In the darkness, the hunter stumbles through the underbrush, making noise and leaving his scent seemingly EVERYWHERE!
Daylight will be here in 30 minutes and he wanted to be in the stand an hour before daylight.
"I know I left that stand RIGHT in this area last night," he mutters under his breath, "but where is it now?"
He traipses back and forth in a zig zag pattern, getting himself overheated and sweaty, but never finding the stand he left there the previous evening – and eventually sits on a stump as daylight invades the woods... missing his opportunities that he worked so hard for.
Meanwhile, 250 yards away and unbeknownst to our currently dejected hunter, a mature buck works a series of scrapes just past daylight under the holly bushes that are upwind of the now empty stand. He pauses in his efforts and then moves along the path, scent checking the area and is rewarded for his efforts! A receptive doe has been here – and off he goes in hot pursuit – grunting loudly – and not REALLY paying attention to his surroundings. If he had, he would know that he passed within 12 yards of the climbing stand that is (fortunately for him, at least) at the base of a gum tree and unoccupied at the moment.
After full daylight, our hunter gains his bearings and cuts diagonally across the woods and locates the stand. Unaware of the missed opportunity, he has to walk past the scrapes to get to his “lost” stand and finds them recently worked with fresh urine still bubbled in the oval depression.
He gets in the stand and hunts until 1:00 PM and other than a spike and several very busy squirrels, sees no other game.
That very afternoon and ¾ of a mile away, our buck is hot on the tail of the receptive doe. He has been exposed numerous times today and is really pushing his luck – this is a very dangerous time to have a 20” set of antlers and be running around in the deer woods! The doe he is following hits the opening of an old logging road and immediately freezes, as does our romance minded friend with the antlers. She stomps… once, twice and then three times… This time, the hunter is in the stand and is ready, his rifle resting on the shooting rail – and can see her 100 yards distant from his ladder stand nestled in the pine trees. So, too, can he barely make out the buck in the thick underbrush 20 yards further behind the doe. He sees antlers (HUGE ANTLERS) and front feet – that is all. Dread settles in as he watches the now VERY nervous doe… as she goes through the all familiar “something is not right here and I know it” ritual we have seen all too many times… Our second hunter knows he missed the ladder stand as he eased along and walked almost 200 yards past it on the old road before he realized he went too far… and then retraced his steps back to the stand – but the damage now appears to be irreversible. He does, however, hope against hope… and in a moment of biblical inspiration, even murmurs a little prayer under his breath…
The doe takes a step forward, cautiously now… all alert… and stomps again, looking both ways on the path… In her third year now, she is smarter than most and knows danger is near. The smell of human is too strong for her to miss.
She drops her head, appearing to relax – while our hunter has a heart rate galloping along at about 150 beats per minute – and then with no warning whatsoever, wheels backwards and bounds off in the same direction she approached from.
Knowing too that danger is – or was – near…the buck does the smartest thing – he simply hits the ground, spins 180 degrees and starts crawling away. Only after he has gone 30 yards and gotten into a dense blackberry patch does he stand up… and when he does, he moves away very slowly, very quietly and with his head down – sneaking as he goes.
Using his ever keen nose, our buck moves 200 yards and picks up the trail of the doe. In five minutes, he is back at her side – none the worse for wear.
Our hunter – who is now getting over his near coronary and was a guest to the club that day – hunts until dark, walks back to the camp and immediately states to his buddy – “that stand is about 300 yards up the path – not 500 yards!!!!” and explains the series of events from that afternoon.
Any of these sound familiar?
Marking a path or stand is very easy and could have prevented both of these disasters.
Push pins, some reflective tape and orange flagging tape will create a path that is super easy to follow!
Get a strip of reflective tape (easily obtained at the major home improvement stores, used as marking on the sides of trailers, etc… it is often supplied in white and red sections) and use on the white portion of the tape. Other pieces of reflective tape may be substituted – even using mail box reflective style letters or numbers… I use the letter I or the number 1 because they allow you to cut the long, narrow strips you need…
Cut strips about 1.5” long and about 1/8” wide… and position them on the push pins as shown. Wrap them around the pin and then put sticky side to sticky side for a sure grip.
You are now able to mark a path that is virtually visible in darkness only – the push pins and tape are very hard to pick out in daylight in the woods… At night, however, they make an incredible “illuminated” highway that is super easy to follow with a flashlight. Put the markers on the side of the tree, so you can see them when approaching from either direction. Typically, one every 30 to 40 yards is very adequate... depending on the density of the woods. In more open woods... use less - when it gets real tight, I use a few more.
Put a few pieces of the marking tape on your stand also – climber or fixed – and finding it is all the more easy.
This scenario should be used for stands you KNOW you can find in the daylight – but want assistance finding in pre-dawn hours or for guiding yourself back out of the woods (on the correct path) after the evening hunt is over.
For stand locations that are not easy to find in daylight hours – or if you are going to send someone to the stand without showing them where it is – simply put a short section of orange flagging tape under the pin and you now have a daylight indicator and a night time indicator!!
One thing we also do – if you have to make a hard right or left hand turn in the trail – we put 2 markers on the tree – these mean “turn here”.
These markers are also very easily removed – simply pull the reflective markers as you come out one night – or pull the ones with orange tape on them day or night… (the “reflective only” markers may be hard to find in the daylight).
Ethical hunters will always make sure that the markers are pulled when they are no longer needed or when the hunt is over.
One note – some public areas (and maybe even some landowners) do not allow the use of reflective markers – make sure they are permissible before using them.
One other word of caution – make sure that when you mark trails that you do not allow additional trails to intersect one another and confuse the path going into or out of the stand – without understanding where these intersections are or by marking them as such in some manner. Many hunters use different approaches based on wind location, etc – that may create a need for bisecting trails.