Serious deer hunters know stand placement is critically important, especially on public lands in Pennsylvania, where the average hunter has skills far above the national average.
When hunting any old wise buck, it’s best to allow 3-4 months for it to accept the presence of a new stand and forget the disturbance made erecting it. Trophy bucks are incredibly wary and suspicious; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be alive after five years of hunting pressure.
A very heavy 8-point lives on my friend’s farm. Though we’ve found his sheds several years in a row in a half mile square, no one’s ever seen him. Not a single trail camera picture; no neighbor or acquaintance has even glimpsed him going to work, spotting or driving at night, or caught it in a field during the summer or busted him out of his bed during deer season. We call him the Phantom and marvel how he manages to remain invisible.
It’s important to keep this deer’s intelligence in mind placing your stand.
FIRST TRY to get as high as possible. Treestands by hillsides or uneven terrain are affected by updrafts and downdrafts. If your stand is on flat ground you may be able to get away with a 15-foot stand, but a 20-footer is still superior.
Those using a crossbow due to age or disability may find using a lower stand isn’t as critical since they move less, but there’s still the treacherous, erratic wind currents. But, using a bow you may have to stand, rotate and draw. That movement could be disastrous. The higher you are the better, the less chance you’ll be sighted or smelled.
One advantage of a permanent stand over a climber, other than the racket you make going up, is it can be placed against a multiple-trunked tree or one with larger limbs to help break up your silhouette and mask your motion. It’s not unusual for deer to work themselves close to your stand before being seen. Having some cover is important in such situations when taken by surprise and forced to draw with jittery deer close at hand.
If you’ve located a big buck on public lands, one that’s outsmarted you and everyone else, realize he’s a survivor. Some may even appear on your trail cameras, others recognize and avoid them. By scouting early, you have some idea of where he hides or possibly his trail corridors. Bigger buck tracks are often distinctive. Perhaps someone’s seen him crossing a road, in a field or you actually saw him in hunting season or spotting.
SO, KNOWING something about his habits, feeding areas, crossings or even an actual escape route allows you to pick a stand location, though he may only be active during the rut in daylight hours. You’ll be smart to only hunt this stand during the rut, with the right wind, otherwise avoid the area completely.
But, it’s not always possible to place your stand in advance; you may not know a big buck’s haunting a certain area until just before the season. Scouting him out often forces you to walk his location. Do so as scent-free as possible, just as if you were actually hunting the deer, even if it’s July. Remember that incredible nose. Look for swampy bottoms, thickets and other areas of cover the buck can slip through, remaining safe and out of sight when he’s feeding or checking areas he frequents.
Then pick out your tree, one, if possible, that will break your skyline silhouette up. If forced to use a single-trunked tree, consider hauling up larger dead limbs and tie them in place above and behind you. Use your imagination to come up with some inventive and creative solutions to conceal yourself.
OFTEN, THERE’S not an adequate tree in the perfect location. Improvise as best you can, perhaps a blind when the wind’s right. In the big woods, you may not have to cut shooting lanes. In thicker cover, you’ll be forced to do so.
Don’t overdo the trimming. Cut away the minimum needed to get an arrow or through in a position you’ll be comfortable shooting from. On the other hand, the lanes you do cut need every twig and limb removed. Don’t leave even one slender twig and also remember snow, ice or even heavy rain can bend limbs down into your way blocking a shot. Always trim higher than you think necessary. Remember, even one branch or twig can deflect your arrow, and if you’re as familiar with Murphy’s Law as I am, any obstruction, no matter how small, will be disastrous given even the slightest opportunity. Big bucks often seem to be protected by a mysterious, even magical combination of circumstances that allows them to escape when you were sure you’d score.
ONE LANDOWNER placed his stand near a thick travel corridor and shot several impressive bucks sneaking through it. But over time, the grown briars, brush and small saplings completely blocked his shooting lanes. Unfortunately, he used a brush hog to clear a wide swath of the cover and the bucks stopped using the trail. Keep in mind travel routes must provide cover, and significantly altering that cover is a big mistake for trophy bucks.
Clearing shooting lanes, even small ones, is always noticed. Initially, the does and fawns may not be overly alarmed, but the biggest, most paranoid bucks will remember exactly what took place and also remember your exact odor.
Say you drop a well-used glove and the buck discovers it that evening. Now you’re not just a human, you are a specific individual, you’re “that human” who owns the cat or dog and has a thousand other small distinguishing features you never think about. You are covered with a huge variety of scents, and the buck can smell them all. He may not know your name but with his amazing sense of smell he’s gained an incredible amount of information about you and your life. The big 10-point has a 1-on-1 relationship with you at this point; he really does. Whenever I mention what a buck may learn simply by smelling a well-used article of clothing, hunters are startled; they’ve never thought seriously about the subject.
So, place your stand as early as possible, but early or late, be as paranoid about every detail as those big bucks are about staying alive. You may think I’m overreacting, but remember the Phantom and his genius at remaining undetected.
You simply can’t be too careful.