The Quintessential Deer Stand
Most stand sites are good, but a few key ingredients make a deer stand truly great!
The problem with stand hunting deer is that rarely do you find the perfect tree right where you want to hunt. How often have you discovered an amazing spot with intersecting trails, only to learn that there isn’t a decent tree anywhere in sight? When we search for a stand location, we’re looking for a movement corridor; a place that will produce the highest odds of encountering deer within bow range. For some this might be a field edge, but for most it will be near a series of converging trails. No matter what your preferred strategy is, finding the location is only the beginning. Then the challenge lies in choosing the right tree and hanging the stand itself.
Tree stand hunting offers distinct advantages, not the least of which involves displacing us from a deer’s direct line-of-sight and sense of smell. If a deer doesn’t know you’re there, then its business as usual and movement is uninhibited. My best stand sites overlook several heavily used trail intersections.
Whenever I choose a stand site, I consider the time of the season and whether I want to sit the stand as a morning or evening spot. Secondly, but perhaps even more important is the prevailing wind. I make every effort to set up in a tree where the thermals will carry my scent somewhere other than the deer’s anticipated direction of approach. Good stand locations will invariably focus on areas of high deer traffic, either overlooking feeding fields or within staging areas where deer move along trails between bedding and feeding. During the rut, this changes and key travel corridors used by bucks seeking hot does can be high odds locations for stand sites.
When looking for new stand locations consider important habitat structures, including heavy cover for bedding, funnels, ridges, valleys, bottlenecks for transitional movement, and of course the best source of food. Early season, set up between bedding and feeding areas. Sometimes field edges can work well, but this is situation-specific and can minimize shot opportunities to lower light times at dawn and dusk. As the rut heats up, focus on areas frequented by doe groups in heavily used travel corridors. Then, in the late post-rut season, switch back to placing stands close to the best food sources.
As a rule there is a fine line between pressuring deer and getting in close. I like to move in as near as possible to the bedding areas (e.g. within 200 yards) and set my stands in areas where the deer still feel most comfortable moving under the safety of heavy cover. Every situation is unique, but as a rule the best locations are often at least 80 to 150 yards into the trees. Your main focus in determining a strong stand site, is locating staging areas where deer loiter before breaking from cover to feed in the evening or as they return to bed in the morning.
As for the tree itself, this is where it can get tricky. When possible take advantage of the extra cover offered by evergreens. Branches and boughs of larger spruce and pine trees can help conceal you. That’s not to say that poplar trees can’t work. I also hunt a fair bit in poplars, but they don’t offer the same cover. In my opinion, the quintessential deer stand will always be placed in an old-growth evergreen.
Even though whitetails are considered creatures of habit, they are elusive. Once you’ve chosen a general site and a suitable tree, knowing how best to hang the stand can again make or break shot opportunities. Place a stand too high and shot angles can create difficult conditions in which pivoting the upper body can be difficult. Chances of wounding a deer in this scenario increase. Place your stand too low and you chance being seen or winded. Hang your stand close to, or between, the trails you plan to hunt at a height of 14 to 20 feet. For archery, plan for a 15-25 yard shot. For gun hunting, anything out to 100 yards can work, but closer is usually better.
Whenever you hang a stand, take care to remove limbs that might obstruct shot opportunities, both in the tree stand tree and in nearby trees. Pivoting the stand to maximize flexibility to accommodate shot options should be a priority. I like the stand to be at a 45-degree angle from where I anticipate a shot opportunity.
THE RIGHT STAND
To hunt whitetails from a tree stand requires patience and that can translate to long hours in the tree. You can have the best location but without a safe and comfortable stand, you won’t be able to put in the hours necessary to score on deer. Today’s tree stand manufacturers know this and they’ve gone to great lengths to make stands as comfortable as possible. From ladder stands, to climbers, lock-ons, multiple-person stands, stands with blinds, stands with shooting rails, and more – the list is long.
While comfort is a consideration, in my view the three most important features are size, strength, and durability. While every hunter has their own preferences, I remain a firm believer in simplicity. For several years now, I’ve used Rivers Edge (www.huntriversedge.com) lock-on stands almost exclusively because they are strong, comfortable, they have a basic design, they’re safe, and they’re affordable. As far as climbers go, I’ve come to appreciate several in Ameristep’s product line (www.ameristep.com) for the same reasons.
In the end, it’s about finding the stand, not to mention the location, that’s right for you and the places you hunt. The next time you’re in the woods, don’t be afraid to relocate. Your stand site might be good, but with a few minor adjustments, you just might be able to make it great!