You've just secured the hunting hotspot of a lifetime. You know it holds plenty of deer and even a few big ones to boot! Now comes the award winning question - where do you hang your treestand? Choose the right spot and that monster buck you've been dreaming of could very well materialize before your eyes. Select the wrong tree and you could be in for some serious disappointment!
I'd bet big bills that you've stood in the woods and thought those very thoughts. Truth is we've all done it. For me personally, this rang true with a stand my wife sat last November. Investing a lot of time analyzing the property, I eventually settled on a tree positioned 15 yards from two sizable scrapes. Game trails intersected in every direction within bow range of the tree.
"This one's a slam dunk," I thought to myself. We'd been watching a 150-class whitetail work that block of woods and figured it would be a great archery deer for my wife. To give you the Cole's notes version of the story, she hunted it hard during the peak of the rut and had several smaller bucks and does below the stand. Wouldn't you know it though, the 150 always stayed just out of archery range. One day she sat from sun up to sun down in freezing conditions and saw non-stop action all day long. Every 20 minutes she'd watch deer; sometimes only does, other times just bucks, then she'd see bucks fighting, and every so often bucks chasing does. To keep things interesting every so often the big guy would show himself. Much to her frustration and mine, that buck never did present a shot opportunity! In retrospect, I'd placed the treestand 30 yards off the mark. Each time she would see the big one, he'd use the same corridor up the hill from where she was sitting. Very frustrating indeed! Bottom line - stand placement is not an exact science, but there are key indicators we should look for when choosing a site.
Taking to the Trees
Across North America, more deer are harvested each year from treestands than by any other method. A well-placed stand allows the hunter to avoid a deer's direct field of vision while also using thermals to carry scent away from the immediate area. Knowing when, where and how to situate a tree stand can literally make or break a hunt. Through trial and error, I've learned some significant 'dos' and 'don'ts' when it comes to treestand placement. And let me tell you, I've experienced the best and worst of stand hunting. I've been lucky enough to take exceptional trophy class animals with little time at all invested on stand, but I've also invested hundreds of hours perched high up in a tree with nothing to show for my efforts but a sore hind end.
Analyzing the Woods and Choosing the Best Tree
The biggest challenge most of us face with our hunting is limited time, so it's important to do everything we can to place our treestands in an area with the greatest chances of encountering game. Simply put, when you explore new territory, look for trail intersections, ridges, natural movement corridors, funnels, and yes even field edge locations. As you scour the property, make mental and literal notes on topo maps as to which spots could be high, medium, or low odds locations, and likewise which would be morning, evening, or all-day stand sites.
Analyzing a new property can be done the hard way or the easy way. The most thorough is the good old-fashioned approach - lace up your boots and start walking. If you're not interested in burning calories, you can begin with the academic approach. Keeping in mind that deer and other ungulates are attracted to two things, namely food and cover. You can analyze aerial photographs to identify likely movement corridors, feeding areas and bedding areas. An aerial photo affords a bird's eye view and often clarifies hunches. By looking at actual photos of the area, you will inevitably pinpoint likely areas for a treestand.
The most important types of habitat structures include heavy cover for bedding, funnels, ridges, valleys, bottlenecks for transitional movement, and of course the best source of food. Hunt long enough and you eventually realize that almost every decision you make when pursuing individual species is based on forage. If you're hunting deer, you can't go wrong focusing on the most protein-rich food source. But remember, that doesn't necessarily mean sitting on a field edge. In the agricultural areas of Alberta where I do much of my deer hunting, locating alfalfa or pea fields adjacent to good cover can produce awesome opportunities. Most hunters have grown accustomed to focusing on these food sources at daybreak and dusk hoping to catch a rare glimpse, and maybe even get a shot at game. Case in point, how often have you seen treestands in likely looking spots right on the field edges? I would suggest that 80 per cent of bowhunters limit themselves big time by doing just that.
By placing stands on the edge of a field we often restrict ourselves to a smaller window of opportunity most often accompanied by low light conditions. This is not to suggest that field edge treestands don't have a place; on the contrary in fact. Sometimes a field edge can be the best option available. In my experience, the best success can be found by setting up in "transition" of "staging" areas between bedding and feeding areas.
When and Where to Place Your Treestand
Learning when and where to place a stand is a skill that can only be learned through first-hand experience. Whenever you set a treestand, first and foremost determine whether it will be used for bow or gun hunting. Archery stand sites require clear shooting lanes out to approximately 40 yards. Placing stands along heavily used trails is common practice for bowhunting. Stand sites for rifle hunting requires greater visibility out to as much as 400 yards. While I like to zero in on high traffic areas, I prefer to set up my rifle stands along wide cut lines, clear cuts or clearings that have evidence of lots of movement either along, across or around these structures.
Attention to detail is critical. Most importantly consider whether the stand location is one that might facilitate movement all day long, primarily during the morning or evening hours. Secondary in my opinion, but worth consideration is prevailing wind conditions. If you're able to avoid sending your scent toward the animal, by all means do so.
Lots of hunters like to build permanent elevated platforms because it eliminates the long-term work of putting up and taking down stands each season. We all know of stand sites that produce every year, but as a rule I believe this is a mistake. Few stands will produce exactly the same on an annual basis. Too many factors manipulate movement from one year to the next. It's up to you to determine which (e.g., changing food sources) affect the animals and then adapt accordingly.
Timing is also important. Stands that produce well in the early season, may not work that well in the late season. In fact, early and pre-rut movement is often very different from peak- and post-rut movement for most ungulate species. For deer in particular, identifying rubs and scrapes can help narrow your focus. So too, will identifying areas of heavily used multiple intersecting trails near these active rubs and scrapes. This can even be taken one step further during the peak of the rut. By identifying active primary scrapes when secondary scrapes are abandoned, you can often pinpoint the perfect stand location during that peak window.
Positioning and Securing Your Treestand
Some hunters like to position their stands relatively low and others prefer to go as high as possible. There are pros and cons to each. As a rule, I like to hang my stands anywhere from 16 to 20 feet up in the tree. This height can serve to carry scent away from the immediate area while also positioning the hunter just out of an immediate field of view. Place an archery stand too high and shot angles can create steep angles in which pivoting or canting the upper body can be difficult. Chances of wounding game in this scenario increase dramatically. Place your stand too low and you defeat the purpose of being in a tree.
I generally mount my portable stands close to, or between the trails I'm hunting. Preferring close encounters, I plan for a 15 or 20 yard shot. On the other hand, some folks like to be further away, mostly to avoid detection.
As for the tree itself, I've sat in stands secured to everything from spindly spruce trees over bear bait to hefty aspens over deer scrapes and even big old pines near mineral licks. Hands down, my favorite is always a huge spruce tree. Not only do they help conceal movement, but they provide a solid backdrop to break up your image against the skyline.
If you're frustrated with the lack of activity around your stand sites, consider the aforementioned. Don't hesitate to relocate and most of all take the time to scout your area thoroughly before settling on any given tree.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com.
Member of OWAA & OWC.