In trying to understanding the issues involved in whitetail stand management, a hunter must first define what is a pristine whitetail stand. First of all, a prime whitetail stand has two core ingredients that must be present in order for consistent success to occur. In many cases one ingredient is stronger than the other, but it is virtually indisputable that they both must be present.
The first ingredient involves the deer and the second ingredient involves the human. The first ingredient, stated simply, is that deer must be using the area in daylight hours. To further specify the requirement, mature bucks must use the area during daylight hours.
The second ingredient involving the human aspect of hunting is equally important. Simply put again, the hunter must be able to access and hunt the area undetected. If one of these ingredients is out of whack, your chances of success go down in a flash.
Some areas hold mature deer but they are inaccessible without pressuring and spooking deer. Other areas may have great access but may not have any deer! However, when both ingredients are found in appropriate measure, the mix creates a prime stand location. Nighttime visions of these 'honey holes' can keep a hardcore whitetail nut up all night, even months before the season begins. This is a serious issue! Finding and hunting these areas is what makes pursuing mature whitetails the most satisfying and rewarding hunting endeavor in North America.
The method by which a hunter decides to execute his whitetail stand management strategy to harvest a mature whitetail is a venture unique to each hunter. Often, their ritual is riddled with personal "pet peeves" and scenarios that have produced bucks in the past. Regardless of hunting ideology, there is one thing that all hunters must do every time they hunt. All have to make an educated wager on where and when to hunt and how to minimize their own detectable presence in the area. One of the best strategies for making this bet is "scout-less hunting." This can be a highly effective way for a hunter to eliminate human intrusion before the hunt, increasing the odds of a successful ambush. The primary feature of this strategy, as stated, is that you don't scout the area immediately before hunting. This type of hunting could be mistakenly construed as failing to prepare for a hunt, but that's not the case. As a hunter begins to learn his hunting area in detail, studying topographic maps, walking the area in the off-season, talking with land owners and other hunters, and understanding deer movement in the region, he can make educated decisions about where to set up without scouting immediately prior to the hunt.
This tactic can work very well in areas that have topographic and land cover features that funnel deer through highly predictable areas. The Midwest typically displays characteristics good for employing this strategy. Large crop fields with small funnels of timber and wood lots make predicting deer movement areas an easier task than other more forested regions of the country. Many people hunting the Midwest employ this strategy with great success, particularly when hunting areas for short periods of time in unfamiliar areas. An example scenario would be a hunter traveling to another state to hunt for a few days on a new property. The study of topographic maps accompanied by knowledge of deer behavior in the region can be as good, or better, than on-the-ground the scouting.
"Scout-less hunting" typically involves hunting an area one or two times, and if you don't have success, you pull up your stand and move to another spot. This strategy involves covering a lot of real estate from the tree stand, but not necessarily from the ground. We've all heard this saying and many can lend credence to it: "The first time into an area is always the best." The reasoning for this statement is clear -- it's the first time a human has been there and the deer aren't disturbed. This draws us right back to the core issue. If you're going to kill a mature buck, the deer in your stand areas can't know that you are there. Basically, you're increasing the number of "first time" hunts in your window of hunting time. This type of hunting is a perfect way to manage human pressure in your areas and thus, manage your stands. Again, stand management is "strategically hunting your best stand sites in a manner that produces the highest probability for h
arvesting mature deer."
The "scout-less strategy" will involve some leg work and some potential gambles on areas you think the deer might be using, but it can be a very effective way to manage your stands. Your daily success in each area dictates your movement. If you don't see much deer activity in the area the first time in, then pack up and go somewhere else the next hunt.
The strategy is typically employed by the hunter who has access to multiple properties, large tracts of land or large amounts of public land. The hunter who hunts a 100-acre property would be better off employing a different stand management tactic. The Midwest isn't the only place that this strategy can work. This type of hunting typically involves using climbing tree stands and carrying the stand in and out on every hunt. This type of stand management strategy can be highly effective and action-packed. As stated, first-time hunts in areas often are the most fruitful -- so why not make them all first-time hunts? If you're hunting large tracts of land with numerous stand sites, or hunting vast areas of public land, this may be the ticket for you.
THE PRE-HUNG SURPRISE STRATEGY
The "pre-hung surprise strategy" is another tactic that can be employed by hunters seeking to manage their stands effectively throughout the year. This strategy can best be utilized by hunters, like myself, who typically hunt several small- to average-size properties each year in their region. I hunt these types of properties year after year, and I have identified the prime stand sites. I hang stands long before the season with the anticipation of hunting them when the conditions are just right. To say these areas are un-scouted would be inaccurate. However, I don't set foot in the areas during the fall until I'm ready to hunt. These are areas that I've scouted intensely over the years but no longer need to exert yearly scouting pressure to know that they will be good.
All these stands sites need is some yearly trimming in the shooting lanes. I leave my stands on these properties year-round, and I can count on them to be ready when the conditions are right and the probability of a harvest is high. This strategy is simply another way to minimize human activity in your stand areas and utilize prime areas to maximize their potential big buck output. Again, the real issue is having the internal fortitude to stay out of these areas until conditions are right. Deal with your zeal and your success will increase.
Whether you consciously realize it or not, stand management could be the key driver of your success or failure this year in the hardwoods. The foresight and strategy applied to hunting your stands when they can produce the greatest probability for success is the name of the game -- especially in bowhunting. The beauty of the sport lies in the chess game, where your opponent has the home-court advantage. His instinctive skill to survive has been honed by eons of biological evolution and multiple seasons of being pursued. This is precisely why 2 1/2-year-old bucks aren't our target animal. Mature whitetails are the beasts that drive the sport of trophy whitetail hunting and will continue to be on the top of the hit list. Consistently tagging mature bucks comes by adherence to principled hunting rather than gambling on a chance. Never underestimate the impact your own hunting pressure and hunt your best stands only under pristine conditions. Good luck and leave some for seed!