By P.J. Reilly
Spend as much time preparing to get to your stand as you do hanging it.
As I watched my neon-yellow fletchings disappear in a creased section of hide just behind the shoulder of the stout Pennsylvania 10-pointer, I couldn’t help thinking of John “Hannibal” Smith’s signature line as the leader of The A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Getting into the right place to tag this buck was a three-year effort. I knew the strip of timber between two bedding thickets was a can’t-miss stand location. The problem was getting in there without spooking everything. Property lines and the position of the preferred deer cover confounded me.
Finally, prior to the 2011 season, I charted a circuitous route that kept me on the right side of the neighbor’s property line and allowed me to stay well away from the areas where I knew deer would likely be in the pre-dawn hours. I had to walk down the middle of a stream, so the route only worked when the water was below my knees.
Bowhunters spend an enormous amount of time and effort choosing the right location for their treestands. If you want to improve your success rate, put an equal effort into getting to your stands without being detected.
“I do whatever it takes to make sure I’m not spooking deer when I go in and come out from one of my stands,” says veteran buck slayer Mark Drury. “You can have the best setup in the world, but if you blow out every deer in the area going in or out, what’s the point?”
Drury is a meticulous bowhunter. He’s fanatical about scent control, choosing his treestand locations and keeping his bow-shooting skills honed.
He has to be that way. On his farms in Iowa and Missouri, Drury targets the biggest, oldest deer. And there’s not much that escapes the senses of those heavy-horned swaybacks.
The one aspect of his setups that Drury pays more attention to than all others is the routes into and out of the woods.
PLAY THE WIND
When Drury hangs a stand, he makes a mental note of which winds will work for that setup. For instance, if he straps a stand to a tree that’s south of a bedding area, he knows he needs a wind pushing the air primarily from north to south to hunt that spot.
“If that’s the case, I establish my entry route from the south side of the stand,” he said. “That might not be the most direct route from wherever I park, but I have to circle in downwind of the stand so my scent doesn’t get into the area where I think the deer might be.”
Now that strategy might seem like a no-brainer. But think of your own access trails. Do you simply plot routes that get you in and out as fast as possible? Or do you take the time to chart courses that account for the wind?
You might be able to sneak quietly past a bedding area or food source, but if the wind is blowing your scent right into the middle of it, you might as well march by clashing a pair of cymbals. The effect on the deer will be the same.
KNOW THE LAND
Presumably if you’ve hung a stand in a particular tree, it’s because you determined Ol’ Mossy Horns is likely to show up within bow range of that spot. Drury doesn’t only want to know where deer end up. He wants to know where they came from before they headed to his interception point. He also wants to know what path they took to get there.
“You have to know how the deer use the property to know what areas to avoid when you make your way to a stand,” he said.
Use trail cameras, observation stands, topographic maps and boots-on-the-ground reconnaissance to figure out where the bedding and feeding areas are. Learn which trails the deer use at different times of the day, along with the locations of any bottlenecks that funnel movement. All of this is useful information for charting access routes to and from stands. It’s also good intelligence for locating stand sites.
A deer can show up anywhere at any time on your hunting property, so it’s impossible to establish an access route that’s guaranteed to keep you from bumping all deer. But there are places they are more likely to be than others. Steer clear of those.
It’s hard to resist taking a straight line to your stand if it means your alternate route is longer or more difficult to navigate.
It took awhile to get that through my own thick head when I was hunting a farm along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Skirting the field edge was quick and easy, but I almost always bumped deer in the morning. After several frustrating seasons, I started climbing down a steep ravine through the woods and wading along the bay shoreline before entering the woods from behind the field. I was no longer wading through the deer to get to my stand, and my success improved dramatically.
The cost? My walk increased from 5 minutes 30 minutes, and I had to wake up earlier to allow more time for the trek. I also had to carry 40 pounds of treestand and gear nearly five times as far and up and down some steep hills, and had to dress differently to account for the extra exertion.
It was worth it.
Once you have a suitable trail to your stand, you have to groom it.
“Even if the trail doesn’t take you through a bunch of deer, you can’t go crashing around like a bull,” Drury said. “It’s so important to be quiet.”
Trim limbs and move deadfalls if they’re in your way.
“I don’t worry about the deer being bothered by me changing the look of an area too much,” Drury said. “I do what I have to do to clear my trail.”
If you’re hunting public land, check the rules to see if trimming trees is allowed. If it’s not, that’s a condition you’ll have to deal with. Maybe you’ll have to go around that thick clump of saplings rather than through it.
Hunting in the Midwest, Drury navigates a lot of fields of warm-season grasses. If he needs to cut through such an opening en route to one of his stands, he’ll mow or hack a narrow trail, so he’s not constantly breaking stems.
“I know it’s only grass, but it can still be pretty noisy if you don’t clear a path,” he said.
Knowing that if he cuts a path through tall grass, deer are probably going to find it and use it themselves, Drury never slices through a field in a straight line.
“I purposely put sharp angles in my trail so nothing can get on it and see very far in either direction,” he said. “It keeps deer from seeing me, and it allows me to sneak up on them. I approach every corner cautiously and peek around to see if there’s a deer around the bend.”
In the woods, Drury clears brush and ground litter from around the base of the tree he plans to scale with a climbing stand, or where he has already positioned a hanging stand.
“You’re going to be moving around at the base of the tree while getting your stand ready for climbing, or tying your bow to the haul line,” he said. “When you’re doing all that, you don’t want to be crunching leaves or rubbing branches.”
Drury actually rakes the leaves off his trails for the last 50 to 100 yards to his stand location so he can be extra quiet on the final approach. It’s true the trail will get covered when leaves start falling, but it can easily be cleared during the season after he takes the path down to bare dirt.
“I just kick the leaves to the side on my way out after every hunt,” he said.
“When I’m walking the last 100 yards or so to one of my stands and it’s daylight, I act like I’m on a spot-and-stalk hunt,” Drury said. “I have my bow ready to shoot and I sneak like I’m expecting a deer to be at my stand. If there’s one there, I’m ready. If not, at least I’m being really quiet.”
Heading to a stand in the predawn, Drury doesn’t have his bow ready for action, but he still moves like a ninja.
“I think you have to be even more quiet in the morning, because you usually don’t have wind to cover noise,” he said.
When it comes to leaving a stand, Drury only climbs down when there are no deer in sight. That might mean he has to stay put for an extended period – even after dark.
“I just don’t want to risk spooking any deer,” he said. “So I wait to leave until I’m pretty sure it’s clear.”
Put as much thought and preparation into getting to and from your favorite deer stand as you put into hanging it. It’ll help you tie your tag to a wallhanger this season.
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This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.