With the blizzard of media sources at our fingertips today, sometimes fundamentals get lost amid so much information. I like to keep things simple by having a basic approach that makes sense everywhere. If you master the fundamentals, you can ignore almost everything else you hear or read about deer hunting. Of course, while they may be simple enough, applying the basics can be a challenge. Here’s how to apply them to find the best stand location in your hunting area.
No. 1: Only hunt stands where you won’t be detected.
This is the most important thing. You have to be able to get to and from your stands without bumping or educating a single deer, and you need the wind advantage when on the stand to remain undetected. Finding such stands is not easy.
I have found my best stands by working backwards. I forget about the sign and start by dissecting my hunting area in the continual search for low-profile walking routes to use. Regardless of how much sign a stand overlooks, it is not a good stand if you can’t sneak in and out undetected.
I look for cover I can sneak behind or terrain I can use to keep hidden. Look for creeks and ditches. Below the lay of the land, these features are normally out of sight from bedded deer in the area. I have snuck past deer bedded within 30 yards of them. Go in several weeks ahead of time and clear out a path.
In the absence of creeks and ditches, find low areas where you can stay off the skyline and use cover to your advantage. If you control the property, you may even plant trees, brush, or tall annual grasses and crops behind which you can sneak.
Now switch your attention to selecting a stand location where the deer can’t smell you. You can do this most easily by having a “safe area” downwind that works for the same wind direction you need to sneak in undetected. As I said earlier, perfect stands are few and far between.
You will likely end up on the edge of a ridge where your scent can blow over the heads of downwind deer, or you might be on the upwind side of a natural barrier—a river, pond, lake, open field or even someone’s back yard. If deer can’t get downwind of you, or the deer that do get downwind of you can’t smell you, the spot is worth keeping.
No. 2: There has to be a reason for deer to go past you.
Most bowhunters start by finding high-traffic areas and then looking for a tree to hang a stand. This is the last step. You don’t have to hunt the very best sign to have success, but you do need to keep from educating deer so they are moving naturally (during the day) for as long into the season as possible. So you need to understand what makes deer move.During most of the season, deer focus on food. Find the food and you find the deer. Look for trails. It is that simple. Hunting near the food source itself is also a great strategy but is often complicated by the need to sneak out after legal shooting time without bumping deer. Either I focus on hunting small “staging area” food plots that the deer vacate shortly after dark, or I arrange for someone to drive into a larger area and move the deer off naturally so I can sneak out of the stand.
During the rut, bucks’ travel patterns are less obvious and may have little to do with food. As they search for does, they often take the most direct route between areas where does bed or feed.
Your stand should overlook one of these routes and ideally be on a funnel to stack odds in your favor. You may not find any real sign in these areas at first, but by the end of the rut there will be trails here, most of which won’t be used again until next year’s rut. So when scouting for rut travel routes, forget about sign and focus on the cover and terrain. If you remember that bucks are trying to stay out of sight as they take the most direct path, then potential stand sites will come to mind.
Here are a few tips for finding the routes bucks are using during the rut.
Aerial photos: Aerial photos specialize in showing cover, which bucks use when traveling. This is why brushy fence lines are great stand sites during the rut. You also can see areas where the cover necks down to create a pinch point, such as the inside corner of a field embedded in the timber or the places along creeks where the cover narrows. Study aerial photos first, then mark the doe bedding areas and feeding areas, and watch potential funnels between them unfold.
Topo maps: Deer also relate to the terrain when traveling. A topo map’s contour lines show the elevation and, with some study, you will see the actual terrain these lines represent. Dips, ditches, creek crossings, saddles, etc., are all used by traveling bucks.
Traditional scouting: While you won’t see much sign in late summer, you can learn where the deer are likely to feed come fall. Focus on agricultural fields and mast sources. (Which oaks are carrying acorns? Any apple trees, pears, persimmons?) In wooded areas, identify spots with lots of natural browse. If you don’t know what deer eat in your area, ask a local biologist. Catalog possible areas where does might feed.
Glassing: Watch the open feeding areas in early August. This gives you a starting point for your fall patterning. A buck’s summer range is not always the same as his fall range, but it gives you a place to start.
Trail-camera photos: Trail-cam photos are the best sources of information on the whereabouts of specific deer. They can tell you where a nice buck lives and even when he is moving in daylight. They can’t tell you how to hunt him, but they can help determine where to focus your time.