What’s the single most important key to whether you get your deer this fall?
It’s not your experience or your marksmanship or your smarts. It’s where you put your stand — and how. A big part of the fun of deer hunting is scouting a piece of ground, planning strategy, and selecting stands.
Stands are best located where deer concentrate. Mostly this is near smaller, favored places for bedding or feeding, or narrow corridors of cover that deer travel.
The best way to locate stands is to first locate general areas where whitetails will be and then narrow it down to the best stand site — the place where the biggest concentration of deer comes within bow or gun range without being able to detect you.
General areas can be broken down to early-season bowhunting; hunting during the rut; gun season; and late season.
Early Bow Season
When bow season opens in September or early October, deer are relatively easy-going because they haven’t been hunted recently. They are in patterns of traveling at dusk to feeding sites, and back to bedding areas at dawn.
In evening, hunt from stands on the edges of soybean, alfalfa, and clover fields. For morning hunts, set stands on trails leading between the fields and thick bedding areas.
In big woods situations, the best thing is to find a big, solitary white oak tree that is dropping acorns. White acorns are among a deer’s favorite food; they will flock to the tree.
When mating season commences (usually late October) bucks are more active as they search for does. They are not as careful as usual, and often travel open trails through the woods, such as logging roads. Look for areas of lots of deer concentration, and spend lots of time watching trails there. The increase in deer activity makes this the best time to hunt.
On opening weekend of gun season, the large amount of hunter activity influences deer movement more than any other factor. Look for areas where deer are likely to be “pushed.” For example, if you know a good public deer woods with a road on the north and a swamp on the south, try to get between the deer and the swamp before daybreak. When deer sense hunters entering the woods from the road, they will likely head for the swamp — within shooting range of you.
As in the early season, the key is food. Both food and cover will be in more limited supply and deer will be concentrated. Find what deer are eating and where they’re bedding, and intercept them on the trails between the two.
Once you’ve located the general area you plan to hunt, it’s time to look at the fine points of setting up your stand. Thoroughly scout the area well before hunting time. Look for funnels — places where deer travel concentrates because of something they are attracted to or have to avoid. They may concentrate near a watering area, or favored food such as oak or apple trees. More common and more reliable is a situation where they are forced to travel around something. Deer travel is concentrated around the ends of long lakes or open fields, and at the shores of rivers with steep bluffs. Because deer avoid being seen by staying out of open areas, they like to travel in narrow strips of woods or brush, such as fencerows and creekbottoms.
The very best situation is where two of these funnels intersect.
Set up on the side of the intersection downwind of the prevailing wind. In most places, the wind blows from the west or northwest most of the time, which means you’re better off building your stand on the east or southeast side of the intersection.
Treestands should be about 15 feet to 18 feet high for maximum effectiveness. Be sure to put your stand on the side of the tree that lets you shoot comfortably in the direction deer are most likely to be. Use a safety harness anytime you are erecting or hunting out of a treestand.
Ground blinds should give you ample cover but not restrict your movements. Be sure you can shoot all around, safely. Have some sort of gun rest for best accuracy.
Be sure you can access your stand without spooking all the deer in the woods. Don’t walk on deer trails that are heading past your stand — deer can smell where you walked, and will avoid it.
There is a wide variety of gear designed to make stand hunting safer, more comfortable, and more successful.
Portable treestands have become one of the most popular items among deer hunters, for good reason. They are faster and more adaptable than permanent stands, cheaper in the long run, and are safer and result in less damage to trees. There are four types of portable stands: fixed-position, climbing, ladder, and tripod stands.
If you are using fixed-position stands, you’ll need a way up the tree. That may be screw-in or strap-on tree steps, or one of the convenient climbing ladders that are available today. The ladders fit together in sections and attach to the tree; they are generally easier and safer to use than tree steps.
Some other gear you’ll need include a pull rope to get your gear into your stand with you; a saw to clear shooting lanes; trail marking products to help you find your stand; deer scent to place at strategic spots to lure deer near your stand and to make them stop for a clean shot.
Armed with knowledge of stand hunting and the right gear, you can set the stage for success in the deer woods this fall.