Time was ticking on a seven-day bow season in northern Alberta. It was the end of August, and I knew I had to find and observe a shooter to make it end well.
Finally, on my third day of observations, I spotted the 150-inch 10-pointer enter a field with a huge drop-tine 8-point. I knew right then that I'd gladly take either.
Returning the next day with my good friend Larry Jolliffe, owner of Elite Outfitters, we went directly to where I'd seen the bucks enter the field. Sure, they'd headed straight for the middle, as whitetails in wolf country often do, but I'd mentally marked the spot the second I'd seen them emerge.
As it seems to happen so often, there just wasn't a good tree where we needed one. Further complicating matters, Jolliffe was filming me. So, we needed to get two stands up.
Fast forwarding to two days later, time was running out on Jolliffe and me. The two previous afternoons had been filled with deer, but the big guys hadn't shown. Still, we knew this was where we needed to be.
Just as the sun began to set, I heard Jolliffe whisper, "Here comes the big ten." With Jolliffe's stand sitting on the field side of the skinny poplar, the buck had yet to enter my view, but my observations had revealed that I didn't have time to waste.
I positioned myself quickly, but it seemed to take forever for the buck to enter my view. Of course, the extra filming movements Jolliffe made didn't help matters. This was my second-to-last day, and I couldn't afford to blow it now.
At 20 yards into the field, the buck finally entered my view. Coming to full draw, I settled the pin and sunk the Rage tipped Easton squarely behind his front shoulder. A mule kick and brief horseshoe route latter, Jolliffe and I were exchanging high fives. I'd gotten my first velvet buck, and he was a beauty!
So many times, you know you have a great spot to set up, but you walk endlessly around in circles, looking for a tree that will work. That used to be one of the most frustrating experiences in hunting for me.
The bright side is that those same frustrations forced me to both diversify and become more creative. As you'll soon read, conquering impossible deer stand locations can -- and do -- work.
MAKING A TELEPHONE POLE HUNTABLE
Since telephone pole-like trees are such a common problem, lets start with them. As was the case in the Alberta hunt, the key for them to work with hang-on stands is for the tree to be large enough to support a stand at least 18 feet off the ground. If that can be done, they almost always can be made to work.
The first avenue is the simplest. All one must do is get higher. Fifteen feet up isn't a problem if the stand offers ample cover. However, without cover, that height becomes a one-way ticket to getting busted by mature bucks and savvy old does.
Now, 25-30 feet is another story. So long as the stand is off the approaching deer's line of sight and the hunter isn't horribly sky-lined, 25 honest feet off the ground seems to be the magic number.
I say "honest feet" because many hunters seem to either misread or exaggerate the height of their stands. A simple and fairly accurate method of measuring stand height is to use your own height as a measuring stick. As you climb the tree, just note how many full body length it takes to get to the stand's platform. Go an honest 25 feet or higher and you'll be amazed at how much less you get spotted in those trees lacking cover.
Of course, many telephone pole trees just are too small to get up over 20 feet. In those cases, assuming you can hit around 18 feet or better, simply add cover.
I exclusively use Rivers Edge Treestands' Bigfoot XL hang-on stands. Their huge 30-by-23-inch platform offers more than enough space to stick branches along the outside edge of the platform grate. Quite honestly, having a platform big enough to support additional cover, while still providing ample room to move, is one of the primary reasons I like them so much.
One can also wedge branches between the seat and tree, angling them out to the side.
Put it all together and the telephone pole tree magically offers good cover. In the case of my Alberta hunt, we were able to create enough cover to hide two stands.
If you're willing to spend a few dollars, CamoFlex's Six and Four Branch Cover systems work well. Both consist of bendable branches with synthetic leaves. They can either be strapped to the back of the tree or to the platform of the stand, providing instant cover. I most often use a Six Branch system on the back of the tree for back cover and a Six Branch system on the front of the stand platform.
Though attaching branches can be every bit as effective with many stands, these CamoFlex units are the ticket for climbing stands. By default, trees that work with climbers rarely offer much cover, and carrying branches up with you just doesn't work well at all. However, these quick and easy units can effectively hide otherwise exposed climbing stands with surprisingly little effort.
"So many times, you know you have a great spot to set up, but you walk endlessly around in circles, looking for a tree that will work. That used to be one of the most frustrating experiences in hunting for me."
Whether it's getting extra high, adding natural branches or using CamoFlex products, any one or a combination of these approaches can make a tremendous difference. Frankly, it's rare that I don't add extra cover to nearly every stand I hang. Still, it becomes mission critical when hunting telephone pole-like trees.
I'll admit that Jay Engstrom was key to opening my eyes to this next extremely important factor. I've always been a hang-on stand fan. Sure, as you'll read later, I used ground blinds quite often, but for stands, it was hang-ons or nothing.
Though Engstrom now works with products for Field Logic, I first met and became friends with him when he was running Rivers Edge's treestand department. Being known for their ladders, Engstrom kept pestering me to try one of their then new 22-foot ladders. Several years back, I finally relented and haven't looked back since.
I know that trophy bucks are shot from ladders less than 20 feet high every year. Still, I can't help but feel too exposed in most setups under 20 feet tall. Even the 20-foot-plus models can leave you exposed more than I'd care to be.
That said, they can get hunters up in trees that no hang on or climber ever could. Because the ladder base also supports the stand, trees much smaller in diameter can be safely used.
I was able to take advantage of that exact situation on my small lease in Wisconsin last fall. The attractive part of the lease is that it has very thick, dense cover.
However, trees large enough to support a hang-on or climbing stand are in extremely short supply there. For that matter, even trees big enough to support ladder stands are few and far between. Because of that, I actually factored the location of trees large enough to support ladders into the locations I chose to clear for food plots.
I purposefully located my eastern food plot near a clump of four of the larger poplars in the area. Though too small for a hang-on or climber, the clump of trees did work to shimmy a 22-foot Rivers Edge ladder stand into.
It wasn't easy to get it wedged through all those branches, but that was one of the keys. By snuggling it into that clump of trees and mess of limbs, much of the cover I needed to remain undetected was already there. A few trimmed branches tied to the stand were the finishing touches.
It turned out that I needed those finishing touches more than I could have imagined. In order to score, I had to call the buck I shot later that fall in three separate times on that thrilling October afternoon. You just don't go undetected that many times by a wired mature buck without having ample cover.
Tripods were the other form of elevated stand I used on that lease. In the case of tripods, the key is building them into existing cover.
The best example of this occurred on Illinois' Sugar Creek Outfitters' property. In this case, the area that deer were funneling through between bedding and feeding zones didn't offer a suitable tree for even a ladder stand.
However, the red cedar that stood about 19 feet high was the edge we needed to get a tripod to work. When assembling the tripod, we situated the back side of the platform as tight to the cedar as possible. With the cedar's base falling inside both back support legs, we literally attached the support braces so that the cedar fell within them.
Next, we strategically trimmed the branches to create a V for the pod's chair to set in. You guessed it: the trimmed branches were then threaded through the holes along the platform's edge. This was so effective that not only have several mature bucks been arrowed from this stand, but numerous does and fawns have bedded directly under hunters within the framework of the tripod!
The final option for getting off the ground is using elevated box blinds. These are flat-out perfect when cover doesn't exist. Unlike tripods, which need to be built into cover, elevated box blinds can be placed right out in the open.
The keys to making them work are simply time and being careful not to over-hunt them. By setting them up well before the season begins, deer have ample time to get used to them.
Revisiting Sugar Creek Outfitters for their gun season, I knew the long bean field would be a hot spot. For years a box blind has overlooked the field, never being hunted more than three or four times a season.
I can't really say what would have come out as the sun dipped beyond the horizon that afternoon, since I'd just shot a wide 8-point. I can say that I'd had more than 20 deer within easy shooting distance that afternoon. Once deer get accustom to the box blind, they literally pay no attention at all, unless hunters give them a reason to.
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
No article on making locations work for stands would be complete without including pop-up ground blinds. Unfortunately, covering all the little tricks to make them work most effectively would consume an entire article.
For now, let's just hit the highlights:
- When possible, slip the blind right next to a tree, allowing the low hanging branches to break the roof outline.
- If suitable trees aren't available, tuck them in a clump of brush, next to a round bail or any other large object.
- Be careful to blend the sides by brushing it in.
- Clear all the debris from the floor of the blind to reduce noise from movements.
- Close the windows on the backside of the blind to eliminate silhouetting.
- Wear black from the waist up, including a mask and gloves to literally vanish into the shadows.
- Whenever possible, orient the blind so that the sun is at its backside.
- When hunting field edges, placing decoys 15-20 yards out front of the blind does wonders for drawing all the attention off of the blind.
It wasn't that many years ago when the only times I used ground blinds were when there just wasn't any other option. Each time I'd be a bit disappointed. However, with each passing year, I picked up yet another trick.
Even more important, you don't need a single tree to make them work. One of the most dynamite set-ups I ever had was a blind set next to a large round bail. After covering the roof with snow, not a single deer even glanced at it.
When you boil it all down, the trick to making seemingly impossible stand locations work is creativity and diversity. Unlike when I was a kid, there's now a surplus of quality stand options available. Each one has their niche. By not limiting yourself to just one or two categories of stand types, you can literally make any situation work. Then by taking advantage of natural cover and adding more cover when required, we can make those situations work well. As hunters, what more can we really ask for?