July 26, 2016
If you've hunted pressured deer you know that simply putting up a treestand doesn't guarantee you won't be seen by the paranoid ogling of terra firma-based whitetails.
Nearly a decade ago I received an invitation to hunt western Illinois, the land of giants. I quickly discovered it was also the land of whitetails with mind-blowing peripheral vision.
Even when I sat in statuesque style bucks and does alike shot glances skyward. They picked out my elevated form at heights of 20 feet and beyond like lions picking out a limping wildebeest from the herd.
To prevail over these optical wonders of Midwest whitetails I did what any sane bowhunter would do. I packed up and headed to my old stomping grounds of South Dakota where deer still held a frontward gaze instead of looking to the stars.
Instead, I should have started a sophisticated game of hide and seek with the local deer population. Hide your treestand and you'll be the uncontested hide and seek champ with a buck trophy as your prize.
Off the Beaten Path
Bowhunters spend a lifetime trying to find the perfect trail, combined with a funnel or pinch point. Setups like that guarantee bow-close shots season after season.
If you've found several of these spots over the years you don't want to ruin it by selecting an ambush tree right on the trail. A treestand right on the trail includes several cons. First, if you do get a deer in the "zone" your shot will likely be straight down or with a slight angle at best.
That cancels the goal of a double-lung hit and your broadhead has to hit the heart or a major artery pathway for a clean kill.
Second, it puts you in closer proximity to deer and that means you'll be battling their security senses at front-line levels. Deer usually win. Finally, a helicopter-mom treestand right on the trail means your scent is that much closer to the action.
Deer may smell your activity at the tree base. Calm conditions with no wind could pool scent below the tree and any wind swirl might mean disaster. Move off the trail 15 to 20 yards as you scour for the perfect tree.
Disappear in the Crowd
It's easy to disappear in a crowd. Follow that disappearing philosophy and find a crowd of trees. Clusters of trees help you disappear in a backdrop of tree trunks as opposed to hanging a stand in a lone tree.
Location may be against you causing you to go for the lone tree occasionally, but if you have a pinch point that extends through several clusters of tree head to a group of trees and find the perfect match.
In addition to moving closer to winning the hide and seek championship, clusters of trees provide options for shooting opportunities. Clusters help by providing windows of opportunity to draw undetected as deer pass behind the trunks of trees between you and the deer. Set up in a cluster and always try to position it so at least one tree is between you, and the trail.
When a buck steps behind it you need to use the vision obstruction to draw an arrow. Make your draw with the buck in full vision and you gamble on peripheral exposure. Can you say "jump the string?"
On a recent hunt I missed a buck that I had to draw on with no cover between me and him. He clearly caught movement as I brought my Mathews to full draw. It rattled me and I missed.
Two days later a bachelor group of bucks passed by me in a different treestand set up in clusters. They unknowingly passed behind several trunks of trees and when the biggest stepped out I dropped the string on my Mathews to end the season with a 16-yard shot.
Gnarly Equals Undetectable
If you're really serious about the hide and seek title instead of just receiving a certificate of participation, scour clusters of trees for the most gnarly of the bunch. A maze of limbs, clinging foliage and multiple crotches guarantees Houdini magic in the disappearing department.
Many of the locations I bowhunt have cottonwoods as the primary tree of the zip code. Some have straight-up trunks while others branch out like the veins on a body builder's biceps. Look for those veiny-type trees and situate your stand in the crooks, crotches and junctures of several limbs.
Oaks also fit the Webster definition of a perfect tree whereas southern pine species, such as the Loblolly, may not have branches at lower heights to hide a stand with perfection. Choose wisely to continue the quest for a hide and seek shutout.
Manscaping may be the latest male trend, but keep your landscaping ambitions to a minimum as you put the final touches on your hideout. If you put up your stands in late summer or early fall the backdrop will be flourishing with leafy vegetation.
You'll need to trim some to ensure your arrow has a clear path to any trail below. That's suggested, but if you get carried away, maybe like the first time you tried to manscape, it could leave you bare and naked to the world, especially as the autumn leaf drop progresses. That opens up the possibility of being spotted in your lofty lair.
Trim shooting lanes so that you have a clear shot, but keep as many of the limbs as possible intact, both in the shooting lanes and around your elevated stand. At stand level your goal is to remove anything that you may bump or that could block a shot.
You can always trim more as leaves drop, but it gets complicated if you have to try and add in limbs after the fact. If you calculate correctly, when the last leaf drops you'll still have a screen of limbs for blending.
World One Observatory
Now it's time to test your phobia of heights and risk a nosebleed. Low treestands work, but increase the risk of being spotted and may fail in carrying your scent over, and away from deer. Place your stand in the cheap seats at the top of the stadium.
In addition to disappearing in the canopy and having your scent streaming higher, elevated stands also keep you out of the peripheral vision of deer not living a schizophrenic life. Of course you can get too carried away.
A good height to attain is approximately 20 feet. Anything above that, especially if you reach 30 feet, is John Denver, Rocky Mountain high. Like putting your treestand too close to a trail, high stands also increase the steepness of the shot angle and decreases opportunity for double-lung penetration.
One terrain feature could force you to put a stand in the flight pattern of migrating ducks. If you happen to have a location on a steep hillside with trails all around you may need to go higher than average to stay above the line of sight of side-hill bucks. Ignore this fact and you could find yourself face to face with a trophy buck.
Two years ago I spent the better part of nine days in a decades-old oak tree with limbs twisting like the tree used by the Keebler elves. I was wrapped in my Heater Body Suit to thwart off subzero wind chills during daylong sits.
When a 5 ½-year-old whitetail buck finally marched into shooting range I had quite a dilemma before even deploying my Mathews bow. I had to slip out of the top portion of the suit to draw. I had to rotate 180 degrees since the buck showed up opposite of where I suspected. I needed a quick Nikon rangefinder confirmation of the distance. And I had to crouch in the stand to shoot under a limb for a clear shot.
Treestand height, snaking limbs, rattling leaves and a decoy distraction all helped me to pull of the incredible amount of movement I needed to prep for the shot.
Even as I drew my Mathews he never suspected a thing and a perfect chest shot ended with him running my direction and crashing into the oak leaves below. I crowned myself hide and seek champ for the day. Hopefully you can as well and avoid the dreadful certificate of participation.