Archery Talk: The Quintessential Deer Stand

Most stand sites are good, but a few key ingredients make a deer stand truly great.

The problem with stand hunting for deer is that rarely do you find the perfect tree right where you want to bow hunt. How often have you discovered an amazing spot with intersecting trails, only to learn that there isn’t a decent tree anywhere nearby? Tree stand hunting is, for the most part, reactive. It’s all about the ambush. When we search for a stand site, we’re looking for a movement corridor; a place that will produce the highest odds of encountering deer within bow range. For some this might be a field edge, but for most it will be near a series of converging trails.  No matter what your preferred strategy is, finding the location is only the beginning. Then the challenge lies in choosing the right tree and hanging the stand itself. If you’re like most bow hunters, even that isn’t enough. The kind of stand you use and how it is positioned in the tree makes a world of difference.

With a little effort most of us can find a decent place to hang a stand. Rare is the perfect location; in turn, we compromise and work with the variables. Trees are sometimes too big or too small, foliage is too thick or too sparse and suitable trees are too close or too far from the trail(s) we want to hunt. But once in a while we get lucky and discover the perfect stand site.

Last fall, I found such a place. My wife, Heather, and I had hunted a favourite property for several years. We know it inside and out but it wasn’t until two years ago that we noticed a trend. From one of our stands we noticed deer consistently migrating through a small clearing in the evergreens 60 metres to the north. Upon closer inspection, it was obvious. Standing under the tree for 45 minutes evaluating every possible angle, trail options, potential shot opportunities, and wind directions, it was clear. While we had been hunting a good stand location previously, this one would surely be better. By the end of the 2010 season, Heather had arrowed a mid-150-class buck from the new stand and I passed on a similar buck at just 18 metres. The new stand had it all; great cover, easy quiet access and it really was in the ideal location. Furthermore, the stand itself was well positioned in the tree. To top it off, a primary scrape and several secondary scrapes were located within 20 metres of the tree. On several occasions I captured a mid-170 class buck on my trail camera, working the primary scrape. (It never did show up while I either of us were hunting.)

Location

Tree stand-hunting offers distinct advantages, not the least of which involves displacing us from a deer’s direct line-of-sight and smell. If a deer doesn’t know you’re there, then its business as usual and movement is uninhibited. My most perfect stand sites overlook several heavily used trail intersections.

Whenever I choose a stand site, I consider the time of the season and whether I want to sit the stand as a morning or evening spot. Secondly, but perhaps even more important is the prevailing wind. I make every effort to set up in a tree where the thermals will carry my scent somewhere other than the deer’s anticipated direction of approach. Good stand locations will invariably focus on areas of high deer traffic, either overlooking feeding fields, or within staging areas where deer move along trails between bedding and feeding. During the rut, this changes and key travel corridors used by bucks seeking hot does can be high odds locations for stand sites.

When looking for new stand locations, I consider important habitat structures, including heavy cover for bedding, funnels, ridges, valleys, bottlenecks for transitional movement and, of course, the best source of food. Early season, I set up between bedding and feeding areas. Sometimes field edges can work well, but this is situation-specific and can minimize shot opportunities to lower light times at dawn and dusk. As the rut heats up, I focus on areas frequented by doe groups in heavily used travel corridors. Then, in the late post-rut season, I’ll go back to placing stands close to the best food sources.

As a rule there is a fine line between pressuring deer and getting in close. I like to move in as near as possible to the bedding areas (e.g. within 200 metres) and set my stands in areas where the deer still feel most comfortable moving under the safety of heavy cover. Certainly every situation is unique, but as a rule the best locations are often at least 80 to 150 metres into the trees. My main focus in determining strong stand sites, is locating staging areas where deer loiter before breaking from cover to feed in the evening or as they return to bed in the morning.

As for the tree itself, this is where it can get tricky. Finding the perfect tree in the ideal location is paramount. When possible take advantage of the extra cover offered by evergreens. The substantial branches and boughs of larger spruce and pine trees can help conceal you. That’s not to say that poplar trees can’t work. I also hunt a fair bit in poplars, but they don’t offer the same cover. In my opinion, the quintessential deer stand will always be placed in an old-growth evergreen.

Positioning

Even though whitetails are considered to be creatures of habit, they are elusive. Once you’ve chosen a general site and a suitable tree, knowing how best to hang the stand can again make or break shot opportunities. Place a stand too high and shot angles can create difficult conditions in which pivoting the upper body can be difficult. The chances of wounding a deer in this scenario increase. Place your stand too low and you chance being seen or winded. I generally mount my archery stands close to, or between, the trails I’m hunting at a height of five to six metres. Preferring close encounters, I plan for a 15 or 20 metre shot. This is what I like, but I know some bow hunters set up for further shots, primarily to avoid detection.

Whenever I hang a stand, I take special care to remove limbs that might obstruct shot opportunities, both in the tree stand tree and in nearby trees. When you set your own stands, always consider whether you are a right-handed or a left-handed archer. Pivoting the stand to maximize flexibility to accommodate shot options should be a priority. For my own shooting, I like the stand to be at a 45-degree angle from where I anticipate a shot opportunity.

The Right Stand

To hunt whitetails from a tree stand requires patience and that can translate to long hours in the tree. You can have the best location but without a safe and comfortable stand, you won’t be able to put in the hours necessary to score on deer. Today’s tree stand manufacturers know this and they’ve gone to great lengths to make stands as comfortable as possible. From ladder stands, to climbers, lock-ons, multiple-person stands, stands with blinds, stands with shooting rails, and more — the list is long.

As a rule, most bow hunters like to keep things basic and practical. I know many of my archery clients swear by their climbers and won’t hunt out of anything but. For my liking, a portable lock-on stand is more practical.

While comfort is a consideration, in my view the three most important features are size, strength, and durability. While every hunter has his own preferences, I remain a firm believer in simplicity. For several years now, I’ve used Rivers Edge lock-on stands almost exclusively because they are strong, comfortable, they have a basic design, they’re safe, and they’re affordable. As far as climbers go, I’ve come to appreciate several in Ameristep’s product line for the same reasons.

In the end, it’s about finding the stand, not to mention the location, that’s right for you and the places you hunt. The next time you’re in the woods, don’t be afraid to relocate. Your stand site might be good, but with a few minor adjustments, you just might be able to make it great!

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