I think you are seeing the same thing that I am. A funnel is worthless if there is no reason for a deer to use it. The key is finding the does at that time of the year.
You talk about doe bedding areas and that they are hard to find. I agree. I would add though that doe bedding is a lot different than buck bedding. I like to use the term "pockets of deer" instead of a bedding area. I think many people are misled by doe bedding area. Does have a core area (which is actually pretty big). They also move a lot as food sources change. They also bed more randomly than bucks do.
It's amazing how fast doe groups relocate when someone starts dumping corn down.
I think your new method will produce a lot better than your old ways. I would take it one step further and actually do a lot of in season scouting. I would go looking for the pockets of does before setting up. As you said things change a lot from year to year. I have more "luck" just quick scouting an area then once I find does I set up along the edges..
It has been a full year since magicman wrote the above information. I want to check in and report my results after following magic's advice on hunting the bigwoods rut.
The area I hunted is Northerm Wisconsin vast national forest with no agriculture, no clearcuts, very few bowhunters, and very low deer numbers.
-day one (November 8th)... walked transition edges the whole day, with intention of locating pockets of deer. Had 2" of fresh snow so the conditions were ideal. Was stunned by the scarcity of deer tracks. Was not surprised by the multiple wolf tracks (sets of 5 and 6 tracks cruising thru a few totally different areas). Quite a few sets of bear tracks as well. Did discover two pockets of deer activity, both associated with small cedar swamp areas. They were not in the acorns at all.
-day two (Nov 9th)...waited till first light to walk into a doe bedding area that is between two small cedar swamps. This area is my most consistent doe bedding spot over the years. I waited for light so I could scout for tracks in the dwindling snow as I hiked to my stand. I was encouraged to see cruising buck tracks and some doe family tracks as I neared the bedding area. A 3.5 yr old busted me as I set up my stand and I saw a smaller buck run into the doe bedding later in the day. I felt it was a great day of hunting in the bigwoods.
-day three (nov 10th)...gave into temptation and tried hiking to a new spot I thought would be a good rut corridor. Old habits die hard because my plan was to NOT hunt classic funnels this year. As it turned out, a massive blowdown area kept me from reaching the spot. I regrouped and tried to hike to a new area I believed could be doe bedding (based on topos /aerials), but again was turned back by a different blowdown area. It was a frustrating day compounded by not seeing many tracks with all the walking I had done.
-day four(Nov 11th)... waited for first light and hiked into a new area I strongly suspected would be doe bedding (again, this is based on topos and aerials and my previous experience with what doe bedding looks like in this bigwoods area.) My plan was to keep checking "doe" areas until I found fresh sign, then set up quietly and hunt the edge of it. Happily, we had a skim of fresh snow which made it easy to see a few fresh doe tracks and a couple sets of buck cruising tracks. I set my LW Alpha only 10' up with great backdrop cover. ten minutes later a 1.5 yr old came past. one hour later a fat 2.5 yr old came out of the bedding cover and I killed him!
This is not the biggest buck I ever shot, but I am VERY proud of this hunt. It is empowering to me to know I can get on bucks in the bigwoods, especially with the very low deer density in the area I am hunting. I could have sat rut funnels all week long (as I have for 25+ years) and come home empty handed. Thanks to magicman for helping the lightbulb go on for how to hunt the rut in this terrain!