Consistent hunters give themselves plenty of options.
I remember watching my father stare out the living room window as he studied a feather dangling from a tree. It was a regular occurrence before he headed to the woods to hunt deer. The magical feather, along with the time of the season, determined the treestand he would use.
Why was the feather so important? The feather told my dad which direction the wind was blowing. He always had five or more stands set up, and the dance of the feather determined which stand he would use on a given day. It wasn’t a fancy electronic device and didn’t cost hundreds of dollars; it was a simple turkey feather on fishing line. But that feather put more than one buck in the freezer during my childhood.
The key to Dad’s success was not relying on one stand. He never put all of his eggs in one basket. Far too many hunters today have no use for such a device, relying on one or two setups for all their hunting. But deer hunting’s ever-changing conditions require a Plan B … and a Plan C … and a Plan D, etc.
Just like the wind, many of the variables that can ruin a hunting setup are out of your control. And sometimes we hunters are our own worst enemies. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is over-hunting your favorite stand. Hunting from one or two stands over the course of the deer season increases your chances of leaving human odor in the woods. It doesn’t take a buck long to realize it’s being hunted and change its routine. Just like we pattern deer, deer pattern our movements.
A friend learned this lesson firsthand. He put in a small food plot and built a cabin a couple hundred yards from the plot. This allowed him to watch deer from the cabin. He bowhunted over the plot every week. Then when he arrived back at his cabin after a fruitless morning or evening hunt, he began to notice deer prowling around the edges of the plot. He eventually realized that the deer had figured him out.
One evening, he took a buddy with him on his hunt. About 20 minutes before the sun dipped below the horizon, he had his friend go back to the cabin. Within minutes of his friend closing the cabin door, deer moved into the plot. My friend put an arrow in a nice buck that evening and learned a valuable lesson.
The Early Season
In addition to having backup plans for changing wind and weather, it’s important to have setups for the various changes in deer behavior that occur throughout the season.
For the early season, nothing beats hunting over a great food source. If you have the luxury of hunting private land, food plots, cornfields and other crops are great locations to hang a stand or two. The key to hunting food sources is knowing when deer feed in a particular field and where they like to enter and leave it. Set up scouting cameras during the late summer to help pattern deer coming and going to a food source.
During his food-plot seminars, wildlife biologist C.J. Winand suggests that bowhunters with private property plant a few rows of corn a month later than farmers normally would. According to Winand, of the three stages corn goes through before it reaches maturity, deer enjoy the tasseling stage best. Planting a few rows of corn around the edge of a field near the middle or end of summer causes the corn to go through its tasseling stage during the early hunting season instead of late summer.
If you are a public-land hunter, nothing is better than locating a stand of white oaks with lots of acorns. Other options include water sources and fruit trees.
Many deer hunters use their favorite spots during the early season simply because they want to be in the woods. If this sounds like you, hang a stand or two for the early season and leave your best stand alone until the time is right.
The pre-rut is a great time to be in the woods, as bucks are still fairly easy to pattern. I like a stand near a bedding area. My friend Matt Sommers agrees. Sommers, a Michigan hunter from the southern part of the state, puts out more stands than I have fingers. His pre-rut stand locations are often near bedding areas. Matt increases his odds by creating mock scrapes.
“During the pre-rut, bucks start to get cranked up,” he says. “I’ve had lots of success with mock scrapes and fake rubs near bucks’ bedrooms. I then hang a stand within bow range of the scrape or rub. Often I will arrow a buck as he is coming to check the scrape. The key to my success during the pre-rut is finding bedding areas and staying out of them until everything is just right. The wind direction must be right, and I need to be able to sneak in and out without being seen or heard — often the toughest thing to do.”
All hunters enjoy the rut. The problem with the rut is that most bucks are traveling great distances, looking for receptive does. A buck that you see today could be three miles away tomorrow. Therefore, patterning bucks during the rut is nearly impossible. If you want to find the bucks, locate the does. Find a doe bedding area and place a stand nearby.
Sommers often rakes his trails to ensure a silent entrance to a bedding area. He even wraps his tree steps in moleskin. If you find a bedding area, the best time to hunt it is mid-morning, long after most hunters have gone home. Many successful hunters hunt from daylight until dark near bedding areas. Since does filter into a bedding area throughout the morning, heading back to your truck early can spook incoming deer and ruin your opportunity at bagging a cruising buck.
Another great place to hang a treestand during the rut is in a transition zone between a doe bedding area and a food source. Setting up a stand in a transition zone isn’t as risky as setting up near a bedding area, but it can be as productive. When hunting transition zones, the key is to find small fingers of woods that lead to a field or other food source that the does frequent.
As the does head to the feeding area in the evening, bucks can be a short distance behind. Many hardcore hunters have a bedding-area stand and a transition-zone stand in order to have a Plan B during the rut.
Hunting a food source is still a great option. If you are a public-land hunter, find a lone acorn-producing red oak or a solitary fruit tree instead of hunting in an area with lots of oak trees or fruit trees. When it comes to oak trees, red oaks drop their acorns later in the season than white oaks, making them the perfect place to hunt during the rut. Lone trees are more likely visited by smart bucks and less likely to be found by other hunters.
Winand says that when he finds an individual apple tree, he likes to prune and fertilize it. “If you do a little work to the tree, a lone fruit tree on public land is comparable to a private-land food plot,” he said. “By pruning and fertilizing the tree in the spring, the tree will drop more apples than usual by the middle of the rut.” Hang a treestand within shooting distance of such a tree or on a runway near the tree to create a great ambush point.
If you have the luxury of hunting private land, a great place to hang a stand during the rut is over a small food plot. The beauty of a small plot is that bucks are easy to ambush on their way in and out. It is also easy to hang a camera to determine what deer have been coming to dinner.
If you have the option and really want a perfect rut setup, plant a brassica-blend food plot during the late summer. Brassicas, like sugar beets and turnips, get sweet after the temperature dips below freezing — about the same time that the rut is in full swing in many whitetail states. Once the brassicas sweeten, does will visit the plot regularly, which means the bucks will be there, too. On a November hunt in Ohio, I watched in amazement as a lush green brassica plot turned into a barren field because the deer had been hitting it so hard. If you want a productive stand site during the rut, it’s hard to beat a brassica plot.
It’s Worth the Trouble
Most hunters who regularly take large bucks have several alternative setups. But what if you hunt leased land and have to share the prime hunting locations with other hunters? There’s no way around it: If you want to increase your chances of bagging a buck, you have to find multiple places to hunt. Don’t rule out mixing public and private land for your sources.
When searching for a new stand location, prevailing wind should be your first consideration. It doesn’t matter how good your setup is if the wind is wrong. And even if you establish a stand based on prevailing winds, you still must pay attention to your scent. I wear Scent-Lok and spray down with scent eliminator before I hunt; you never know when wind will shift or when a changing thermal will carry your scent in an unexpected direction.
Setting up multiple stands can be difficult. It’s easy to find one or two good hunting sites, but if you plan to hunt throughout the season and more than once or twice, you need more stands. Since most of us don’t get to choose when we can hunt, we need options for when the wind changes or the season marches on.
Start in the summer. Track down and get permission to hunt more than one location. Prepare your stands; and, if you can, work on a few food plots. If you bag a nice buck instead of spending your days counting squirrels, you’ll forget about all the hard work.
This article was published in the September 2007 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.