As the early fall dawn started to peek through the trees, I had to wonder, am I in the right stand? Post-season scouting led me to this secret little "honey hole" in January. March found me prepping it for a stand, a few shooting lanes, and a couple of entrance and exit options. Now, as the October sun was rising for my first sit, I didn't reap the reward for my spring efforts. Leaves were everywhere, my shooting lanes were non-existent, and to be honest, my entrance trail wasn't much of a trail anymore.
When to Prep?
Looking back, my mind was in the right place. Proper stand and trail preparation are a very important piece of a "Whitetail 365" regiment, but for where I live in Michigan, I simply started too early. Mother Nature is wonderful at adapting and recovering. Everything that I'd cut and trimmed in March, while all the flora was dormant, grew back with a vengeance. The months of May and June are much better for preparing stand sites. At this point in the year, the vines have committed to their paths, the leaves are lush and green, and you can get a better view of how your trim work will look come fall.
Where to Start?
When preparing a treestand, work from the inside out. Find the perfect stand location, and then think about the details. I prefer to cut rather conservatively. My entrance, exits, and any trails I like to create are done in moderation. I want to be able to access and leave the stand unnoticed, so it isn't too obvious to the deer or other hunters exactly what I am up to. Access trails need to be well thought out. Don't simply cut a beeline from a parking spot to the tree. Think about wind direction, bedding areas, food sources, and travel corridors. I don't want any of my scent to blow into an area where a deer may be hiding, or an area that a deer could walk through later. I like to clear out all of the brush cut from the trials to help create a silent experience.
Cutting for the stand also requires some thought. I like to continue the whole "clean" theme. I stand at the base of the tree, look up and visualize exactly what needs to be cut out to create a quiet climb into the stand, keeping in mind not to cut out precious cover. Once I hang the stand, I sit in it and visualize possible shooting lanes. Many people cut too aggressively and end up removing all of their precious background cover. I'd rather limit my shot opportunities and still be well hidden in the tree rather than open it up and be easily seen by that big ole' mature whitetail.
Shooting lanes are done rather conservatively. Our most important task as hunters is to promptly and humanely kill the animal. Quick kills require a clean shot. I start at the tree and cut clear, straight lanes out to the nearby trails. I cut lanes that seem natural, and don't force any by clearing trees thicker than my wrist. Some stands may have four different lanes, others may only offer one. I leave all the brush lie in these lanes unless I feel that it may interfere with a shot. I've tried slashing giant paths to shoot through with poor results. From my experience, a shooting lane that is too obvious will leave the deer suspicious, and cause them to choose another route.
Creating Deer Trails
I tend to be pretty liberal when cutting deer trails. I usually make them very direct, from point A to point B. I make them wide, and clear them well. It's important to remember that does and young bucks make up most of the traffic on these man made trails.
To be efficient when scent checking does, mature bucks will travel on slight trails that intersect these doe super-highways. Not to say a whopper won't stroll down your chain-sawed trail now and then, but the odds are that he'll cross it rather than use it. Most of my trails connect key areas such as food plots, bedding cover, staging areas, mineral sites, and water sources.
The Perfect Time?
There is no "perfect" time to prepare stand sites. Start too early, and a lot of re-growth will have occurred. Begin too late and the stand could be contaminated by human scent and ruined before it even started. Time permitting, I like to split the difference and hang stands in May and June. By doing so, there will be a little bit of re-growth, but not as much as if I would have started in March.
When do you start your stand prep?