Even the most careful hunters can pollute a stand if they use it too much.
Ah, the vigor and intelligence of youth! When I started hunting whitetails, I ran through the woods thinking I knew everything. Truth is, I didn’t know much at all.
After a few seasons, I remember asking myself, “How come the old guy in camp always gets a buck, and all I see are 2½-year-olds, does and yearlings? Does he know something I don’t?”
I swallowed my pride and asked for advice.
For some reason, the old fellow took a shine to me and began to teach me the subtleties of hunting mature bucks.
I quickly learned that almost everything I was doing needed improvement. I had grown up a western backpack hunter, pursuing elk and mule deer. I was used to covering lots of ground. To my chagrin, my new mentor taught me that whitetail bowhunting is a thinker’s game of chess, not a rugby scrum.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that I was educating far too many deer to my presence. I tipped them off before the season opened while I was scouting and setting stands, and also through poor route selection when walking to and from my stands.
I also learned that, at some point during the season, your good stands are going to go bad. It might be because of something you do, or it could be because the deer change their patterns. Either way, you need to have a backup plan.
The biggest mistake I made early on happened when selecting stand locations. I never considered how I would enter and exit the woods. I simply chose trees overlooking the hottest buck sign and started hunting, assuming that because I was sitting on a fresh scrape or old rub line, I was naturally going to see the buck that made it.
I never realized that if deer saw me, heard me or smelled me as I entered my stand, the party was over. I assumed that if I bumped a few deer on the way out, there would be others. Then, when I didn’t see bucks from these stands, I figured the deer had shifted their pattern and I needed to get down and cover more ground to locate fresh sign.
In doing so, I stunk the woods up like a skunk. Before I knew it, I had polluted the entire property.
That’s when the old man came to the rescue. He convinced me to quit all in-season scouting. Instead, he told me that the best scouting was done during the spring and summer, when good stand locations could be prepped and readied. He taught me that, in most cases, it was terrain and available cover, not fresh buck sign, that mattered. He also emphasized that you simply cannot have too many stands.
Upon taking the old man’s advice, my hunting success improved immediately. Yours can, too.
When I began to hunt using the old man’s methods, I noticed that I saw the biggest and oldest bucks the first time or two that I used a stand.
The reason is simple: When a buck gets past three years old, his sense of caution is uncanny. I’m sure we give them clues about our presence that we don’t even think about. Now when I set up my stands and plan my hunts, the number one thing I keep in mind is how careless behavior can end my hunt before it begins.
There is no such thing as being too cautious. Learn what makes a good stand go bad, and how to keep from flaming out your best spots too quickly.
With almost all herd animals, the oldest males rely on satellite herd members to tell them when there’s danger afoot. When the outliers start acting skittish, Big Daddy knows there is trouble and immediately goes into lockdown mode.
Hunting a plantation in southern Mississippi one fall, I was in a treestand overlooking a huge bean field. This was before laser rangefinders, so I paced off distances to 50 yards into the field, setting sticks in the ground every 10 yards as markers.
I didn’t see any deer that day, but I hunted it again four days later. Early that afternoon, a lone old doe came walking across the field. When she got to my 50-yard marker, she sniffed it and came unglued. She lifted her head, turned and raced back the way she came. The only explanation is she could still smell me on that stick four days later.
I believe each time you hunt a stand, you alert more deer to your presence. It doesn’t take long for your best stands to become your worst, even if they’re in the best places.
So how do you keep from burning your best stands before the season ends?
The first thing to do is purchase and maintain as many treestands as you can afford. The more setups you have, the less you have to hunt an individual stand. Optimally, you’ll hunt two different stands each hunting day, meaning for a three-day weekend hunt, you’ll want about six stands.
The hard part is to not hunt your favorite setup time after time. Make a rotation plan and stick with it. Have setups for various winds and hunt the stand best suited for that day’s conditions.
Never hunt a stand in marginal wind — ever! If the deer smell you, it’s all over, quite possibly for the rest of the season.
Some veteran and very successful hunters take the save-a-stand-for-the-optimal-time philosophy to a higher level, completely ignoring their best setups until particular dates.
Many mature bucks are so reclusive that the only time they move about in the daylight is when searching for does. That usually means the pre-rut and rut.
If does move at ease around your stands, they can attract the buck you want to hunt. There is only one first time to hunt a stand. I like to save that time for when the bucks have just begun chasing does.
Unless a stand is absolutely red hot and I know I have not stunk it up, I try not to hunt the same stand more than two days in a row. I also like to sit all day, so I am not walking to and from the stand and stinking the place up or risking having deer see me. Once I’ve hunted a stand for two days, I try to wait at least four days before hunting it again.
There have been a few instances when I have felt the need to hunt the same stand repeatedly. You can get away with it under the following conditions:
• If the stand is in a funnel or travel corridor between food and/or bedding thickets and has minimal doe usage, it will not burn out as quickly as a location with heavy doe traffic. Hunt high-traffic areas near the end of the season or the final days of a particular hunt.
• A select few stands offer an almost perfect advantage for the hunter. A place I hunt in Kansas has a stand in a big cottonwood on the near side of a creek bank. The deer always walk along the far side of the creek traveling back and forth from bedding thickets to food. I can hunt this stand every day the wind is right, because I access the spot from the opposite side of the creek the deer use.
Carelessly accessing your stands can wreck your chances of killing a big deer, even if you don’t know it’s happening.
The first thing I consider after selecting a potential stand site is how to get in and out. If I can’t do so without disturbing the area I expect deer to travel, I’ll try to find a different spot nearby.
What the old man taught me is that it’s just as important, if not more so, to manage your impact in the deer woods as it is to learn to find hot deer sign.
We all know what scrapes, rubs and big buck tracks look like. The question is, do you know how to sneak in and out of the woods? That’s the key to long-term success. Read Recent Articles:
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• Off-Season Practice: Five Tips that will make you a better shot with a bow.
• Where Did He Come From? Sometimes the biggest bucks show up out of nowhere. This article was published in the October 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.