3 Reasons Why Clear Cuts Consistently Hold Big Bucks
The whitetail deer is a creature of habit. Does will hit the same food sources year after year. Mature bucks will bed in the same bed anytime the wind is in their favor. You can even predict when bucks will start hitting scrapes almost to the day based on the weather.
If you are a big woods hunter like myself, you've most likely noticed some habits that deer do in hill county, that are a little different than most other habitats and terrains. The one that stands out the most though, is how deer in a big woods setting use clear cuts. They are thick and full of food for deer, making it a prime spot for an encounter with a hill country giant.
Here at Exodus, we've talked to plenty of different hill country hunters that have different approaches to hunting the big woods, but there are common 3 things that stand out when talking hill country clear cuts.
Listen to the full discussion:
#1 - Bedding Cover
Anyone who is a serious whitetail hunter knows that deer need 3 essentials for basic survival: food, water, and cover. Clear cuts can offer all 3 of those things, but the main essential that clear cuts provide is cover. Whether they are 8 months old or 8 years old, clear cuts are thick and nasty.
When a buck picks out a place to bed, he is looking for something that will give him every possible advantage. Bucks love to make their beds with cover to their back, the wind to their advantage, and a field of vision that is as wide as possible.
On newer clear cuts, tops of trees left laying in piles can provide great bedding opportunities for mature bucks. Cut tree tops can check all of the boxes for that old wise buck, as well as other bedding opportunities for does. On older cuts, everything is grown back up with a high stem count in the immediate area, allowing for even more secure bedding for both bucks and does. Look for areas in the cut that check all of the boxes mentioned above, which also have an escape route in close proximity allowing that buck to get out of the bedding area in a hurry if he senses danger.
#2 - Food
Clear cuts can offer an old mature buck every advantage possible, but what makes them really attractive to hill country bucks is the fact that bedding cover and food are all in the same area. Newer clear cuts can be a buffet for bucks at all times of the year.
In the warmer part of the season, stumps of logged trees are sprouting new green shoots which are a delicacy for big woods bucks, along with all of the other new growth that pops up in the absence of a canopy. Any shoots that haven't been munched on can produce leaves, that during the month of October can be another food source that deer target, specifically maple leaves. In the late season, the greenbrier that often takes over in newer cuts can provide a mature buck with food throughout the colder months.
If you are lucky enough to stumble across a newer clear-cut that targeted acorn-producing oaks, you've just hit the jackpot (depending on what time of year it was timbered). If the timber was taken later in the summer into early fall when the oaks are growing acorns, the tree tops laying all over the place loaded with acorns still attached to the branches or laying all over the ground offer an easy meal for hill country deer.
#3 - Transitions
When it comes to travel and seeking out does, mature bucks are creatures of edge habitat and terrain. Any time you can find a "soft" or "hard" transition anywhere you can hunt whitetails, I'd be willing to bet that there are deer using it to travel.
The same holds true for big woods hill country deer. Any time you can find a break in the monotony of old-growth woods, odds are there is a buck or two using it to travel, check bedding areas for does, or hit a scrape. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better transition area in the big woods than a clear-cut.
Newer clear cuts have a "hard" transition, meaning that there is a distinct difference where two or more types of habitat meet. The advantage of this is that mature bucks will use this hard edge to quickly scent-check a clear cut for hot does or a scrape on the hard edge by walking downwind of the cut. This allows the buck to stay in the safety and cover of the woods without exposing himself to the wide open, while still using his sense of smell to determine if there is a hot doe or another buck using the area.
Older clear cuts have more of a "soft" transition, meaning that there isn't a distinct difference where two or more types of habitat meet, but the edge is still there. The advantage of this is that it allows the buck to hug the edge of the cover while traveling, giving him a secure travel route with an option for escaping into the cover should danger arise. These "soft" transitions also are great areas for finding rub lines and scrape lines, and can often be the first scrape a buck will hit if he is bedding in the clear cut.
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Hunting the big woods can be quite a daunting task for most. With massive expanses of unbroken timber ranging from 10,000 to 100,000-acre chunks and oftentimes low deer density, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more challenging way of hunting mature bucks.
If you are patient though, the opportunities at an old wise big woods buck are there. It comes down to mostly putting yourself in the right spot, along with a little bit of luck. There might not be a Boone & Crockett buck living in every single clear-cut you find, but they are a great place to try and stack the odds in your favor.
Don't be afraid to look at clear cuts in the lower thirds of hill country as well. Anyone who's hunted hill country knows that the upper thirds are the go-to place when it comes to targeting mature deer, but lower thirds clear cuts can sometimes be overlooked because they are too close to a parking lot or a road.
I have run multiple cameras at my family's deer camp for years in the big woods of Northwest Pennsylvania, and my two most productive cameras for daytime buck activity this past year were the two I had in old clear cuts down in the valley very close to parking lots.
Written by: Lucas Jones