Hunting season is right around the corner but it’s never too early to scout and place your tree stands. Finding signs of deer is only one aspect of scouting for the perfect tree. Although we would all like to have that mystic location that the deer always come to it is more important to be prepared for any conditions. The variables that can come up are weather, wind direction, pressure from nearby hunters and more. Having multiple locations ensures you have a great spot no matter the circumstances. Setting up in the right spots prevents the need to move a stand mid-season which can disturb deer patterns.
Many people procrastinate putting up tree stands and end up battling the bugs, heat and plentiful pruning requirements. Some of this can be averted by going into the field during the spring season to setup. March and the beginning of April are when your shooting lane will most likely have the same amount of cover as it will during the hunting season of November. When you trim cutting lanes in the spring it is less likely you will over prune. Taking out too much cover can risk your concealment which is important in tree stand hunting. If you have taken out too much and are finding yourself in the open it can be hard to be stealth while in the stand. Adding tree stand blinds or blind fabric can help in these situations.
Scent control is an important aspect of big game hunting. You will want to be downwind from the field, travel lane or ponds you are hunting over. Having several stands will help to allow you to have a place to sit regardless of the wind direction. In the morning scent rises so being in a higher stand can help conceal your location. Thermals push back down in the evening and concealment can be a little tricky. For most of the whitetail range the predominant wind direction is from the northwest but this can change based on local topography and weather disturbances. Utilizing scent control washes, sprays and clothing will help but practicing good etiquette when walking to your stand can also help. Keep your hands in your pockets or gloved so that you do not touch the trees, twigs and grasses as you walk in. When setting up your tree stand wear gloves to avoid getting your oils on the stand.
Along with concealment and scent control, another important feature of tree stand placement is entry and egress points. Access to your stand should not pass through open fields, feeding areas or deer trails to avoid chasing away the deer. Sometimes you have to go out of your way to be stealthy; stealthy to the stand and stealthy in it. Trees that are wide enough to hide your silhouette yet small enough to wrap your arms around to ensure safe climbing techniques are practical. Aspen, birch and ash trees are typically not wide enough to hide your outline but oak and maple work great. Straight trees are very important for safety along with making sure the tree isn’t dying or doesn’t have any widow maker branches hanging. Make sure the base of your tree is clear of roots and debris for great foot placement of your ladder stand.
Determine the type of stand to use. If your location end up being through a maze of birch trees and over a ridge are you willing to haul a ladder stand full of sections to it? Perhaps a hang-on and a pack of climbing sticks make the most sense here. Not fully committed to a spot but really interested in trying it out? Bring out a climbing stand for an easy journey. No matter the stand selection or location, practicing with the climber or hang-on and sticks can be important. Not understanding your equipment can put you in risk of making more noise than necessary or taking too much time to get up into the tree.
Putting together a game plan and mapping your ideal locations can help decide where and how many tree stands to place. Using aerial photographs can show the general topography and coverage of the land. Most of us have continual access to some type of aerial imaging whether on your laptop or in the palm of your hand. Starting with aerial scouting can help lessen the time needed for boots on the ground scouting and disturbance of the area. There are many tools to use for aerial scouting such as Google Earth, OnX Hunt, Hunt Maps and more. Some of these services are free and some are paid subscriptions. The images provided can help you view bedding areas, food sources, hardwoods and then move in closer to see terrain features, funnel spots, creeks and other points of interest. Aerial images will also aid in looking for access points in and out of your stand. The biggest function of aerial research isn’t in finding the right spots but rather eliminating the wrong ones. Turning on layers available like “wetlands” can help eliminate shrub swamps that wouldn’t be suitable for tree stand placement. The subscription land management software will give you the land owners name on private property, property boundaries, and even what hunting zone a public land falls into.
Printing out a copy of the map or using GPS software to mark areas of interest will help with your field scouting. Once on the ground you can look for the signs not able to be seen from an aerial photo; scrapes, scat and more on currently used trails. Other great features to look for are backbones of a ridge or ravine. You can shoot downslope and the topside. Trails running parallel to a field or roadway can be natural travel corridors and allow you easy access into a stand. If you don’t have year round knowledge of the hunting property, reach out to the farmers who work the fields or trappers who spend their winters out there. Insightful data can be gained from these conversations. Bucks are notorious for entering a field from the corners. Those cruising through the area will usually skirt around the perimeter of the field just beyond the clearing. Finding the right area, or bottleneck, where these two trails intersect can provide a great location. You can also control how the deer travel through the property. Deer are fairly lazy and will prefer to travel on the path of least resistance. Clearing out narrow trails will encourage deer to change travel pattern to the food source or bedding area.
Game cameras are one of the most useful tools of scouting once you have determined some general areas to investigate. If you place cameras out and don’t see any activity of bucks don’t expect them to magically appear come rut. You may need to move to a different spot you have determined to be worthy of further scouting. If hunting public land and you can’t put out game cameras you can look up annual harvest logs to determine some areas with productive yields. These areas will likely attract more hunters so stepping up your scouting game is crucial to give you the best chance of success. Thinking outside the box and being willing to travel further or over harsher terrain to get to the sweet spot can give you an advantage.
Once you have caught the bucks on camera pay attention to their movements; this will help you pattern their schedules. Bedding locations, travel directions and times of day will all vary based on wind direction and weather. These bits of knowledge will help come hunting season and you are limited to a short window and need to know how to react to each day’s forecast.
Minimizing over working the area is good to prevent disturbance al year but particularly important in the weeks leading up to rut. You have spent all of this time patterning the deer and picking just the right locations for your stands. You want to give yourself the best chance of a successful harvest. In some areas morning hunts are not as fruitful as evening hunts. Making a decision to only hunt in the evening can help avoid extra days off at the office as well as keeping pressure down in the woods. Deer hunting is not only about capturing the biggest buck but about connecting with nature, providing food for your family and enjoying the fruits of your hard work. Don’t let the need to harvest take over and let you make the wrong decision. Patience is a virtue and couldn’t be truer for hunting. Typically during the rut you are limited to only 5-7 days of prime daylight activity for the monster bucks. You have been able to see the night time travel of these monsters and as soon as the first local daylight spotting of one is sounded you will be ready to take your perch and await glory. Enjoy the days, hours, minutes and seconds of time you spend in your stand. There will be emotions of elation, grief, sadness and gratitude. You will wish for more time alone while wishing someone was there with you. No matter the harvest remember the journey, the education, the triumphs and fails — but most of all remember the joy.