There's nothing like the excitement of sitting in a stand for the first time. Not only do you feel that special anticipation that comes with experiencing something new, but the odds of success always are higher the first time you sit in a stand.
A host of factors can lead to a stand's decline in productivity. In fact, each time we hunt a particular stand, we're increasing the risk of tipping off the deer as to our presence in the woods and our stand's location. Since mature bucks are skittish animals at best, they don't like to expose themselves to unnecessary dangers. To avoid the dangers of human predation, big bucks often alter their normal patterns drastically. They may begin to avoid specific areas altogether. Also, they'll frequently shift their daily movement routines to nighttime hours only.
In order to minimize the risks of educating bucks as to where a given stand is located, three important factors should be taken into consideration. First, try to select a travel route both to and from your stand that will give you the minimum amount of exposure. Next, always choose a stand location with adequate cover and where the wind direction is favorable. And finally, no matter how good a stand site appears to be, you must restrain yourself from over-hunting the area.
In addition to the "big three" factors that are so important to stand hunting success, this article will delve into some of the lesser-discussed methods for keeping stand sites undetected. When combined with the big three, these methods can do wonders for helping a stand remain in a fresh, pristine state.
As important as it is to reach your stand without being detected, it's equally important to be able to leave your stand without spooking the deer. Few things ruin a stand faster than having deer watch you exit the woods. This is particularly true when you're hunting crop fields or food sources in the woods.
One good technique that seems obvious, yet is often underutilized, is that of waiting the deer out. Because of their browsing nature, deer do not tend to "camp out" in one location and feed for hours on end. Instead, they like to keep moving as they slowly feed through any given food source. In many cases, simply having the patience to allow the deer to feed in and out of an area is all a hunter needs to do to prevent discovery.
A good example of this occurred with me a number of years ago after I had invested a considerable amount of effort into patterning a nice 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer on my 40-acre home site. Because this buck bedded on my neighbor's land, I knew I would have to arrow him before rifle season opened or he would be gone for sure. This was the first buck I had ever seen on my small chunk of land that was older than a yearling. Unfortunately, my land was surrounded by land being used by a horde of dedicated and highly effective meat hunters.
With my stand hung on an oak ridge behind my house, I hoped that my years of fertilizing oak trees would finally pay off. As the acorns began to drop, I traveled a low-impact route to the stand and settled in. About 20 minutes before dark, I saw him. Working along the ridge, he had paused to eat some freshly dropped mast. As he moved through the woods, he'd stop at one tree, eat a handful of acorns and then proceed on his way, getting closer all the time.
I had positioned my stand about 50 yards from the property line. Does and immature bucks routinely would proceed along the ridge and pass right by my stand as they made their way directly toward the treated area to feed. I was certain he would end up there as well. However, the light was fading fast, and because of his painfully slow progression, it looked as though shooting light would be gone before he ever stepped within range. Several other deer were already feeding in the treated area a mere 30 yards away, and I knew I couldn't risk hurrying him along with my grunt tube. So, I waited.
As so often happens in similar situations, he didn't get within range until several minutes after legal shooting time had expired. Now I was stuck. Sitting in my stand, I had several choices. I could climb down immediately and try to clear the area by giving my best rendition of a snort or barking dog, knowing I would spook him and the other feeding deer. Or, I could wait until he had eaten his fill. I decided to wait. About 45 minutes later, he dropped down the side of the ridge and disappeared. With the other deer now a safe distance away, I slipped undetected from my stand and out of the woods. Three days later, he fell to my arrow. To me, waiting him out had played a significant role in my successful harvest.
As alluded to, snorting, barking and even howling like a coyote or wolf are all tactics I have used to clear deer from a stand area. Although these actions do indeed scare the deer, they're also normal occurrences in a deer's everyday life. In most cases, I feel comfortable using these options when surrounded by does and young bucks. However, when a big buck is present, I almost always choose to try to wait him out. Even though I don't believe that making those alarming sounds will cause a big buck to alter his patterns, I'm not willing to take that risk.
Another effective method of getting out of your stand without ruining the area is to have someone pick you up. In many areas, deer are exposed to human activities so frequently that they have come to realize what represents a threat and what doesn't. For example, in many areas farm equipment, trucks and ATV traffic are viewed as nothing more than a nuisance by the local deer. As mentioned in my article "Do Not Disturb" in the September '04 issue of Whitetail, farm vehicles often can be used effectively to get hunters to and from their stands. Even when the deer haven't vacated an area completely, these familiar vehicles serve as a focal point for the deer's attention. Such a diversion often allows a hunter time to slip from a ground blind or down a tree undetected.
In settings where foot traffic is common, having someone walk to your stand also works well. Just as deer are able to determine that certain vehicle traffic does not represent a threat, they also are able to differentiate between casual nature walkers and hunters. For instance, when bird watchers and hikers travel through the woods, they do so in a very non-threatening manner. Seldom are they trying to keep a low profile or display an attitude that could be mistaken for being predatory. On the other hand, hunters sneaking through the woods usually appear to be very predatory in demeanor.
The walker should simply keep a steady, normal pace and allow any watchful deer to observe him or her at a safe distance. This removes the element of surprise. The hunter should be ready to climb down and leave the area upon his partner's arrival.
A few words of caution are in order for this technique. First, it's always a good idea for the "extractor" to take the same odor-reducing steps as the hunter. Although the resident deer population may have grown tolerant of the human odors released by nature walkers, a new buck could come cruising through the area at any time. And the chances are good that he won't share this same level of tolerance!
Second, this technique isn't suitable in some situations. If used in a relatively secluded stand of timber where human presence is limited, the effect on your hunting success could be devastating. Therefore, the method probably works best in areas where human presence is common - places such as parks, urban settings, and some public and private lands where nature walking is commonplace. If a mature buck's home range exists outside the area where human activity is common, you can bet that'll be where he spends most of his time. If that's the case, using this technique might encourage him to vacate the area. However, in areas where human activity is widespread, the method of using a "casual hiker" can work extremely well.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The proper use of timing is another way to keep stand sites in a more pristine state. Almost without fail, each stand has a phase or two during the season when it's most productive. Although the previously mentioned ideas may help extend the life of a stand location, you can rarely beat the first time in. Because each trip to a given stand location increases the odds of educating the deer, good stand locations should be hunted only when their odds of producing are judged to be the highest.
Jake and Justin Roach, who run one of the premier trophy buck operations in the upper Midwest (www.performanceoutdoors.com), wholeheartedly agree with this line of thought. The Roaches' farms in Iowa and Illinois consistently produce between 40 and 50 percent success rates on P&Y bucks, making two things obvious: The Roaches control incredible hunting grounds, and they are doing things the right way. One of the methods they use to keep their stands producing at high rates of success is to try to hunt each stand when its odds of producing are highest.
"We put a lot of work into determining the best timing for each stand," Jake says. "When selecting stand sites, we determine what phase of the season each stand will be best suited for. We also make sure we have enough stands for the entire season. That way we can save each stand for the time when we feel it's the hottest. If we put a hunter in a rut stand on opening day, there's still a chance that it could produce later on during the rut. But that chance would be much less than if we had waited. Besides, there are better choices for opening day. By being selective, we can make sure that our clients are always hunting fresh stands when those stands are at their peak. I know that's one of the reasons our harvest rates are so high."
In order to take this approach, the hunter has to know for what phase of the season each stand will be most productive. The following is a brief guideline to help categorize various stand locations.
- Early season: Stands placed on or near prime food sources are good choices.
- The lull: Because bucks typically move less during this phase, stands placed close to bedding areas and covering routes to feeding areas can be big producers.
- Peak scraping: Placing stands near heavily used scrapes, located in areas where bucks feel safe, is an excellent choice for this phase.
- Chase: Although there's a risk factor, stands set in the thickest family group bedding areas are tough to beat.
- The peak of the rut: Good options include the downwind edges of family group bedding areas, funnels separating doe groups, and inside corners of open food sources 15 to 20 yards inside the woods.
- The second rut: Assuming getting in and out of an area without being detected is possible, hunting the edge of the food source where bucks enter is a good choice. It allows for natural buck movement and for does to lead bucks past the stand site. In the southern regions, where the second rut tends to blend in with the first, regular rut stands are also still good.
- Late season: The trails that mature bucks use to access prime food sources are tough to beat. Setting up far enough away from the food source to allow undetected entry and exit is a must!
By hunting a stand during its prime time of the season, you may be killing two birds with one stone. First, you're hunting the stand when the odds of success are highest. Second, you're helping to keep that stand in a pristine state by not wasting unproductive time in it. That combination can be deadly.
As I've tried to indicate, limiting the number of trips to any given stand is an effective way of keeping it productive. A stand's productivity also can be lengthened by sitting in it all day. From the peak scraping phase through the peak of the rut, a mature buck may pass that stand at any time. If you intend to hunt the same stand both morning and afternoon, staying put all day long effectively cuts the disturbance of coming and going in half.
Sitting in a stand all day long can be very important for those hunters who hunt relatively short firearms seasons. In areas of heavy hunting pressure, stands guarding thick, protective cover are often excellent choices. Usually you'll find one stand site that is vastly superior to all others. If you do, stick with it and you probably won't be disappointed.
Stands guarding thick cover during peak rutting activities often are very challenging to enter and exit without being detected. The trick here is to beat your buck in early in the morning and wait him out until after dark. In this situation, a buck could show up at any time of day. So staying put all day long is a smart way to go.
Finally, during periods of heavy pressure, one goal for every stand-hunter should be to use other hunters to his or her advantage. In other words, allow them to push the deer in your direction. Remember, making trips back and forth to the truck can result in you being responsible for helping someone else fill his or her tag.
If you take the time to choose your travel routes carefully, select your stand sites with adequate cover and favorable winds, and exercise enough restraint so that you don't over-hunt any given stand, you'll find that it's possible to hunt pristine stands from opening day to the close of the season. Furthermore, by knowing when to hunt each stand at different times of the season, you'll greatly improve your chances for success. Then, instead of spending the last days of the season desperately trying to fill your tag, you can spend that time admiring the big buck you already harvested.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To learn more about hunting trophy whitetails with Justin and Jake Roach of Performance Outdoors, visit them on the Web at: www.performanceoutdoors.com.