August 16, 2016
In a perfect world, a whitetail hunter could hang tree stands in the summer, trim needed shooting lanes and have plenty of time to wait for deer to acclimate to the changed site before the hunt.
The hunter even could pile debris on the trails he wouldn't want deer to use, effectively encouraging them to funnel closer to stands.
But we do-it-yourself deer hunters don't live in a perfect world. We can't always visit a location months before the hunt.
When we get there, we must hunt aggressively and take some chances a hunter with access to plenty of private land might not. And this is particularly the case with hanging stands and trimming shooting lanes. Most often, we're creating a stand site we'll soon be using — perhaps even later that same day.
While a hunter who's trimmed shooting lanes weeks before the season doesn't have to worry about overdoing it, cutting carelessly right before or during a hunt can kill off a stand site. Here's a practical guide to minimizing any negative impact:
Before trimming any vegetation, check out current rules for the area you're hunting. Some authorities prohibit you from cutting certain species of trees. Some don't allow trimming at all. But as detailed below, even if you can't cut vegetation, in many cases you still can move it out of your way.
Trim from the stand when you can do so safely. The more work you can do without moving about on the ground, the better. This minimizes ground scent and the sight of cut branches near a deer's eye level. Use a long pruning pole to reach what you can from the stand. And as always, be sure you're harnessed in.
Trimming of course is more easily done with two people: one directing, the other cutting. When working alone, the idea should be to get the right branches cut as efficiently as possible. So as you look up at the stand, clearly mark spots you want to open up, so you can see them once you're in the stand. This eliminates extra trips up and down the tree to verify you're cutting where needed.
Pull live branches to the side and tie them off. I've been doing this more and more, using olive-green parachute cord to pull them out of the way until my hunt has ended. I like to pull branches down to a level below that of my stand; this helps block the deer's view of me.
Sometimes a branch even can be pulled behind you to help break up your outline. I don't know why I didn't think of this years ago, because it really works. And again, on some public lands it's the only legal way to create shooting lanes.
Trim just before it rains, if possible. I watch the weather forecast like an addict when hunting. Any time I see rain coming, I scramble around doing tree stand work, checking trail cameras and cutting any needed lanes.
I know the rain will wash out my scent and make the site huntable much sooner than it otherwise would be. Of course, I also watch the wind direction, because I don't want my scent blowing into a bedding area as I work up a sweat clearing out a few shooting lanes. Choose carefully the times when you do your stand prep work.
When you do remove a small tree or sapling, cut it close to the ground. Nothing shouts "shooting lane" as loudly as a bunch of fresh sapling stubs scattered about. They also can trip you on the way to or from your stand.
So if you're cutting saplings, remove them level with the ground. Kick leaves over them or rub mud on the bright, freshly cut wood.
I like to use nippers or some other pruning tool instead of a saw whenever possible, to avoid leaving sawdust in the area. Cover any sawdust with leaf litter or whatever else is available to make it blend in.
Attention to Detail
Carry off the debris. Nothing seems to put off a mature buck faster than seeing a radical change in an area he knows well.
On one occasion, I left a pile of trimmed branches at the base of my tree, and a few hours later a doe with two fawns actually nibbled on them without apparent concern. But a mature buck might not be that forgiving.
I once saw a buck stop and back up three cautious steps before turning around to leave the area, just because he'd spotted a similar pile of branches that seemed foreign to him. Carry the debris off some distance, then toss it into a ditch or scatter it so as not to raise a deer's suspicions.
Minimize human odor at the site. This starts with being conservative in what you cut. Remove only what you must to give yourself a clean, open shot. Work quickly but quietly, and cover your arms so your bare skin doesn't brush against the surroundings. Wear gloves when handling tools and trimmed branches. Wear your rubber boots. And of course, try to avoid stepping on deer trails or rubbing against any vegetation.
Spray yourself with an odor neutralizer at least from the waist down to minimize odor on the ground and low brush. If you must stand on a trail to cut something, hit that area with a mist of neutralizer spray as well. Spray your tools, too, because you'll likely be laying them on the ground at times during the trimming process.
On most hunts in most places, trimming shooting lanes is a part of life for the DIY whitetail hunter. It's especially important for the bowhunter, but even a firearms hunter sometimes finds a need to trim. Doing so quickly and with minimal negative impact is a skill that can, and should, be learned.