The Keys to Selecting a Successful Tree Stand Location
When stand hunting, choosing your location will make the difference between success and failure. Choose a good spot, and as long as you have taken into account wind direction, your scent and the noise on the way in – you should be able to see deer. Choose a bad location, even doing all the other things right, is unlikely to give you success.
The importance of pre-season scouting cannot be over-emphasized when it comes to stand site selection. By scouting [watching the animals and studying their sign before hunting], you will maximize your knowledge on deer travel patterns and food preferences in the area. Bear in mind that deer habits and travel change throughout the fall and so scouting is an ongoing process to stay ahead of the deer. In some parts of the country whitetails are migratory, and once winter descends, they move from the mountains into valleys or from uplands to lowland swamp areas known as yarding areas. This migration provides an opportunity to post along the migratory route.
In the off-season, go and walk your hunting areas looking for sign of big bucks such as scrapes and rubs. If you find this type of sign, you should also be scouting suitable trees for stands:
- The off-season should be between December and April because the sign you will discover will be from the previous hunting season and rut phases. In summer, deer movement is completely different to that in the fall
- Off-season scouting can be very revealing showing the deer trails used between feeding and bedding areas and also escape routes. If there has been snow on the ground, when it melts, the sign from last fall has a tale to tell. Scrapes, rubs and trails can be more easily seen before the spring growth starts to conceal it
- Walk the rub lines to see where they go and where they connect to thickets, fields or mast flats. Look for areas where rub lines run along the edge of thickets or cross creeks. Next fall the same or another buck will probably leave rub lines in the same area, providing a spot to hunt them
- When walking the area, the key areas to look for are primary scrape areas, funnels between bedding areas, and funnels between bedding and feeding areas
- This is the time of the year to walk and check every part of the hunting area, without worrying about your scent. While the woods are barren, you will get a better feel for the travel corridors and escape routes. Check out all the small cover areas, as some of them could be used to conceal big bucks
- Set up an infrared trigger camera to find out if there are any older mature bucks in the area who may not be so interested in mating. Some monster bucks have been found to exist in an area only through this method. They have never been seen during daylight. They often hide in small areas experienced hunters don’t look for them
Your success using tree-stands can be increased by identifying areas deer seek such as bedding areas, food areas and ‘safe havens’. Once you have found these, set up your tree stand on a travel route to them. The travel route should offer the deer cover and not be in an exposed area such as grasslands, mature timber or low crops. The best success is by setting up a stand well away from a feeding area and with scope or binoculars, watching the area for a couple of days. This will identify where the bucks are walking out of the surrounding areas to feed. Then when the wind is right, go in and hang your stand in the right place and surprise one of the big boys.
So what is involved in selecting a good site, and what sorts of places make ‘good sites’?
The best places to start are FOOD and FUNNELS.
Food is a motivating force that will cause deer to be attracted to their preferred food sources. Depending on where the deer are in the country, acorns are pretty much top of the list and selecting a site close to the mast crop should yield good results. They prefer acorns from white oaks to acorns from red oaks, if both are present. Beechnuts are also up there but beech trees are not as prevalent as oaks. Positioning your tree stand overlooking the oaks, or on a major trail leading to or from the stand of oaks will give you a good look at the population of whitetails in the area.
Depending on the hunting pressure, the deer tend to feed in the oak groves at night and return to bedding areas during the day. So if you locate trails heading mainly in one direction, hunt the trails heading to the oaks in the afternoon/evening, and the trails heading away from the oaks early morning. The closer to the bedding area the better, and getting into the stand before dawn is preferable. However, bedding areas can sometimes be hard to pick, so rather than stumble into the bedding area and possible change the travel patterns of the deer, it is better to set up between the feeding and suspected bedding area.
If the traffic on the trails is about the same in both directions, it can be hunted any time.
Always remember to position yourself downwind of where you expect to see the deer.
Another magnet for whitetails is any type of agricultural field, especially corn and other grain fields. They find a cornfield that has just been picked almost irresistible. Cornfields can serve as a bedding area as well as a feeding area.
When hunting other food sources, the above strategy is also applicable.
Hunt funnels [they bring deer through a narrow piece of terrain].
Examples of a funnel include:
- Converging hub [deer trails come together like spokes on a wheel]
- Brushy fencerow separating two fields or woodlots
- A bench on a ridge
- A strip of woods or thickets connecting two woodlots
- The edge where two types of vegetation meet
- A strip of trees alongside a creek which connects two lots of woods
- Inside corners or double inside corners
- Timber between two clearcuts
Also consider these favourite travel routes;
- Irrigation ditches
- Swamp edges
- Creek Bottoms
- Finger ridges
In regions that bring harsh weather during late season hunting, few hunters are aware of how productive this time can be:
- The weather causes the deer to move less – mainly between bedding and feeding areas, and feed mainly in the warmer late afternoon hours. Both these are advantages to the hunter prepared for the weather
- Mature bucks that have survived the season tend to be habitual in their movements at this time, so observing the food source for a few days is likely to reveal the answers
- In regions further south that don’t have the harsh conditions, deer concentrate on available food sources which may include corn, sorghum and soybeans
- Look for the deer shelter areas such as spruce trees, or if there are none, deer often go to the lowland for willows, alders, or hillsides covered by young aspen or lodgepole pine. On the plains they hide in hardwood draws filled with green ash and wild rose, or in buffaloberry
New to Hunting Area
If you are new to a hunting area, first locate the food sources as everything starts here. In the big woods look for an oak ridge or a clear cut. In farmland, look for a cropfield. Then just follow the rubs back in the direction of the bedding area and look for an ideal place for your stand along this route. The most important sign to look for are primary scrape areas [several scrapes in a small area with overhanging lick branches]. The areas to look for these are:
- Funnels between feeding and bedding areas
- Funnels between bedding areas
- Around an acorn stand
- Amongst fruit trees
- Where descending ridges drop into swamps
- Where timber or brushy fingers project out into crop fields
Once you have located an area you have identified as a ‘hot spot’, the next decision is to locate a tree to hang your stand.
Try to choose a tree that provides cover, especially for your back. Position the stand so that it is concealed by branches, leaves, or vines. If you are going to carry out any pruning for a shooting lane, it is then best to leave the spot for a day or so to settle down before you hunt it. Move cut limbs and saplings downwind of your stand. Always identify/prepare several trees to allow for different wind directions or change in circumstances.
If the ideal tree in the ideal location looks like a telephone pole and provides no cover to break your outline – add your own. Use wire rope or bungee to attach loose branches or cut branches, if this is permitted. Another option is purchase The Cover System which is a set of flexible branches that strap to the front of a stand, or the back of the tree.