Deer seasons are wrapping up, and now we all go through withdrawal. Some of us wake up hours before the sun does and wish we were piling on warm clothes and headed for our favorite spot only to roll over in bed and watch the clock for a couple more hours. Some begin the endless battle of reducing coyote populations in hopes a few more young deer will make it through another winter. Some change hats and head out after snowshoe hare or other small game.
For those lost and adjusting to more time available on weekends, there is some valuable work that can be done now to significantly improve your deer hunting next season and help you hang that trophy buck on the wall.
As we walk to and from our hunting spots, most of us find trees that would be a “perfect stand” if only… Some potential tree stand locations need branches cut for a climbing stand or trimming for tree stand clearance, but almost every tree stand can benefit from some winter pruning for shooting lanes.
Smart bucks enjoy the comfort of cover even if they are on the edge of open fields. Finding a tree that will offer you a clear shot while keeping the mature bucks feeling safe in cover is difficult, but careful planning and trimming now can give you an edge next season.
Before you choose the site for next year’s stand, consider these factors:
- What time of year will you be hunting?
- What time of day will you be hunting?
- Will this be a stand for bow or firearm hunting?
- What will draw the mature bucks to this site?
a. Is it a staging area they hold up in prior to entering an opening?
b. Is this a natural funnel bucks will travel to and from beds and food?
c. Is this a location bucks will be traveling when they are looking for hot does?
- How long will deer stay in this site?
As you analyze these factors, they will help you wrap your mind around how much pruning you will need to make an ethical shot and still offer you and the mature bucks enough cover to keep them comfortable and you safely hidden from view.
A pine thicket on the edge of a field where does feed regularly an hour before last light. Tracks say that mature bucks frequent the area, but you have never seen them. You will hunt this area in October in Maine. It’s archery season, and bucks will not be rutting for a few more weeks. There are large white pines on the edge of the field, and 30 yards of small scrub pine as you move back into the woods. The closest you have ever been able to sit to this spot is more than 80 yards away due to the availability of trees for your stand and visibility. An hour before sundown does begin to slowly filter into the field from this place. Many times, just as it gets dark enough you can only see outlines moving in these pines, sometimes coming to the edge and watching, but never emerging during daylight. Antlers? You can’t tell because it’s always too dark. All of us “know” that it must be a Boone & Crockett whitetail watching does in the field, but we rarely realize exactly what is happening. For the sake of argument here, I’ll make the same assumption, but understand that you can waste a lot of time trying to bag that giant buck only to find out it is a mature doe that is wary of the field. I recommend using trail cameras and analyzing tracks before making final decisions on stand placement.
It is important to figure out whether mature bucks are coming to the edge of the field and staging or watching the field prior to dark, only to enter the field after daylight, or whether they are using these pines as a travelling route on their way to the field after dark.
If they are staging in these pines, choose a tree within your range of their entry point to the field, but not directly on the path they take. While deer are staging, they move around, and tend to be on high alert watching for anything that should keep them from entering. During this time, you do not want to give them any reasons to leave.
If possible, choose a tree that is not directly on the edge of the field, but back from the edge a few yards. Your spot should allow a shot to the field, but keep your outline from spooking does that may be feeding nearby. Trim only the branches that you need for your stand and to have a couple shooting lanes into the area where the bucks are staging. Too much trimming, and you will be too open to the deer and they will see you or may not give you the opportunity to draw your bow undetected. Too little trimming and you may be watching mature bucks that you never get a clean shot at.
Put your stand in the tree prior to trimming and then decide which branches need to be trimmed and which provide cover. It is important to recognize what vegetation will be present in October that has fallen from the trees in December.
Once you have perfect stand placement, leave behind as little scent as possible and leave the deer alone to continue their patterns undisturbed as much as possible until it is time for the perfect hunt. Hopefully you will now sleep better on Saturday mornings, knowing that you have improved your chances of harvesting that Boone & Crockett whitetail next season and hanging the trophy skull mount on your wall.
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