July 19, 2016
In Ultimate Ambush - Part I we covered several strategies for nailing down effective ambush setups for mature bucks. However, we only scratched the surface.
Ambush stands come in many forms, and there's no shortage of potential locations for them. The following strategies present entirely new scenarios in which adjustments to stand locations can give you a deadly edge and make you a more effective ambush hunter.
Features such as creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds often dictate how deer travel on a given piece of property. Whether it's a large body of water or a meandering stream, deer tend to hug the edges.
Most of the properties I've hunted in the Midwest have some body of water that alters deer traffic. One of my favorite properties to hunt in Iowa has a creek that meanders through it. The creek runs in the north-south direction, eventually feeding into a river.
There's not much water flowing down the creek at any given time, but over the years heavy rains and spring meltoff have carved a deep trench into the earth. The banks are a good 10 feet high, and only a few spots remain where the deer can cross with relative ease. Naturally, the deer found these two spots decades ago, and the deep trails going up the banks are proof of that.
One of these crossings parallels a timber on one side and a cedar thicket on the opposite side. The thicket serves as a bedding area, and from it the deer filter out across the creek to the fields in the afternoon. Likewise, most mornings they'll make their return by traveling through the same spot.
The other crossing is roughly 300 yards away, and field crops border both sides. Even if deer choose to cross in this spot, they eventually travel past the crossing paralleling the timber.
Choosing the timbered side was the obvious choice, but it required a little work. The biggest problem I faced came from a fork in the trail just after the crossing point. One leg led to the front of my stand, but the other allowed deer to get behind me. With a north wind, deer following the opposing leg would end up directly downwind of me.
To mistake-proof the stand, my friend Travis and I cut brush and piled it over the trail. Within a few days, the deer had cut a new trail around the barrier and ultimately funneled right where I wanted them. From that stand I had multiple opportunities to shoot a buck that year, just not the one I wanted.
Work In Progress
Creating the ultimate ambush won't necessarily pay off the first year. In fact, some setups might take a couple years of tweaking before they're just right. Such was the case with the aforementioned set along the creek.
That particular set would have been fine the way it was, but the following year my friend Andy planted a quarter-acre food plot in alfalfa along the creek edge. To top it off, I created two mock scrapes along the edge. These small additions gave the deer two more reasons to funnel through that location. The payoff came the second week of November with a 14-pointer that grossed 158 inches.
The point is: Don't assume the set you created was a waste of time based on the results of one season. Think of each stand site as a "work in progress." Focus your attention and planning on making incremental changes to heighten your chances of success.
Watch how the deer react to each change. If they don't move in the direction you want, make the necessary adjustments so they do. Eventually your efforts will pay off.
Study a topographical map or an aerial photo of any given piece of ground, and chances are you'll be able to identify several natural transition funnels.
Unfortunately, once you start scouting for a potential stand site, all too often the best trees for stands will be either too close or too far from the trails the deer are using. Your options might seem bleak, but you can create barriers that funnel deer in the direction you want. And as a general rule, it's fairly easy to do.
For example, let's say the transition trail deer are using runs parallel to a ridge, but too close or too far for a lethal broadside shot with a bow. The solution might find you piling brush on both sides of the trail 20 yards from the stand site. In doing so, deer will typically divert around the barriers and unknowingly offer a better shot angle.
Similarly, let's say the primary trail runs below the stand and allows deer to travel downwind of your ambush. In such a case, you might consider dropping junk trees across the trail behind your stand so they fall perpendicular to the stand site.
In doing so, there's a good chance the deer will naturally change course and travel above the ambush, thereby giving you the wind advantage. (Note: Only cut trees or brush with the landowner's permission.)
The ultimate ambush would allow for effective hunting under more than one wind direction. The chosen entrance and exit routes also would allow slipping in and out undetected. So to create the ultimate ambush, you need to understand how the wind and thermals react to the terrain you're hunting.
Generally speaking, the majority of my stand sites are chosen for a specific seasonal phase and wind condition. During the initial planning stages, my first step is always deciding when the stand will be hunted and under which wind condition.
Unfortunately, the ideal potential ambush site all too often won't work with the prevailing wind condition, as deer would approach the site from downwind. Again, piling brush or dropping junk trees over the downwind trails will encourage deer to skirt around the barrier and stay out of your scent stream.
Entrance & Exit Routes
Just as the wind plays a vital role in determining which stand to hunt on a given day, it plays an equally important role in selecting entrance and exit routes. Understanding how to play the wind with respect to the routes we take to and from stands can have a huge impact on our success.
"Fine-tuning stand locations offers hunters a deadly edge in the never-ending quest to harvest mature whitetails. Here's what you should search for in your scouting efforts."
Take, for example, a sidehill stand of mine that's great for a northwest wind. The stand would be perfect, but the entrance route takes me upwind of a primary bedding area. In turn, that route probably isn't the best choice, considering my scent will be carried into the bedding area. I'd be setting off alarms, and likely educating the buck I'd be trying to kill.
In a similar scenario, let's say that after dark I take an exit route that allows my scent to be carried into a corn field or food plot where every deer in the neighborhood is feeding. Once again, I'd be tipping them off to my presence and probably doing more damage than I'd ever know.
The point is: Choose entrance and exit routes wisely, based on the wind conditions. Getting in and out undetected is the name of the game. Also, remember that you don't have to use the same entrance and exit routes. Just because you enter your stand via one route, you don't always have to leave the same way.
I have a stand just inside a tree line bordering an agricultural field. I hunt it only on afternoons when the wind prevails from the northwest. I approach the stand from the field edge, but my exit route takes me through the timber on a path I cleared of sticks and leaves beforehand. It's quiet, quick and covert.
Understanding deer gives you powerful knowledge in your pursuit of trophy bucks. So spending time watching and studying deer movement and behavior is the most crucial step toward developing the ultimate ambush.
Once you understand where the food, bedding areas and transition routes are located, you can begin manipulating or conditioning deer to travel through the places you want them to go. Whether you're blocking trails with brush or implementing small food plots near the stand site, you'll be encouraging and conditioning deer to frequent your stand location — bettering your chances of getting a shot.
Depending on the phase of season and deer behavior, your ambush approach will vary. The buck you're hunting might not be looking for food at all; maybe he's thirsty from his relentless search for does.
Whatever the case, adding a couple mock scrapes and a small watering hole will give a buck two more reasons to move through. Keep aware of deer activity in your area, and be ready to adjust your setup accordingly.
The season might still be months away, but now's the time to begin planning for the ultimate ambush.
Review the aforementioned tips in Ultimate Ambush - Part I, and I'm certain you'll get a few ideas for creating new stand sites in your own area. The payoff will come when that big buck unknowingly meanders into your trap. Good luck and happy hunting!