Ultimate Ambush: Best Stand Placement for Whitetails - Part I
July 19, 2016
While scouting a new area in early August, I followed a faint trail from the timber edge marked with an old, tarnished rub. The farther I went the more prominent the trail became, eventually leading to a saddle where three steep ridges merged.
Multiple trails converged toward the saddle, indicating it was a main travel corridor. A corn field to the east was the primary food source, and a large cedar thicket to the west offered bedding.
While it was too early to find any new rubs, there were certainly enough from the previous year to convince me this was an annual travel corridor. It would make a great spot when the bucks started cruising for does.
The tree I chose for my stand was a big white oak 15 yards downwind of the major trail that crossed the saddle. The one thing preventing the setup from being the ultimate ambush was a trail behind me. To redirect deer traffic, I piled leftover tree trimmings from recently cut shooting lanes over the trail on both sides of the stand.
For the final touch, I made a couple mock scrapes in the area. To get to the stand, I'd follow the creek and use the deep ravine between the ridges to conceal my approach.
It was November before I returned to the area to hunt. I'd been hunting a different stand the day before and decided to check out the saddle for sign. To my surprise, the mock scrapes were the size of a car hood, and several fresh rubs pocked the landscape. The barriers over the trail behind the stand had redirected the traffic to the main trail in front of me. My plan had worked.
The next morning, I checked the weather forecast. A light wind out of the northwest and temperatures hovering in the mid-20s made for perfect conditions, so the saddle stand became my destination. Arriving a half-hour before first light, I freshened both scrapes with fresh estrus urine and climbed aloft.
Shortly after daybreak I spotted a 2 1/2-year-old buck skirting the edge of the bedding area, and I watched as he followed the trail to the saddle and worked a scrape before continuing on. Over the course of the next two hours, three more young bucks and a half-dozen does passed through the area.
Around 9:00 a big 11-pointer appeared like a ghost, peeking through a tangle of thick briars. He was too close for me to get into position to shoot, so I decided to let him make the next move. Unfortunately, instead of coming toward me, he turned and headed in the opposite direction.
As his antlers disappeared over the ridge, I made a few soft grunts and followed up with a couple of bleats. Much to my surprise, the buck reappeared a few minutes later and was on a steady walk toward the scrapes. When he reached the first one, he stopped and looked around. I settled my pin behind his shoulder and unleashed the arrow. The Muzzy blew through both sides, sending the bruiser scrambling for higher ground. He made it only 50 yards before going down. The ambush was a success.
Each year I strive to create new ambush sites like this, or at least improve existing ones. There's no doubt every situation is different, but with a little planning and preparation you can turn a mediocre set into the ultimate ambush. Here, in Part 1 of this series, let's take a look at how to identify new stand sites and natural funnels, as well as explore tips on how to tweak existing ones more in your favor.
At some point, even the most experienced hunters (including me) have neared hunting season only to realize they haven't done their due diligence in scouting. Scouting and hanging a stand over the hottest sign just days before the season might seem like a great plan, but it will most likely result in hunting does and immature bucks right from the "get-go."
Creating the ultimate ambush requires an in-depth understanding of the property you're hunting and how whitetails use it. Once you understand how deer behave in a given area, you can begin to manipulate or alter their movements.
Arguably, you can learn the most about local deer patterns soon after the season closes. When the foliage is down and the season's out, trails, rubs, scrapes and bedding areas stick out like sore thumbs. Such telltale sign as big tracks and old rubs can lead you to a buck's core area.
Shed hunting is likely the most popular method of identifying bucks that survived on your property, and also those from neighboring ground that found survival food on your side of the fence. Information derived from post-season scouting will help you put the puzzle together and plan out new stand sets based on facts — not hunches.
Most often, spring and summer are the best times to make major habitat improvements. The ultimate goal is to make the changes soon enough that they pay off during the upcoming season. However, it doesn't mean you can't also make minor adjustments in late summer and early fall that will funnel deer your way.
I'm constantly on the lookout for natural terrain features that have the potential to funnel deer to specific places. No doubt some funnels are better than others, but a couple scenarios might be classified as super funnels.
Take the bottleneck, sometimes referred to as a "pinch point," for example. In layman's terms, it exists where two pieces of thick cover or timber neck down to a narrow point in the middle. In many cases, a single stand in the narrowest point will allow for shooting across the entire swath. Bottlenecks typically require little if any work to become ultimate ambush sites.
A prime example of a bottleneck was a stand named "The Bermuda Triangle." This setup is on a property owned by my friend Andy Timmerman of A&A Outfitters in Southwest Iowa. The Bermuda Triangle lies on an east-west hillside that parallels a steep bluff. The bluff funnels down to a low spot where property fences form a triangle. The property lines are somewhat unclear, so the area is often referred to as "The Bermuda Triangle."
At one corner of the triangle, a narrow tree line juts across the corn field following an old riverbed. The stand is just far enough inside the woods to allow clear shooting across the width of the tree line.
After a couple years of tweaking, the triangle has become the ultimate ambush, especially during the rut. In fact, in the last four years three bucks killed in that funnel during the rut grossed over 160 inches.
The most recent was harvested by Todd Werner of West Virginia. It happened during the first week of November, during Todd's first time hunting the stand. A big 10-pointer chasing a doe on the hillside eventually ended up in front of Todd. An arrow through both lungs put the buck down within sight.
Timbered points that jut into agricultural fields can also be super funnels for ambushing big bucks. My wife, Pamela, has a point stand she hunts mainly in the evenings during early bow season, when winds prevail from the south. Volunteer trees have grown up and formed a secondary point that functions as a staging area. The deer begin to queue up to feed about an hour before sunset. In the past four years, my wife has killed two Pope & Young bucks from that stand. They likely won't be her last ones, either.
Over the years, saddles have become some of my all-time favorite ambush sites. Why? Simply put, deer tend to follow the path of least resistance, and saddles between two (or more) ridges offer the easiest travel route. That makes them great for setting up ambush stands.
"Setting up great stand locations for big whitetails is a craft that, once mastered, should result in more up-close encounters and greater hunting success. In this two-part series we'll take a detailed look at several scenarios in which certain setups are best utilized. We'll also tell you how to pinpoint the best spots within your own hunting area."
Along a saddle, you might find multiple trails converging at the same spot. The key to hunting such a stand is waiting for the right conditions. If you fail to refrain from hunting saddle stands before the conditions line up, chances are you'll blow out the area before the bucks even start cruising through.
I've been writing about east-west ridges for over 30 years, and many deer hunters are beginning to catch on. Without a doubt, east-west ridges are another type of natural funnel, and with a little work can be transformed into the ultimate ambush. It's for that reason they're one of the primary terrain features I look for when hunting new ground.
Such saddles are among the easiest locations to safely hunt all season long, for one reason: The winds generally prevail from either northerly or southerly directions, flowing across instead of along the ridge.
In most cases, whitetails primarily travel the ridge in an east-west direction, rather than north-south. This fact generally lets you find at least one stand location downwind of their travel route.
To hunt these ridges, the first step is locating a suitable tree relative to the trails. Next you'll want to determine the wind requirements based on the trail location relative to the stand site. Similar to the saddle stand mentioned earlier, locating the major trails allows you to begin manipulating how deer travel.
For example, let's say you're hunting a stand on a trail that allows a north wind condition to send your scent stream directly into any oncoming deer. In such case, you might consider dropping trees of no value or piling brush across the trail 20-30 yards on both sides of the stand location.
In doing so, the deer likely will divert around the barriers and cut a new trail upwind of the stand. And when they walk it, you'll be ready to seal the deal.
The season might be months away, but it's never too early to begin planning ahead. Use the aforementioned tips to identify and create new ambush sites and begin tweaking those that already exist. The payoff will come when the buck you're after unknowingly walks into your ambush.
We've just scratched the surface of creating the ultimate ambush. In Ultimate Ambush - Part II we'll dive deeper into this, covering topics such as natural barriers, transition barriers, building wind blocks, manipulating deer behavior and playing the wind.