A well-placed tree stand can provide a better view of your surroundings, keep you out of the sightlines of your prey and provide great positioning for the ideal shot. This doesn’t all happen on its own though, and you’ll have to pay attention to where and how you position yourself.
Whether you hunt whitetails with a gun or a bow, utilizing a tree stand often yields the highest success rate of any technique by far. Regardless of the time of the season and no matter the environment, a higher vantage point affords you advantages you wouldn’t normally have at ground level. In previous blog posts, we’ve covered different types of stands, hanging and safety, and where you might best find deer. In this edition, we’ll dive into some of the other elements that can help to set you up for success.
We all know that deer have extraordinary vision and are highly adept at picking up on movement and patterns. Their sense of smell is also highly tuned, and they can tend to be pretty paranoid in general, as a prey/flight animal needs to be for survival. The beauty of an elevated position when hunting is that it keeps you out of the normal line-of-sight and above nose level of whitetails to help provide you with the opportunity to get an optimal shot.
The Right Tree
You can make a lot of effort to get yourself all set up for the hunt, but it can be a giant waste of time if you don’t pick the right tree. Here’s a quick hit-list of some things to consider:
Choose a tree that is healthy and sturdy enough to easily support the weight of yourself, the stand and your gear. Also look for a trunk that is straight and as vertical as possible for improved stability and ease of climbing and set up.
To aid with concealment, the trunk should be wide enough to help hide your silhouette. Good cover, multiple forks and limbs at stand height are also great features.
The preferred height of stands can be a subject of debate, and there are a number of variables to consider. The ideal height will depend on the type of hunting you’re doing and the terrain you are operating within. Generally, hunters prefer to position their tree stand between 15 to 20 feet high. This height provides a good balance between visibility, concealment, and stability. Hunting in heavy brush may necessitate a lower hang to provide a clear field of view and it can be a great way to take advantage of available cover. Unfortunately, you’ll be closer to the deer sightlines and your scent potentially more noticeable in fickle winds. Conversely, if you’re hunting in an open field, you may need to position your stand higher to stay hidden. The issue here is that it can adversely limit your angles. It’s all situational, and there are pros and cons no matter which way you go.
The Right Location
Typically, you’ll get the best results by hanging your stand near a naturally-occurring terrain funnel or pinch point that isn’t likely to change over time. This could be the head of a wash, a bench or saddle in hilly country, a creek bottom connecting crop fields, or even a brushy fence line.
To avoid detection, try and be as far away as you can (and downwind) from your chosen hot spot, but at a distance that still allows for a clear, high-percentage shot. Consider your angles for an ethical kill and establish a view of both your target opening and the surrounding area.
Knowing when and how to cut shooting lanes is definitely a good skill to have. Cutting too much or too little can have a negative effect, with the understanding that trimming is highly situational. If a certain area becomes hot for instance, then keep it to a minimum so as not to spook any potential trophy bucks. For thicker cover, it’s also often best to work with a partner, so that one can provide direction from the stand itself. Be sure to work quickly and to avoid leaving scent too close to the trails.
Using cover to your advantage can be an effective way to keep you hidden until you’re ready to shoot. Straight, branchless trees are great for hanging stands, but they do require some back cover to avoid getting you sky-lined. This cover could come in the form of the terrain behind you or the surrounding vegetation. You can also supplement by hanging cut limbs (especially coniferous ones) around your stand to help you blend-in.
Since deer tend to be pretty twitchy, it doesn’t take much to scare them off. With that in-mind, you’ll have to be VERY cautious before, during and after your hunt to keep your presence on the downlow.
Having the best set-up in the world won’t help you if blow it by being loud or sloppy with your methods.
If possible, prep your area and hang your stand well ahead of the season opening. Ideally, your scouting will have revealed perennially active hot spots and rub lines to use as a reference.
Plan your Approach
Determine if you can get to and from your stand undetected. Look for natural terrain and vegetation cover, and you can also prep the approach to make it ‘silent’ with some simple trimming and the removal of ground debris. Strategically placed cut limbs can also serve as a makeshift blind if necessary.
Avoid Disturbing the Area
Be very careful when hanging your stand and prepping the area, to avoid making your presence known. This could come in the form of making too much noise, over-clearing or leaving your scent all over the place. Be sure to keep yourself scent-free, use blocker spray, wear gloves and touch as little as possible. Think of yourself like a cop at a crime scene.
Once you (quietly) have yourself all set in your stand, take some time to be sure that your gun and gear are within easy reach and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Your window-of-opportunity may only be seconds long, and the last thing you want to do is to be fumbling or making any unnecessary noise.
To be able to increase the chances of a successful hunt, there are a number of important factors that you’ll have to pay attention to and a good amount or prep to undertake. If you’re going to make the effort to spend the day up a tree, you might as well try to make it count.
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