Whitetail Waterhole Tips to Define Deer Movement

Whitetail Waterhole Tips to Define Deer Movement

One of the simplest and most effective ways to define deer movement is through the installation of strategically placed waterholes.

With just a few supplies and a little sweat, you can have a waterhole filled and ready to become an integral part of the local whitetail’s daily movement. The size of the tank you’ll need depends on how you’ll keep the waterhole filled.

I recommend using a tank that holds at least 70 gallons, so that you wont have to fill it as often. The larger, the better, however, the bigger the tank; the bigger the hole you’ll have to dig and the more water it will take to fill!

Choosing a Waterhole Location for Deer

The location for your waterhole is certainly the most important factor in its success. Areas between bedding and food sources are a good place to consider. The value of the waterhole increases greatly if the bedding area and food source are dry!

A dry bedding area however, is more important than a dry food source. Deer that leave a dry bedding area will often stop at waterholes before their evening feeding even if water is available at the evening food source. This is a great reason to limit the amount of available water at your food sources. By limiting the amount of water on your parcel, you can greatly improve the potential value of the water sources you create.

Once you have found a good area to create a waterhole, the next step is choosing a place that you the hunter can take advantage of. Waterholes offer a great opportunity for stand locations. In fact, if waterholes are placed away from your stands, you decrease their value by encouraging movement where you can’t hunt it. Instead, reinforce existing movements or slightly alter travel to areas you can hunt but with a small chance of spooking deer. Waterholes create a “Quick Stop” for deer. Placing waterholes on cruising or travel areas between bedding, staging and feeding areas will allow you to take full advantage of the attraction.

Waterhole Installation Tips

If you have found an ideal location for your waterhole, installation is the next step. Depending on what area your property is located in, hunting pressure can play a role in the way you install it. In areas with very little hunting pressure, you can often get away with placing and filling a metal stock stank above the ground.

However, in areas where hunting pressure is a factor, you should do everything you can to make your waterhole as natural as possible. Although it takes a bit more effort, digging your tanks brim to ground level is a great idea for a couple reasons.

  1. It looks natural! Deer won’t be spooked by tanks that are dug into the ground.
  2. It makes it easier to keep your tank full!

If you get your tank deep enough into the ground, it will naturally fill with runoff every time you get rain. That will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

When you fill your tank for the first time, add some dirt to the bottom of the tank. This too, helps make things look natural, but also mimics the conditions of waterholes deer find naturally in the landscape. Deer aren’t afraid to push through some mud and dirt to get mineral rich hydration.

Lastly, once you have filled your tank, make sure there is a branch or some sort of “ramp” that allows rodents and other small animals to escape if they fall into your waterhole.

How Often Should You Empty and Clean Deer Waterholes?

My recommendation is that you freshen it at least once per year. Deer seem to tolerate quite a bit of gunk and grime in waterholes, but I’ve found that they will avoid waterholes that smell rotten. So it’s in your best interest to keep them somewhat fresh by removing the fallen leaves and any critters that weren’t able to climb out.

The most important part of maintaining your waterhole, is to make sure it stays full! Once it becomes a part of the local herd’s daily movement, the deer will count on it being full! It may take one to two weeks for deer to become accustomed to it and use it frequently, but it will become a regular stop in their cycle of movement. If they encounter it has run dry, it can take weeks for them to encounter it and utilize it for their daily use again once it has been refilled.


Water is undoubtedly a great way to define deer movement. Keep in mind that the dryer the area, the more valuable the water. Waterhole placement is key, but be careful to not add too many, or the value of each tank will decrease.

For example, on a typical 80-acre parcel, 3-4 water sources are plenty. If you have the proper conditions, and you have strategically placed your waterholes between bedding and evening food sources, deer will soon include them in their daily movement. Waterholes will see the most action in the late afternoon or evenings, right away in the morning as deer go back to bed, and often are utilized all day by cruising bucks during the rut.

By keeping them full and without frequently spooking deer from your waterholes, they will become great attractions and great features to hunt over.

Jeff Sturgis
Jeff Sturgis
Habitat Design Specialist and Founder of Whitetail Habitat Solutions
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