For example, one season I was hunting a new area with a big soybean field. I naturally assumed the deer were living in the adjacent large timber. I was surprised when an afternoon observation stand revealed that most were piling out of a couple of obscure, brushy draws. It was time to make a strategy change. I could have spent a week hunting the wrong cover. That’s the real value of observation stands.
Put It All Together to Form a Strategy
By starting on the fringes and slowly working in toward the hottest sign, you keep the whole area fresh for as long as possible. By definition, fringe stands offer easy access. One of the most important aspects of any good strategy—and the point where too many deer hunters go wrong—is the entry and exit routes used for each stand. If they’re chosen haphazardly you’ll bump a lot of deer and ruin your hunting area pronto. The fringe stands I recommend are often far from the bedding areas, so getting in and out undetected is much easier and your impact on the area is kept very low.
After sitting in a fringe stand and observing/hunting for a day or two, you’ll learn as you go—then move ever closer to the action without overplaying your hand. Make every move for a reason and your stand choices will be good ones, rather than the product of random selection. And, most importantly, you keep your hunting area fresh for the entire season.
A typical hunt might have you spending the first afternoon in a stand along an overgrown fenceline hoping to see deer as they pass in and out of a nearby woodlot. Not only are you observing and learning, but you’re hunting a good travel route, too.
You can hunt the fenceline stand for a day or two before moving in to the edge of the woodlot. From this new stand, you can see deeper into the woods while covering one or two trails just inside. Slowly work in closer to what you believe is the area’s hotspot—maybe a bedding area or a scrape site located in a ravine or creek bottom.
This hunting approach is systematic in its efficiency. Available hunting time and the amount of ground you have should determine how quickly you move in.
In either case, your goal is to be sitting over the hottest sign at the end of your hunt, whether it’s a couple days or a season. On a short hunt, you move in fast, on a longer hunt you move more slowly—sticking to low-impact stands on the fringes for a longer portion of the time. Similarly, if you have plenty of areas to hunt, you can afford to hit each a little harder, moving more quickly to the hotspots before heading to a completely fresh area and starting over.
Hunting in this manner, you can keep a small area fresh for much longer than if you hunted in the bucks’ living rooms right from the get-go. If you spend your whole season in a relatively small hunting area like most Eastern hunters are forced to do, or if you prefer to hunt a specific buck, you should immediately see the value of keeping the hunting area fresh.
I believe that 10 percent of the deer hunters take 90 percent of the nice bucks. You probably know at least one hunter who seems to take a good buck every year. The “secret” they all share is a simple fundamental of deer hunting: Scout and hunt in such a way that the deer don’t realize they’re being hunted. If you do this, it’s just a matter of time and luck before you, too, will drag out a big one.