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How to Choose the Ultimate Bowhunting Stand
The task is to go out to a well-scouted spot and hang a tree stand for a cozy, broadside or quartering-away shot at a whitetail. The job is not nearly so easy as it sounds. In fact, it is your ultimate challenge. If you do everything right but miss your mark by just 10 or 20 yards, you’ll sit 18 feet up a tree and watch a trophy buck glide by a whisker out of arrow range. He might be a Pope and Young...or heck, even a Booner! Don’t let him and other deer get away. Hang the ultimate bowhunting stand and you’ll get more shots.
Preliminaries: In and Out
Any tree in which you even think about putting a tree stand should have easy and quiet access. You can scout and find great trees in great spots blazed fresh tracks, buck rubs and deer scrapes, but if the access to those trees is poor, you can’t or shouldn’t hunt them.
A straight, solid tree might be located too far from a field edge or logging road where a short, quiet hike to it isn’t an option. If you clump too far through the woods, especially when the leaves are down and dry as Corn Flakes, you’ll sound like an elephant and spook deer. Also, a great-looking oak or hickory might grow on the wrong side of a thicket or a major trail that runs to it. If you try to bull your way to a stand and jump bedded or walking deer along the way, you’ve obviously messed up.
It’s important to have a good exit strategy as well. After a hunt, especially in the evening, you should be able to climb out of a tree stand and sneak back to your truck without spooking too many deer. If you can’t get out of a crop field or mast flat without clearing it of animals, it’s not worth hunting that place because that ruckus will quickly cause an old buck to change his pattern. Pull that stand and re-hang it in a nearby spot with better getaway access.
Your goal should always be to slip quickly and quietly to and from a tree stand without disturbing a single deer. To do it, look for tree stand locations that are not too far off old roads, trails, power-line rights-of-way, etc. Or sneak to a tree along the edge of a pasture. Use aerial photos and topographical maps to determine the easiest and most convenient routes to tree stands.
Anytime you can creep up or down a creek or river, do it. You can wade a creek toward a tree stand like you’re strolling down Main Street without deer seeing or smelling you. Plus, the water helps to rinse traces of scent off your boots.
As a rule for evening hunting, choose a tree with easy access from the food-source side. For example, sneak down the edge of an alfalfa field or clover plot early in the afternoon, turn a few yards into the woods and climb into a tree stand. You shouldn’t bump a single animal. You certainly never want to angle cross country toward an afternoon tree stand along a brushy ridge or draw that runs from a bedding area back in the woods—you’ll spook deer moving from the timber to the feed and ruin your hunt.
For morning hunting, try to find a tree near a bedding area that you can get to before dawn. Sneak in from downwind as quietly as possible in the dark, climb the tree and get settled. Some deer in or near the cover might hear you, but they’ll usually settle down before first light. By getting there extra early, you’ll beat some bucks back to their beds. If a trophy buck comes skulking along at sunrise or later, you’ll be 20 feet up a tree waiting for him.
Play the Wind for Bowhunting Success
Every day that you scout or hunt a farm or woodlot, monitor the various wind directions at morning, midday and afternoon. Mark those wind currents on a map and in a journal. Over time you’ll determine the prevailing winds that accompany various weather patterns at different times of the year. That is vitally important info because the majority of the trees you pick for tree stands will be based on the most common winds. You know to focus on spots where deer will likely come in upwind of your tree stand. That is important, but it is not enough. When picking a tree, you need to determine where to put your scent so you’ll alert as few deer as possible in the area. If a mature buck circles in downwind of your tree stand and catches your stench, he might just melt away into the brush. But an ornery old doe might stand out there and stamp and blow for 15 minutes, bringing your blood to a boil and, worse, alerting every deer within a half-mile that something is bad wrong. Either way your hunt is probably ruined.
Determining the best wind for a tree stand definitely involves some trial and error. You might look at an aerial, point your finger and bark, “Okay boys, a northwest wind will work best right there.” But until you go in and sit the tree stand several times, you don’t really know if a northwest is best or even adequate. You need to study the topography of an area because ridges, bluffs, draws and other terrain and foliage features can and do affect wind direction, sometimes dramatically. You also need to glass a lot and observe the overall deer movement throughout an area as it relates to various common winds. Most of the time mature bucks work into the wind, or at least into a crosswind.
More often than not, your instincts will be good, and your theory about the best wind or winds to hunt a tree will be on the money. Once you’ve hunted a tree a few times and feel confident you’ve pegged the best winds, stay with that strategy when planning daily hunts from season to season. Unless the terrain or cover changes (i.e., a landowner cuts or thins 20 acres of timber) those winds will hold true over time.