topo maps for whitetail deer

Section #6: How-To Use Topo Maps For Whitetail Deer

Topographical maps, Topo for short, are maps that represent the shape and elevation of the earth using contour lines.  Contour lines show how the ground rises or falls.  With that short description out of the way. Let me start with saying that I love researching areas, pouring over topo maps in search of an elusive mature buck.  I find that maps, and E-Scouting tools help unlock clues about where that elusive monster might be hiding. Whether you are new to an area, or just want to get better acquainted with one that you have been hunting for years. There are few better ways to do so than to get your hands on some topo maps. Using topo maps for whitetail deer is a great way to scout your next trophy. 

When using a topo map in order to better hunt whitetail, there are a few different terrain features that you should be searching for. There are a few basic rules and principles of how deer use terrain. No matter where you might find yourself, you can apply some of these principles to find, pattern, and effectively hunt deer. As with E-Scouting, mark points of interest and then put your boots on the ground and see it in person.

Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!

Why Topography Matters For Deer Hunter

This might seem obvious, but the better you know the terrain and its topography, the more familiar you will be with different deer patterns. This becomes especially important if you are hunting a new piece of land that you have never been to before. Sometimes you are not afforded the luxury of having a history in an area and having some experience with the local deer herds. This is where knowing the terrain and topography matter.

Using a few basic starting points, you can focus on key features of the land that are consistent no matter where you might find yourself hunting. That way you can quickly come up with a plan to hit the ground running. Let’s go over a few of these basic terrain and topography features that you can look for and utilize with your topo maps to help achieve even more success this hunting season!

Basic Terrain And Topography Features

There are a few different features that I will look for when picking apart a piece of land with a topo map. Deer will use certain features consistently, so if you can find these areas, you might just have a good spot!



One of the most productive whitetail deer activity terrain features is saddles. Saddles are natural pinch points that are created by the topography on a ridge or hill. It is basically a dip in a ridge or hill and allows a deer to pass through much easier, rather than climb the entire ridge itself. Deer will naturally prefer to travel on the path of least resistance in order to conserve energy. Saddles provide them a much easier way to cross. When you look at a topo map, saddles are easy to identify and find. 

In the picture, the red arrow shows an example of a good saddle. The blue line represents the ridgeline, and as you can see, there is a small part that is lower and flatter than the rest. This is where the deer will mostly pass through. 



Ridges are basically hills that run a fair distance. Deer will use ridgelines in order to travel but will not usually do so on top. Instead, check the sides of the ridge for trails. They do this in order to avoid being skylined on top of the ridge, but still being high enough to spot any predators. You might also find benches on the ridge sides, which are flat spots on either side of a ridge. Deer also love to use these areas to bed and to travel. 

In the picture you can see a basic ridge running north to south. Some ridges can stretch on for quite some length, while others are shorter. 

Ridge Points


There are certain points that come off a ridge or hill that can also create a natural funnel for deer. Deer use ridge points in a lot of ways, such as using them to bed on. They will usually bed on a point with the wind at their back, looking downhill in order to watch for potential predators. Points will also usually connect a network of trails, especially before heading downhill. These intersections can be great areas to hunt, as they usually see a lot of deer traffic. Points are generally very easy to find coming from ridges on a topo map. In open terrain, these points could also be used to gain an elevated vantage point and glass from the top. 

In the picture you sill see a ridge (represented by the blue line) and coming from it a small point (red arrow). This is a great spot to inspect in person, as there could be several trails off this point. 

Cover Funnels


While not technically a topography feature and more of a terrain feature, one of the biggest natural funnels you can find is created by trees, bushes, tall grass, or other brush that pinches down to a narrow point, or funnel. Deer, especially big bucks, prefer to move through cover whenever possible and avoid being out in the wide open. If you can find this type of funnel, there is sure to be some deer moving through this pinch point. If you are using a hybrid topography system (such as Onx Maps) you can not only see the topography but the terrain as well.  

Deer will move through this property following the cover (blue line), so the smallest section of cover will provide a natural pinch point (red arrow). 

Wrap Up

Once you have keyed in on a few of these different topography features. You can start to get a better understanding of how the local deer might be using and moving around the area. It can’t be said enough, mark your points of interest and get out and put your boots on the ground and confirm.  I prefer to use every tool at my disposal when chasing an elusive mature buck.  Topo maps are a tool that the whitetail deer hunter can use to be successful in harvesting a trophy in the fall.

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