As we know, tree stands are an essential tool for hunters to create an advantage in their pursuit of game, and knowing where to set up is a key component in optimizing your chances of success out in the field.
As with most animals, travel from place-to-place is done using available cover and the terrain to their best advantage. For a hunter, being able to understand behavioral patterns and recognize gathering areas, access points and travel corridors is crucial to choosing your ideal location to set up your stand. Even if it’s a full season beforehand, the process of pre-scouting and potentially doing some prep work can pay off big time (which is why we’re talking about this now).
For the purposes of simplicity, we’ll be referencing deer hunting in this edition. By far the most popular game animal, it makes sense to focus our efforts here. In a past post we discussed stand types and safety, but this time around we’ll be looking at location set-ups specifically.
So Where are the Deer Exactly?
Good question. Since deer behavior will change over the course of the season, it will depend on what stage you’re hunting in. During the early and late season, it’s all about food, and hunters typically have good luck setting up on the edge of crop fields or other feeding areas. Leading up to and during the rut, you can be a little more aggressive with your stands along travel corridors or near bedding areas. Look for telltale hot scrape lines and be sure to give yourself a little space so as to stay undetected (ie. don’t hang your stand right over top of fresh signs).
Consider the Wind
Accounting for wind direction when hunting is a fundamental concept that has been with us since the dawn of time. No big surprise here that you’ll need to set-up downwind from where you expect the game to be. There are a lot of good quality gauges on the market that can help you monitor wind and thermals throughout the day.
Sun and Shadow
It’s always tougher shooting accurately with the sun in your eyes (obviously) so be sure to hang stands with that in-mind. If it’s not possible, consider using a blind or some other cover. Also be aware of heavy shadows through your target area that can affect your visibility.
Game animals tend to follow funnels through land features such as valleys and creek beds, that provide natural pathways and cover as they travel. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a funnel that includes converging trails and these are great places to establish your stand. Additionally, you may find pinch points that effectively concentrate game through a smaller area.
Ride the Ridge
Setting up on the spine of a ridge makes great sense for a variety of reasons. Not only are they natural travel corridors and bedding sites, but they also allow for great visibility – and the cross-breeze can help keep you less detectable. Rutting bucks will run the spine sniffing for does and looking for them below and these higher locations can also really make your rattling calls carry.
Look for Hubs
Like the Holy Grail of tree stand locations, a convergence of trails, ridges, ditches, fence lines and other travel corridors can be hard to find but are like gold once you do. These areas see traffic from a number of different directions and are a perfect spot to get yourself set up and to wait for that big prize.
Think Like a Deer
As the season progresses, bucks (especially the mature ones) become increasing wary and will tend to hang back in the woods before exposing themselves to feed as the light fades. These staging areas will usually present some signs (like scrapes) and if you can do a little pre-scouting, you’ll have a good sense of where to hang. Feeding bucks will also often enter fields from a corner, so that’s another good place to focus on. Look for funnels and pinch points just off the field to help increase your chances.
If you make a real effort to pay attention to the details and perhaps work with others that know what they’re doing, your strategies for choosing high-percentage tree stand locations should absolutely improve over time.
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