- Keywords Deer Hunting, Bowhunting, Scouting, Pre-Season
- Category Deer Hunting
- Region Maryland
- Prostaff Member Mike Furman
If you are a procrastinator, have been living under a rock during the off-season, or just haven't had time due to a summer full of kids, all- star softball and vacations like myself, you may find that your pre-bow season stand-hanging work has yet to be accomplished. Time is of the essence, and you still have a little left before the pre-rut kicks into gear to get that lock-on up into the right tree. However, finding that 'right' spot can be a major challenge. Following are several useful tips I take with me into the pre-autumn woods when considering placement of a lethal bow stand.
For starters, if you have not scouted the area in which you plan to erect a bow stand, or if you are relocating one and assuming your objective is to locate an ambush site that will put you in the optimal position to see and eventually harvest quality and/or mature deer, you have some work to do. By work, I mean becoming as intimately familiar with your area as possible. This task is not the 'chore' of yester-years where a hunter would have to spend days returning to a hunting ground, combing it over and over, searching for clues as to how the local whitetail herd was using the property for food, cover, and travel. Nowadays, with the marvel of Google Earth and the like, we can scan over the topography and lay of the land from the air-conditioned comfort of home to first identify funnels, pinch-points and potential ambush locations, cutting down in huge dividends on sweat equity and polluting the woods with our scent and noise. I am not advocating here that these advancements in technology should ever take the place of good, old-fashioned foot scouting; quite the opposite, actually. But if you are crunched for time late in the pre-season, these mapping programs can give you a needed jump start. Either way, it is incumbent upon us to learn the land for the best ingress and egress routes, prevailing winds, travel routes, bedding and staging areas and so forth if we are to be successful.
1) WIND - I am sure by now most of you who have ventured into the fall deer woods more than once know (or should know) how significant a part wind plays in our pursuit of whitetails. Without going into a biology lesson outside the scope of this article, suffice it to say that a deer's ultra keen sense of smell is absolutely the one thing that should be considered above all others when finding a stand site. By wind direction, I am implicating the PREVAILING wind direction in your particular area. Also consider thermals, the natural rise and fall of air currents in the morning and evening caused by the respective heating and cooling of the day. Wind direction seems to be the one constant that gets the most press as far as significance in reference to hunting deer, but conversely, it also seems to be one of the most ignored. This irony hit me recently in a conversation I had with the landowner of a new farm hunting lease. The owner asked me one day in passing as I made my way back to my truck with a pair of blue latex gloves on my hands if I had picked out a 'spot' yet. I replied, no, not quite yet, but I was working on it. He seemed puzzled as he replied with a smirk that he had told me where he always sees many deer moving about on the property. I thanked him for the useful information, but that seeing them from a distance from one's vehicle is a much different (not to mention easier) thing than accessing their 'living room' without them smelling you while doing so. Wind direction, admittedly, is a fickle thing. If I stayed out of the woods every single time the wind wasn't just right, heck, I would never be able to go hunting. Even when it is, other factors such as terrain can create wind dynamics that void the prevailing winds. Bottom line: know the wind, play the wind to your favor always, but also be smart about scent control and your ingress and egress routes.
2) THE INS AND OUTS - As I mentioned above, equally and maybe even more important than wind direction is getting to and from your stand secretively without getting busted. Get detected a couple times by any one or two deer while walking in or out, and the chances of them going nocturnal on you sky rockets. Get busted once by a mature buck, and he will change zip codes. I have found beautiful, killer sites for a tree stand before, only to be frustrated by the inability to successfully access it without being detected. I like to take the advice of Gene Wensel (author of 'Bowhunting Rutting Whitetails') with me every time I set foot in the leaves: Approach your stand site as if you were literally stalking it!
3) THE RIGHT TREE - The list of items that makes a tree 'right' for me to hang a stand in it is long, but a few key absolutes come to mind immediately. First, the tree must obviously be in an area where the deer 'are'. By this, I mean it should be proximal to, but not ON a trail, near a known food source, (I love getting near a stand of white oaks), close to cover, and if at all possible, a water source, (especially for hunting rutting bucks. If you think they don't get thirsty chasing the girls with their new winter-weight coat on, think again)! If you are near a well traveled trail, don't hang the stand closer than 15 to 20 yards. Any closer, and you are risking being detected as you move to position for the shot and draw your bow. Second, it must be strong enough to support the weight of you, the stand, and equipment (obviously). It never ceases to amaze me some of the spindly little saplings that some hunters insist on calling home. Also, a larger diameter tree will offer more camouflage and silhouette concealment. I prefer trees that either have their own branches for a cover effect, or ones with a small holly growing alongside. This set up has worked well for me.
4) GET YOUR 'DEER GOGGLES' ON!! - If every time I hung a new tree stand I did so according to my own tastes, the tree would be in an open, picturesque plot of woods with huge, mature trees, overlooking rolling hills of farmland with a perfect view of the sunrise and sunset, and no obstructions accessing it whatsoever. Sounds nice? It would be....if you are there to paint a picture. But we are in the woods, yes, to enjoy the endless beauty of God's creation, but also with the end result to fill a tag in mind. Having said that, in locating the precise 'right' spot for your stand, sometimes you have to step a bit out of your human comfort zone and look at what the woods and deer sign are telling you. On a similar trek this past summer while relocating a pre-existing bow stand, I came across a really nice, open patch of woods very close to where I had seen good deer movement the previous season; (the reason why I was relocating, in fact). I had set my equipment down at the base of a mature white oak and was getting rigged up for the climb when I did a second take. I stopped for a minute and looked around the immediate area, and it just didn't 'feel' right for some reason. A little more studying revealed the reason for my doubts. Although this particular spot was definitely near food (the white oaks), water (a plentiful creek flowed just 100 yards away), and sign (deer droppings everywhere), there was one element it was lacking. Cover! Right then, during the summer months with a tree canopy full of leaves, a hang-on stand with me, my bow and gear, would be more than adequately concealed from a passing whitetail's wary eyes. But, as I gazed from about 30 yards back from the target tree, imagining a deer's perspective in the fall woods, I reasoned to myself that bow season extends into the end of the year when this now bountiful, green-canopied oak would be a barren, ashy skeleton of itself now. And if I was in it, I would stand out to a deer like a light bulb on a popsicle stick. A little further inspection no more than 40 yards to the west of that tree in an area with several hollies, white oaks and small beech trees revealed a lot more sign, including several old scrapes and licking branches, as well as a few rubs. All of the pieces of the puzzle came together and made sense; deer travel was more condensed in that small area simply because they felt safer due to the extended amount of cover the hollies and thicker vegetation offered. So sometimes it helps to look at things from a deer's perspective rather than our own.
5) SAFETY!!! - I would be way off target without mentioning this in reference to elevated tree stand platforms. Anyone who thinks he or she is beyond the laws of gravity is just fooling themselves. Too many hunters have been hurt or worse from tree stand falls, and with all of the various ascending/descending, personal safety harness, and tethering systems available today, there really is no excuse for it. You owe it to your family and yourself to return home after the hunt. One system I personally use from Hunter Safety Systems actually uses a prussic knot and carabineer attached to a tag line that extends from the ground to the platform. This way, I am literally tethered from the first step to my tree stand.
Anyone can saunter into the woods and figure out how to 'slap' a stand up into place on any tree with the hopes of eventually seeing deer. But to be successful, we must learn to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and make the proposed site work to our benefit.