friendly and easier to understand.

About the author: Bill Winke is one of the most respected Bowhunting Authors and also runs Midwest Whitetail, an online bowhunting video company. to watch one of his shows on Preseason scouting see below:

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