Poor tree stand selection is the number one reason archery hunters have close calls but fail to score. Lessons learned while hunting are often the most painful.
Several seasons ago a friend invited me to bow hunt on his northern Michigan property. When I arrived, he had set up several tree stand sites. One of the stands was in a super area with buck sign everywhere.
An old logging road, grown up with tall grasses split two aspen clear cuts. A nice rub line followed the logging trail and a large scrape lay beneath a small spruce. Thick aspen growth, a few larger spruce, and plenty of underbrush mixed in provided the cover necessary to hold plenty of does and fawns in the area.
A stand was positioned within easy bow range of the scrape. It was obvious that the scrape had been reopened a couple times before I arrived and judging by the size of the rubs the buck was a respectable animal.
Despite the obvious sign, I felt uneasy with the blind placement. The tree stand was placed in a thick spruce that provided the best available hide, but it was positioned on the west side of the north/south running logging road. Knowing that a north or west wind would push my scent over the area where a circling buck might approach, I debated moving the stand to the other side of the logging trail.
Instead of taking a few minutes to move the stand to another spruce on the east side of the logging road, I decided not to disturb the area and take my chances. The first evening I visited the tree stand a northwest breeze carried my scent away from the scrape. Gambling that an approaching buck would cross the logging road to the north of my stand, I climbed into the tree and waited.
An eight-point with a tall, polished-white rack appeared about an hour before dark. The animal approached from behind me and slowly circled downwind to let his nose check the scrape. Worried that the buck would wind me, I got turned around and into a shooting position hoping for a crack at the buck before he encountered my scent trail.
The thick aspen saplings fouled any possibility of a shot. When the animal reached the logging trail he was only 15 yards away but screened by the lower limbs of a balsam. I held my breath knowing that if the buck took a couple more steps I might get my chance.
The buck stood motionless for a long while, sniffing the air frequently and snapping his head from side to side. Eventually he made his move and stepped towards the open. My scent trail must have hit him like a wide receiver running into a goal post! Before I could draw my bow, the animal stopped cold, whirled around, and bolted back into the aspens. In an instant the buck was gone, and I never saw him again.
Had I listened to my little voice that told me to move the stand to the east side of the logging road, the buck would have offered me a broadside shot at 15 yards.
Two painful mistakes prevented me from arrowing this buck. Stands must be positioned to take advantage of available cover and prevailing winds. Expect bucks to approach scrapes or rub lines from the heaviest available cover. Don’t hunt a stand if you suspect that the wind might carry your scent toward approaching deer and don’t make any exceptions to this rule.
I carry a small plastic bottle filled with unscented powder. Squeezing the bottle during the hunt shoots a stream of powder dust into the air and makes it easy to see even the slightest air currents. If the wind direction changes for the worse during a hunt, I’ll climb down and end the hunt rather than risk spooking approaching deer.
While these precautions may seem extreme, once a buck associates human scent with your hunting stand, he’s unlikely to return to the same spot again. If does or fawns come in and wind you, their snorting, blowing, and carrying on will also alert any buck in the area. In the sport of bow hunting, there are very few second chances. Make your first opportunity count.
Second, most hunters let scrapes overly influence stand placement. The stand I just described was positioned so that I could shoot toward the scrape. Rarely do bucks walk right up to a scrape in daylight hours and offer a shot opportunity.
Usually a buck will approach his scrape from downwind and let his nose tell him if a doe has visited the area. Most scrapes are made and reopened after dark. Position your tree stand to hunt the downwind side of an active scrape. Freshen the scrape with some doe in heat lure and cut shooting lanes were you expect a buck will circle downwind to check his scrape.
Using Multiple Tree Stands
No one can guess the weather. Selecting multiple stand sites is the only way to be guaranteed that your hunt won’t be ruined by an unexpected wind switch. With two, three, or more stand sites selected for various wind directions, there’s no excuse for spooking bucks because the wind wasn’t quite right.
Establish at least one stand that can be hunted with a north or northwest wind, a different stand for south or southwest winds, and a third stand that can be hunted effectively when unexpected east winds occur.
The best chance of harvesting a buck usually comes the first or second time a tree stand is hunted. Human traffic in an area is sure to catch the attention of resident bucks sooner or later. Usually it’s sooner.
I often take a stand for a day or two, leave it alone for a week or more, and try hunting it again. Doing so keeps a buck on his toes and makes it tough for the animal to pattern human movements.
The feeling of expectation and excitement enjoyed when hunting a fresh stand keeps my instincts sharp and the desire to succeed intense. If for no other reason, every bow hunter should treat themselves to the feeling of confidence multiple stand sites offer.
Tree Stand Preparation
Once several stand sites are settled upon, cutting shooting lanes and other trimming should be done well before the hunting season. Winter, early spring, summer, or early fall are the times to cut shooting lanes so deer have a chance to adjust to the changes. At the absolute least, shooting lanes should be cut a couple weeks prior to hunting.
This point can’t be overstated. A buck knows every tree and branch in his home territory. Cutting down trees, putting up stands, hacking off branches, and dragging the resulting brush around is sure to focus a buck’s attention on your chosen hunting site.
Think of it this way. If someone came into your house and moved the furniture around, you would notice. It takes time for a buck to become accustomed to the changes and go about his business as usual.
With all the hard work done weeks or months before the hunting season arrives, you’ll only have to slip in, quietly bolt on a portable stand and begin hunting once the season opens.
If you hunt on private land where you don’t have to worry about stand theft, consider putting treestands up weeks or months before the season. On my leased land, I leave the most productive stands in place year around.
For my money all treestands should be placed in trees that provide the maximum amount of natural cover. Spruce, pine, hemlock, balsam, willow, and oak are excellent choices. These trees hold their needles or leaves well into the season. Maple, ash, hickory, and aspen shed their covering of leaves by early autumn. If you must hunt from a tree that provides little cover, get up 20 or more feet above the ground.
Both ladder and bolt-on stands are effective. Ladder stands should be at least 14 feet high for the best results and placed in trees that offer excellent cover. Bolt-on type stands should be set 15-20 feet above the ground to avoid the hunter being detected when drawing on a deer.
When hunting from ladder tree stands, I stay on my feet the first and last hour of the day. Doing so allows me to get into shooting position with very little movement during this prime hunting period. Shooting from a sitting position also reduces necessary movement, but bow hunters should practice from a sitting position before trying it in the woods.
Bolt-on stands or climbers that are positioned higher off the ground allow the hunter an opportunity to sit comfortably for hours and still be able to stand to shoot without spooking deer. The seat on these stands should be high enough to prevent your legs from cramping and allow you to stand in one smooth movement.