Hunting from a tree stand means hunting from a fixed position. Once the stand is erected that’s it. The work must be done prior to hunting from your stand to make sure its fixed position is the correct one.
Scouting stand locations prior to hunting is a vital investment in time to ensure ultimate success. The stand needs to be placed at the right distance from the anticipated shot to make sure it’s going to be within your effective bow range. The stand also needs to be set at the right angle in relation to whether the deer will be standing broadside or quartering away to ensure an ethical shot and clean kill. The stand needs to be positioned on the tree at the right height and with enough cover. That position needs to be one that will lend itself to easily drawing the bow undetected. In short there are things to think about. I have made plenty of mistakes and still do make a few but that’s how you learn. Here are a few tips on what I have learnt from those mistakes.
Locate funnels in the area you intend to hunt
A funnel is where deer are either forced into a travel path by a natural feature or some other man-made structure or have preferred a particular travel path over time. A funnel could be a pinch point, a saddle or bench off a ridgeline, a fence line, intersection of game trails, a creek or river bank, the bottom of a ridgeline that follows a natural border such as a swamp or creek, a strip of thick vegetation running down a semi open ridge, or the bottom of bushy ridgelines that lead to cleared land. Whatever the case, it’s a place that restricts lateral movement and channels the deer into a narrow corridor. Funnels have the most consistent movement of deer through that area. Where there are a number or active game trails that become one heavily travelled trail, set the stand below the junction of those trails where there will be a lot more opportunities. Look for areas such as where deer are crossing a creek or river with step banks, either target the entry of exit point. Often at these crossings several game trails will intersect prior to the crossing. The deer will most likely favour a place to cross due to the depth of water or cover on either side and ease of entry and exist. If you are hunting on private property look for the places along the fence line that deer are using to cross, hair on barbed wire is usually a dead giveaway. Often deer will favour a particular place to cross a fence and venture out from the interface into cleared land. Look for these funnels when you’re out and about they make fantastic stand locations.
Be a good scout
One of the most important elements of tree stand hunting success is doing some scouting before the stand is set up. Otherwise you are hunting blind even with a heavily used game trail beneath the stand you don’t really know for sure whether deer will come past in shooting light or at 1 am in the morning. I know because I’ve made that mistake. I was too impatient to wait for the information from game cameras placed over a well-worn game trail with fresh activity. I wasted day after day on that stand waiting for sambar only to discover a few weeks later after retrieving the cameras and viewing the photos that the deer were coming past but it wasn’t until 1 am, lesson learnt.
Finding areas that have deer sign is the first step. Then it’s a matter of finding out, the when part of the puzzle. Having some knowledge of where the deer are likely to be bedding during the day and where they are feeding is vital information. To set up a good ambush it needs to be between these two places. If you set up on the wrong side of the bedding area you may not see much.
In general deer will bed high in thick cover and travel down to feed along river flats and benches in the late afternoon and evening in the foothills and mountain ranges. In the early morning they will start to make their way back to their beds. How far they travel from the feeding area to the bedding area is usually determined by pressure by either hunting or something else. Deer with a lot of pressure will generally be nocturnal where as deer with little to no pressure might be happily up and feeding in the early afternoon and in the morning may have only traveled a short distance to bed.
For a morning stand location, it’s best to be closer to where the deer are traveling to bed in order to give you sufficient time to be in the stand before they come past. In the afternoon it’s better to be set up closer to the food source away from the bedding area for the same reason. Set the stand up when the deer are not in the area, that may be after the deer have bedded if your targeting a food source to ensure they don’t catch you erecting the stand.
Game cameras are great scouting tools to pattern deer behaviour and give you the place, time, date, species and numbers of deer that have travelled past the camera location. Cameras have their place but they don’t give you the whole picture only what’s happened at that specific location where the camera is and you can only have so many cameras. This is where patience comes into play. Where sacrificing some time to observe areas for possible stand locations will bring rewards. What has worked for me in the past is to sit somewhere up high with a good view of a large area then use a spotting scope and binoculars to spot deer and watch and observe them. Think about a look out type of scenario where from a good vantage point you can look down into a large area. It might be a bluff overlooking river flats or a creek system where you can look down onto the flats but also into the opposite face. The idea is to be able to watch and observe from a distance where there is no chance of being winded or spooking deer in the area that is being observed. Try and work out which travel routes they are using. Next day come back and do the same again. What we want to see is a pattern, same rough time, same location, same small group of deer using the same travel route. Once you have this information chances are pretty high what has occurred the last couple of days is going to happen tomorrow.
Once you sit back and watch deer from a distance you will learn so much about their behaviour. They are a prey animal and are on alert most of the time, a small bird landing nearby can be all it takes to send them running for cover. How they interact with each other, communicate, travel, feed in relation to the wind, spatial separation of the group and their interactions with other animals are fascinating to watch. The other thing that will happen is your ability to locate deer in the bush will improve because your spending more time looking for them. Scanning the bush for that flicker of an ear or tail.
Locating your stand
Given the scouting is done and you have identified the right area to put a stand up it’s time to look for a suitable tree. A tree should be chosen that is going to suit the prevailing wind conditions in that area at that time of year. It should be 10 to 20 metres from the game trail and have at the minimum at least one other tree located just prior to where the expected shot will take place. This tree will give you the opportunity to draw your bow when the deer steps behind it. When the deer reappears out the other side, you’re at full draw ready for the shot. It may be that you choose to put in several stands in an area to cover various wind directions then hunt the one that’s in your favour.
The tree should be a healthy mature tree with plenty of canopy. Ideally in a cluster of other similar trees rather than one tree out on its own. These other trees will add back drop and additional canopy and shade to blend in with. Setting up in a group of trees will also provide more blind spots for the deer which will also assist you to draw the bow undetected. Mature healthy trees don’t sway as much in the wind as younger trees and also have a larger trunk to break up your profile. Once the stand is set up look carefully at any branches that might get in the way of drawing the bow. Also look at the flight path of the arrow to where you think the deer will be standing and remove any branches or foliage that’s in the way. When cutting back foliage at ground level do it well before you intend to hunt the area so as not to leave scent in the area. Cutting in a shooting lane gives your arrow an unobstructed path to the deer. But deer are masters of their environment and will notice major changes so be discreet.
If you’re hunting on a slope, chances are at some point there are going to be deer above you. If they are above you this in turn means at some stage they will be at eye level with you as they descend. In these cases, think about setting up on the lower side of the tree so when deer are at stand level there is some cover offered by the trunk of the tree. This is particularly important if this is the way deer will approach the stand. Also think about being a little higher up in these situations if the lower branches are going to also offer some cover between you and the deer when they are at the same level as the stand. Most of the time deer will be looking downhill as they descend at what is below them, but they will catch movement on the same horizontal plane without a problem.
Be selective about where you put a tree stand based on scouting, weather, cover, shot distance and shot angles. Make an informed decision based on what has been seen and observed rather than just setting up and hoping for the best. Look for funnels in the landscape. When you have a good spot because of the knowledge you have gained confidence soars and sometimes with bowhunting it can boil down to just that, confidence. Good luck