By Dana R. Rogers
Use observation stands to figure out deer movement before you move in for the kill.
Maybe you lucked out and got permission to hunt a new piece of property shortly before hunting season, or perhaps you’re a do-it-yourselfer on a trip out of state. How can you get a quick read on a new property and give yourself a reasonable chance of filling your tag?
Most hunters in that situation charge in and immediately begin looking for deer sign and locations to hang a treestand. Trust me when I say the last thing you should do is wander around and put human scent all over the new property.
Instead, try an observation stand.
Even if you only have a week to hunt a particular piece of property, start with an outside-in approach. By starting your hunt perched on the outer edges, you can learn a lot about deer movement and surprise a buck with a quick but precise setup.
The first thing to do is research aerial photos and compare them to current food sources and topography.
Next, take wind direction into consideration and try to identify several access and egress routes you can use and still remain undetected. You don’t want to disturb the deer, so treat each outing as a hunt.
The next step is to identify one or more locations that offer an unobstructed view of where you think deer are going to be. I like to be 150 yards or so downwind.
Look for land features or trails that give you a chance of a filling your tag, but keep in mind your main purpose is to pattern deer.
You want to be close enough to observe movement, but far enough away that you won’t be detected.
A good set of binoculars or even a spotting scope is essential.
Deer are creatures of habit, so if you notice a buck doing something one day, he’ll probably do something very similar tomorrow, barring dramatic changes in wind, weather or hunting pressure.
In the early part of the season, key on preferred food sources and find buck bachelor groups.
Most activity will be in the evening, so look for trails where bucks exit cover to access feeding areas.
As soon as I’m confident I know which food deer are keying on, I hang a stand close enough to observe their movement, but still far enough away to remain undetected.
On food plots or agriculture fields, note what trails deer use to enter and exit the field, and be mindful of wind direction. Also keep track of which deer use which trails. Bucks and does often don’t use the same trails, and setting up to shoot toward a doe trail might not get you a shot at the buck you’re hoping to tag.
I’ve mentioned how important it is to remain undetected, and that’s true not only while you’re in an observation stand, but also before and after your vigil.
You must be able to leave the area without blowing deer off the field or food source you’re scouting.
I typically do one of three things when it’s time to leave an observation stand. Sometimes I coordinate to have a friend drive in to collect me. Deer get used to farmers and ranchers and don’t seem permanently affected by vehicles driven near fields. Another option is to hoot like an owl or howl like a coyote. If all else fails, wait at least an hour after dark before descending.
During the rut, I sometimes use a decoy to increase the chances of seeing a buck. Bucks often cruise along fields just inside the edge of the woods as they scent-check and spot-check for does. It’s their form of outside-in scouting. I like to give them what they’re looking for, which often brings them out into the open.
Finally, don’t be afraid to spend several days observing before you move in for the kill. I’d much rather get my buck after sitting in a perfectly placed stand once or twice than sit an entire week in stands placed on a whim and not get a shot.
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This article was published in the October 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.