To these guys, the real fun of deer hunting involves getting their hands dirty by thoroughly scouting an area and placing their stands in the locations that will yield the best chances of outsmarting a wily old whitetail.
Louisiana Sportsman was able to track down three of these hunters and pick their brains about proper deer stand placement. All of these guys have had phenomenal success in consistently harvesting monster whitetails over the years, and were more than willing to share the secrets to their success with the rest of us.
Jimmy House of Oak Grove has successfully guided thousands of deer hunters over the years in several states, including the renowned 12,000-acre Cottonwood Plantation that spreads across portions of Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas along the Mississippi River. House firmly believes in having as many options as possible when hunting trophy whitetails.
"When I first started guiding at Cottonwood, we only had 25 stands on the entire 12,000 acres," said House. "Our success went up dramatically when we started hanging 150 stands on the property.
"The greater number of stands allowed us to always have our hunters in the best locations based on wind direction, food source and phase of the rut."
Scouting is paramount for House when it comes to stand placement. He believes in starting early in the season before the true rut begins. House zones in on food sources, whether they be agricultural crops or mast-producing trees, and heavily used trails when scouting for a likely place to hang a stand. He has discovered that deer have certain spots, even in food plots, that they spend most of their time feeding. House also noticed that the big bucks have a tendency to go to the middle of a food plot to feed. By hanging stands near well-used trails leading to these feeding areas and locating them based on likely wind directions, he is able to optimize his chances of a shot at a trophy buck. And one of the ways he knows where to place his stands is by utilizing historical data.
"Deer tend to use the same spots year after year," said House. "So don't be afraid to use the same deer stands every year.
"A good spot last season will likely be a good spot this season. Over a five-year period on Cottonwood, we took 12 Pope & Young bucks out of the same stand overlooking a honey locust tree."
When selecting a particular tree for a stand, House prefers pecan, ash, persimmon and sweet gum trees. However, he is more concerned with how well a particular tree conceals the stand than he is about the kind of tree. A tree with large multiple forks is one of his favorite sites to hang a stand because of the added concealment the forked trunk offers. But that being said, House has noticed that deer seem to have a great deal of difficulty spotting a hunter in a stand hanging from a leafless sycamore tree when it is located on the edge of a food plot. This makes the "slickamore," as he likes to refer to them, his favorite tree for a food plot stand, even though the slick bark can make sycamores somewhat hazardous with a climbing stand.
While there is much debate over the best height to hang a tree stand, House uses a good rule of thumb that has served him well over the years. He identifies the ideal stand height by facing the tree stand while wearing a cap and standing at the potential target site. While looking straight ahead, you should not be able to see the stand for the brim of your cap. From an average shooting distance of 20 yards, that would put the base of the stand at a height of around 22 feet and the hunter's shooting height about 26 feet above the ground.
Wind direction is always a concern for House when hunting a specific stand. He tries to avoid hunting a stand if the wind is the least bit "iffy." House even has a computer program that sorts out all his stands and identifies which stands are best for a particular wind direction on any given day. But House also extensively uses scent-blocking hunting gear and cover spray, and makes every attempt to stay clean and dry while hunting. He stresses the importance of keeping your mouth and hair covered with scent-blocking clothing. Most hunters overlook these two major sources of human scent.
According to House, the trail camera is the most beneficial tool that deer hunters have at their disposal. Not only are they a great scouting aid, but they also allow hunters to keep a current inventory of the deer in their hunting area throughout the year. Trail cameras allow you to identify the individual deer that are visiting specific locations and pinpoint the exact time they are there.
Don Hynum of Port Gibson, Miss., is another deer hunter who has had considerable success taking some impressive whitetails near his home in Claiborne County. Unlike House, who almost exclusively hunts with stick and string, Hynum utilizes every hunting method available — archery, primitive weapon and modern firearms.
Hynum focuses on two types of hunting situations: food sources and bottlenecks/funnels. When scouting for sites to hang a stand near a food source, Hynum makes certain there are plenty of fresh tracks and droppings present.
Like House, Hynum makes full use of trail cameras in helping him to identify the deer visiting an area and if any of the bucks are large enough for him to pursue. If the camera reveals a buck that meets his standards, he then keys in on the trails leading to the food source, and hangs a stand in a tree that gives him the best shooting opportunity. Bowhunting makes it necessary for the stand to be in close proximity to the trail. However, if he is hunting with a rifle, Hynum prefers to back farther away to avoid the light and variable winds that might spook a deer.
When it comes to a particular type of tree in which to hang his stands, Hynum isn't too particular. In the swamps along the Mississippi River, he hangs most of his stands in hackberry trees, but he prefers pine, sweet gum or water oak when hunting in the hills.
"I mainly look for a tree that offers plenty of cover," said Hynum. "I look for a tree that I can climb high enough in to be concealed by the limbs, or one that has a bushy tree or two behind it to break up my outline.
"I just don't want to be stuck out there like a bird on a wire."
Like most successful deer hunters, Hynum keys in on the wind direction when selecting a stand. He refuses to hunt a stand if the wind is wrong for fear of spooking the buck he wants to harvest. On the other hand, if the wind is cooperative, he will hunt the stand multiple times without much threat of spooking the animal.
However, Hynum knows that the more often you hunt a particular location, the harder it will be for you to kill the buck you are targeting. Somehow, deer can sense even the slightest amount of human presence.
"I firmly believe that the best chance you have of taking a buck from any deer stand is the very first time you hunt from it," said Hynum. "Your chances decrease each time you visit the stand because deer in the vicinity are more likely to become aware of your presence and tend to go nocturnal or avoid the area altogether."
As far as scent-blocking clothing or cover sprays, Hynum isn't convinced they are worth the added expense. He prefers to hunt only when the wind is right for a particular stand, which eliminates the need for these products.
However, Hynum does like to utilize food scents to make a deer stop momentarily on a trail and hopefully give him a better shot. The two scents that he relies on the most are vanilla oil and persimmon oil. Vanilla extract will also work, but it tends to evaporate more quickly than the vanilla oil. According to Hynum, the deer won't spook like they do with commercial scents. However, the deer will pause for just a moment to get a whiff of the scent, and that's usually all the time he needs to make a killing shot.
And if you're wondering about the effectiveness of these stand-placement tips, the proof is in the results. Hynum and House have taken numerous trophy whitetails by following these techniques. Hynum has taken several 130- to 150-class whitetails, but his best buck to date is an 11-pointer that gross scored 176 1/8 inches B&C. House has also taken a number of giant whitetails, including an 11-pointer that gross-scored 179 6/8 inches P&Y and also held the distinction of being the Mississippi Archery State Record in the typical category for several years.