The Daily, The Woods

Never guess about tree stand placement

Fall or winter, draw on a buck when he is occupied with feeding. Be patient.

It’s a common problem for most deer hunters. They find themselves in unfamiliar territory, and begin trying to puzzle out where to hunt. Which tree will best suit their needs.

Many hunters take a wild flying guess based on minimal input from gazing at trails, and pick a spot. Often, it may look good but in reality, it is a hurry-up and poor guess that will never pay off.

Having said that, we can answer the question of choosing the right tree. I prefer a spot where two or more trails come together to form a main trail. I prefer a cedar tree if possible, but will settle for any tree that fits my needs providing it has some cover (tree branches, leaves, etc.) to break up the hunter’s silhouette. It also needs at least two ways to gain access to the tree, and two ways out once the hunting day is done.

It sounds fairly simple but it involves much more thinking than guessing.

I personally prefer deer to approach my stand from behind, and if possible since I’m right-handed, I want the deer coming from behind and on my left side. It enables me to shoot sitting down, and offers both broadside and quartering-away shots, the ones a bow hunter should consider. I don’t want the deer coming head-on at me, and I don’t want the deer crossing from left to right or right to left in front of me.

Knowing where to hunt is always better than guessing. Knowing comes from a constant familiarity with the area being hunted. Let’s put it another way: We travel to Alabama in mid-January when the rut is in full swing, and we hunt on private club land.

Someone acts as a guide, and will drive us to a stand where deer are known to pass, and with some luck, we shoot a buck. If we don’t shoot a buck, it means that none were seen, none were of the size we wanted or a buck did show up but didn’t offer a chance for an accurate shot. If we see no bucks, one must wonder if it’s a good spot. Try to be discreet in asking a guide if the area usually produces bucks. Ask that question firmly, and the guide may question whether you are questioning his judgment. It never pays off to question a guide too strongly. He can make it happen where you won’t see a nice buck. Tread softly with this line of questioning.

We will hunt again in the evening, and will be placed in a key location where we should see deer. No one can always make deer move to the hunter, and no one can guarantee that a hunter can and will sit still or see a buck. Guides have a responsibility to try to put their hunters in the best spot, but no one can guarantee that an earlier hunter didn’t spook game away.

If we should hunt this way, with others telling us where to hunt, it’s a wise move to pay close attention to the terrain in which we hunt. There are always things that offer subtle clues about each location and whether deer are using the area. Look for tracks, rubs, scrapes, feeding or bedding areas, and ask questions in a whisper. Pick a guide’s brain because you are paying him to hopefull teach you something about picking tree stand locations.

Look for deer sign. Ask yourself if this looks like good deer country.

Deer often will be found in fringe cover, that area between thick heavy cover and open land. Of course, a ground blind or tree stand may be located anywhere in-between, and it’s up to the hunter to learn why one spot is better than another. If hunting in Alabama,, as we suggested at the beginning, you will probably be hunting palmetto swamps near a creek or river. Be sure your stand is high enough to enable you to look over the palmettos because you can’t look through them. A deer can move through the ground foliage but it does make some noise so be prepared to listen and look in all directions without moving too much.

One of my favorite spots is on a low hillside near thick cover with heavy cover on three sides with open land on one side. The prevailing wind should blow down through the open cover, and the stand can be cross-wind to approaching deer.

The only way a deer can pick up a hunter’s scent here is when the person climbs into or out of the stand. The stand must be high enough on this small hill to blow scent over the surrounding thick cover.

One thing hunters must do is look at terrain the way a deer would look at it. Where is the food source? Where are the key bedding areas? Which trails connect those two key locations? How can deer, especially the larger bucks, travel back and forth without being on trails? I try to stay at least 50 yards back in cover away from the field edge.

Other key factors include:

•How does the wind blow in each location, and does it swirl backwards when hitting a woodline?

•How can a hunter get into and out of the area without bumping into deer?

•Does the hunting area have two or three way to enter and exit to avoid traveling the same route time after time?

•Have a choice of where to enter or leave the stand can help prevent bucks from patterning you.

•Know how to get in and out without spooking deer.

More chances are lost by running into a deer that for any other reason.

Which type of stand is best suited to that area? Which would work best: a ground blind, pit blind, tree stand or elevated coop? How high is high enough for elevated stands?

I’ve found that a tree stand elevation of 15 to 18 feet is usually high enough under most circumstances. I’ve got one stand that is close to 30 feet in the air, and it is a consistent producer but steep-angle shots are not a good bet when a hunter must make up his mind in a hurry, and take a quick well-aimed shot.

Many of my stands are at 14-15 feet. That places a standing bow hunter at roughly 20 feet in the air. A stand at 18 feet puts the hunter has roughly 24 feet. Each stand has special requirements, and hunters must solve these problems long before the season opens. Match stand height to the best natural features of a tree.

Hunters will have far better success if they know why a hunting location is the best spot. Guessing implies that one is trusting to luck or fate. With a guess, the hunter will have a 50-50 chance of guessing right.

Of course, this also means a 50-50 chance of guessing wrong. There is nothing worse than a stand that requires hours of effort and time to prepare only to learn it is not in the right spot.

This year, don’t guess. Know where the hotspots are long before the season opens. Doing so beats guessing every time.


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