May 11, 2016
Though the season is a few months away, I am still going to walk through two of my favorite treestand locations and profile why they are good. My goal is to give you something to think about as you scout your hunting area. The time to find your own killer stands is right now — not next October.
I talked about using ground blinds in my feature in this issue. They make hunting feeding areas a lot easier. However, not everyone wants to hunt from a blind, or maybe they don't have someone who can bump the deer off the feeding area while they sneak out. Treestands will always be a part of bowhunting, so it is a good idea to know a perfect feeding area setup when you see it.
One of my favorite stands is just that. After finding this one, almost accidentally, I have found several others on the farm that look different but work exactly the same. Here's how it sets up.
The feeding area is a field about 300 yards long and about 50 yards wide that runs along the top of a north/south ridge. The shape is not that important; where I place the stand is the key. The deer mostly come out on the west side. That is important. If they came out all over the field, it would be harder to make this work.
Because they approach primarily from one side, I can set my stand on the opposite side of the field, with the wind blowing back into the timber behind me and away from the field (and the deer). There is no way the deer can ever smell me.
Opposite side: I am going to emphasize this key. I am not hunting where the deer come out of the cover. I am hunting the other side, where I won't get busted. The deer work their way toward me as they feed and chase around. It works like a charm.
Entry and exit: Because it is on a ridge, I can use the terrain to approach the stand without being seen. The deer can't see me or smell me; they never know I am there. Then, at the end of legal shooting time, I sneak down the back of the tree trunk (I always try to place my steps on the side away from the field) and sneak out even with deer in the field.
Being on a ridge top, there is some roll to the land. So, by the time I am two thirds of the way down the tree, I am out of sight of most of the deer in the field. The tree is about five yards from the field edge and the cover is thick there, so once I hit the ground I am home free. It is crazy how well it works. I have hunted that stand more than 100 times on a west or northwest wind and I have been busted there (or going to and from) fewer than five times.
To recap, I am hunting the opposite side from where the deer come out and I have an undetected entry and exit route. Because the field is narrow, most deer that come out eventually offer a shot. So that is also a factor — a small plot or field is a big part of the formula.
During the rut, bucks are looking for does and that means that in the mornings they are nosing around doe bedding areas. That is where you need to be hunting. I don't hunt my best morning stand anymore because I no longer have access to that farm, but it was an absolute killer. If I could buy just one acre of land, that is the one I would buy! I have used that setup as the model for all my other morning stands since.
"The time to find your own killer stands is right now — not next October."
I was hunting it back in the late 90s. One season, we had steady west winds for most of November. I hunted that stand every single morning for three weeks! The deer never knew I was there and the action was good every day. I almost hated to shoot the buck I got around Thanksgiving because then I had to stop hunting — it was that much fun!
This stand is also on a ridge. Not surprisingly, all my best stands are on ridges. The wind is steady in these spots. On the other hand, stands in valleys are hard to hunt effectively because the wind swirls and the deer soon figure out they are being hunted. Ridges also allow you to set up where your scent blows over most of the deer on the downwind side. That is one of the keys to my best stand.
The other key is the fact that it hangs on the downwind edge of a bedding area that does use every day. Since does tend to bed on ridges, this all comes together in one place: timbered ridges are the place to be on a morning hunt during the rut.
Keeping your scent above the deer: You have to be in a stand at least 20 feet above the ground and it has to be right on (or slightly beyond) the point where the ridge breaks off to the slope. That way, your body is still well above the ridgeline (for steady winds) but the ground drops off fairly sharply on the downwind side.
Deer passing downwind are well below your body and thus (in theory) they pass under your scent cone. I say "in theory" because if there are leaves on the trees, you can still have downward swirling even on ridge tops. This setup works best after the leaves have mostly fallen so the wind blows through the forest cleanly, without slowing (and therefore swirling) much.
If you don't have ridges where you hunt, you can still make this stand work, but you have to stay entirely downwind of the bedding area. Be patient. You will see deer that are out of range and that will make you want to move deeper into the bedding area; don't.
Entry and exit: Enter your morning stands from the opposite direction of the main feeding area with the wind in your face. The stand should be on the downwind fringe of the bedding area, so this approach works perfectly. You shouldn't run into many (if any) deer. I like to wait for gray light to start walking when the stand is in the timber so I can see the twigs and not snap them. Then I move quickly.
Entry is usually not the hard part — exit is where the problems start. Since you are hunting the fringe of a bedding area, there are likely to be deer bedding nearby when you want to climb down at midday. This can be tricky. Having the stand at the edge of the ridge makes it a bit easier to get away as long as you can get to the ground without being seen. Hunting a good-sized tree with steps on the back of the trunk really helps.
I have two more suggestions. First, take advantage of any distractions. Usually small bucks will come through and bump the does around after they bed. The does mill around and then settle back in. If that happens anytime close to when you wanted to leave, use the distraction and get out right away.
Second, I carry a slingshot and a pocket full of round river stones from the walkway near my office. If there are deer bedded so close I don't feel I can sneak out, I shoot at them with the slingshot. Just make sure they aren't looking. If you hit one and it jumps up to run, all the others will run too. But since they don't really know why they are running, they aren't too spooked. They will be back the next day. I have done this many times, and I often see the same deer every morning for days on end.