Waterholes for Bowhunting, Are They Right for You?

Waterholes for Bowhunting, Are They Right for You?

Before the shot ever leaves the bow, and heads towards a whitetail deer, one of the most difficult and important decision all archers have to make is where to set up a treestand or a ground blind.  As hunters we know that setting up on food plots and travel routes are all good strategies for hunting whitetail deer, but what about waterholes for bowhunting, are the right for you?


There are a number of things that you must consider before setting up on a waterhole.  They include things such as; are you going to set up a natural waterhole or are you going to create a waterhole.  Water intake requirements for whitetail deer vary depending on the region where you live. The bulk of water requirements for deer are met through the forage they can consume, which is why most whitetails hit water harder during the evening after exiting “dry” bedding areas, than the morning after they have fed on green vegetation all night. Whitetails can live for days or even weeks at a time without actually drinking water.

When I make a decision to set up on a waterhole, I am generally looking for a small stream or creek with good clear water flow.  In urban areas these streams warm and cool with the seasons and don’t shock a deer’s system like their cool/cold mountain stream counter parts do. I avoid ponds as they are often deep and require a boat, canoe or kayak to get the deer out of the water. After all I primarily hunt in urban areas, and urban deer are different.  I prefer to hunt over smaller waterholes, less than 10 feet across, and not more than three feet deep. I keep a pair of waders, a rope, and a grappling hook in my truck, for when and if a deer happens to land in a deeper hole along the creek.  If you are in a wide, deep stream, recovery can be problematic and dangerous.  Large DSC00134river bottoms pose a danger to hunters who attempt to recover animals without the proper attire and can quickly succumb and die from hypothermia.

What to look for when setting up on a natural waterhole?  Look for tall grasses that have been brushed over from the whitetails coming and going from the water source.  In addition, look for shallow, narrow areas with easy entry and exit points.  Deer like to cross water with minimal effort and maximum protection. Also consider looking for areas that are near bedding areas as whitetail deer like to drink early in the evening.

waterhole 3Now if you don’t have a small stream or creek on your hunting property you can create a waterhole by using an old drum or small koi pond plastic liner, either will work extremely well.  You can find plastic drums for sale on the internet for around $25.00-$50.00, and plastic ponds for around $50.00 and up. You also have a third option and that is use a children’s plastic pool.  These are the least expensive option, perfect size and will last for years.  The only down side is that you may have to paint it. Once you have your waterhole, simply dig a whole deep enough to lower the drum, the pond, or the pool into the ground and leave about two inches above the ground’s surface.  This will help keep excess dirt out the water hole. kids helping

Fill the bottom of your container with rocks and some dirt and then fill halfway or more with water. When trying to decide what size water hole to create, keep in mind smaller is always better…as long as there is consistent water. Small micro waterholes of in the 25-250 gallons size can offer very non obtrusive, secure locations for a monster buck to visit.

When trying to decide if you should build a waterhole on your property think about these two questions:

1. Is there water in the deer’s bedding area, or close by?

2. Is it dry between their daytime bedding area and evening food source?

half barrel water holeDeer readily hit water prior to arriving at their evening food source. Water by itself will not attract more deer to your property, it can however highly direct traffic for deer on the way to food. Water is also great for luring in cruising buck all day long. It provides both a drink, as well as area for him to check out and see if there is a receptive doe nearby.

Here is a great link to help get you started on creating your own water holes from Jeff Sturgis https://youtu.be/b7K9Fw_OlV4

Remember when you are considering whether or not to set up on a waterhole, consider all the factors involved, the size and the depth of the stream and what you will do when the unthinkable happens. The location and size of your man made waterholes, and remember smaller is always better as long as there is constant water. Finally when setting up on a waterhole, I look at how difficult will it be to access my stand location.  Can it done quietly and without leaving a scent trail.  Can I use the stream to mask my scent and sound as I head to my stand?  If it is, then it is time to go for it and set up your stand. If you keep those things in mind you will have success in the waterhole.

Steve Sheetz

Steve is an avid outdoorsman who has been fortunate enough to publish two books on archery hunting. His first book, For the Love of the Hunt, was published in 2011. His second book, Wading Through the Darkness was published in 2015. Steve sits on numerous Pro Staffs throughout the archery industry. For almost a decade Steve helped build Huntonly.com but wanted the opportunity to build something bigger and better and launched Chasinwhitetails.com in December of 2014 as a way to share his love and passion for the outdoors. Today Chasin'Whitetails Media is growing. With the addition of the radio show in 2014 and a The Heartbeat TV show in 2015, who knows what will come his way next. When it comes to understanding the movement and logic of the urban whitetail and waterfowl, he is more than just a Ph.D. with a love of the outdoors. He is a self-proclaimed expert who loves to engage and teach others about the sport he loves so very much. Spending over 125 days a year in the big city woods and urban waterways chasing all types of game.

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