Proper stand selection can mean the difference between wasting time and killing deer. Here is how three professionals go about finding that perfect site.
I had spent a lot of time preparing the stand site, which I first hunted the prior season.
My platform was placed high in a big, leafy magnolia just on the edge of a hardwood bottom known in the club as the Narrow Strip.
It was a perfect setup, or so I thought. Thickets lined the bottom, and deer trails crisscrossed the relatively open creek that meandered through the woods.
I hadn’t killed a deer off of it the last year, but it wasn’t because I hadn’t seen any.
No, I had watched time and again in frustration as deer picked through the thickets on the other side of the bottom. All I could see were legs.
So I had decided that I would no longer put up with that, and a month before the season reopened, a buddy of mine helped me clear a shooting lane right through the thicket.
Now I’d be able to get a shot at deer as they crossed.
Problem was, the deer avoided the shooting lane like the plague. Sure, they would eat my corn — at night — but refused to poke their heads out during shooting hours.
The clincher came one morning when I heard a noise to the left of my stand, and watched as a small tree shook and vibrated as if fighting for its life.
All I could see was the top of the sapling, but I knew a buck was giving the tree hell.
The tree soon grew still again, but I never saw an animal.
When I climbed from my stand and walked the 40 yards to the little tree, my suspicions were confirmed — the tree’s bark was ripped to ribbons and fresh chips of wood lay at its base.
I decided that my stand was cursed, so I placed a climber that evening about 50 yards away from my platform and began hunting it.
The first couple of hunts were unproductive, but I still slipped into the bottom on a cool December morning, and eased about 30 feet into the air.
This was way back, when I was young and relatively new to deer hunting. I loved such mornings, as I still do, but I had a big problem I had yet to overcome.
Boredom would regularly overtake me, and I would often find myself dozing in my stand.
This morning was no different. I managed to stay alert as the woods came alive, with birds flitting through the brush and picking through the leaves littering the bottom.
By 7 a.m., my eyes were heavy and my head began to droop.
I decided it was time to take a quick cat nap, so I leaned into the tree and propped my head against the trunk.
As I closed my eyes, the noise of the birds hopping around in the leaves sounded much like deer slipping through the woods.
“Stupid birds,” I silently told myself.
But then another thought flashed through my head — I probably should take one final look around before I dozed off.
With great effort, I lifted my head and gazed about through fatigue-filmed eyes.
My heart lurched as my eyes swiveled toward my shooting lane, and the sleep obscuring my vision disappeared in an instant.
Standing there, peering under the limb of a beech tree was a massive-bodied deer.
I ignored the impulse to snap my rifle to my shoulder, since the buck was looking in my general direction.
But my eyes searched frantically through the beech leaves for a sign of antler.
It wasn’t a doe day, so I knew I had to be careful.
Finally, the deer turned and slowly walked along the edge of the bottom, staying right inside the perimeter of the thicket.
Its body was clearly visible, and I couldn’t believe its size.
My rifle soon rested in the cup of my shoulder, and I peered through the scope and examined the deer’s head.
I could clearly see everything from the deer’s eyes south, but nothing north of that point.
Muscle rippled along the shoulders, neck and haunches of the deer as it leisurely made its way through the thicket.
Three times, my thumb slipped the safety and my index finger brushed the trigger.
I had yet to kill a buck at that point in my hunting career, but I knew this was a big buck. Does just don’t have that kind of musculature.
But I was haunted by the fact that I hadn’t seen any antlers.
“If I shoot that deer, it’ll be the biggest doe in the world,” I kept thinking.
So I waited, and finally the deer turned away from me and slipped deeper into the thicket.
But as it hopped a log, sunlight glistened on a long piece of antler, and my heart dropped.
The deer was gone, and it was a big buck.
I never saw the buck again, but the experience taught me a valuable lesson — stand placement is everything.
That buck was within 10 yards of my shooting lane, but I saw it only because I had moved my stand site.
But what are the keys to choosing where your stands should be?
Louisiana Sportsman turned to three accomplished deer hunters to discover their strategies.
Each hunter was provided a map of a fictional piece of property, and were limited to three stands.
Here’s what they decided.
Sam Klement, Realtree pro, Spectrum Outdoors
Alabama’s Sam Klement has spent about 15 years on one end or the other of a camera, filming deer hunts and learning how to up his odds of success.
Klement, a member of the Realtree pro staff and owner of Spectrum Outdoors, said his normal routine is to set up a lot of fixed-position stands well before the season, and narrow down his choices as the season progresses.
“I’ve got more than 100 stands on my property,” he said.
But without that luxury, Klement said he would fall back on his favorite technique — setting up where thicket meets standing timber.
On this fictional property, that would mean placing a stand on the edge of the 5-year-old thicket.
“Deer love edges, and I don’t like to hunt my food sources,” he explained. “I prefer to hunt the travel corridors.”
That flies in the face of many hunters’ strategies, which call for simply sitting over a food source and waiting for old big boy to step out.
But Klement said he’s learned that the chances of success on green patches or large fields really isn’t all that good.
“What happens a lot of times is hunters go in and jump on their food sources, and that educates the deer and shuts them down a lot quicker, as far as them going nocturnal,” he said. “The does will come out, but the bucks will wait until it’s dark.”
Therefore, the best-looking choice on the map would be between the trails leading to the largest food plot and the soybean field.
“The deer will be slipping in and out of that thicket on the way to and from the food sources,” Klement said.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be set up right on one of the trails.
“I like to get in the thickest possible spot,” the avid bowhunter said. “Deer are going to relate to the edges, and those trails will be close enough so that I have a good chance that they’re going to move through there.”
What he likes to have is a dappling of sunlight breaking through the canopy during the morning hours.
“On a cold, cold morning, I like to hunt where the sun shines first,” Klement said. “Nine times out of 10, deer will come to those areas.”
The reason is simple: That’s where it’s warmest.
“If you look at your dog on a cold, cold morning, it follows the sun,” he said. “I think the deer do the same.
“The does are going to get in there where it’s warm, and, consequently, the bucks are usually going to follow.”
Once he’s found a likely area for a stand, Klement then inspects the transitional line to find the perfect place for his stand.
“I look for what I call a sentinel tree,” he said.
This will be either the tallest tree along the edge of the thicket or a tree in topographical feature that breaks up the pattern of the tree line.
“A lot of times you’ll see a deer walking along and consistently looking one way,” Klement said. “I believe they’re looking for that reference point.”
And as deer walk past this reference point, Klement wants to be in position to get a shot.
Klement’s stand No. 2 would be in the oak bottom.
“Your buck deer will move in there to feed and check that scrape line,” he said.
The stand would be set up on the southwest end of the bottom to take advantage of the confluence of trails and the proximity of the rub line.
“The deer are going to hit the scrapes and feed about every 12 hours,” Klement said.
But this stand would rarely, if ever, be hunted in the evenings.
“I like to hunt these areas on a morning because the therms are rising,” Klement said.
In other words, the air is rising as it heats up, drawing any human scent up with it.
But that doesn’t mean he wants to be there before daylight.
In another departure from standard hunting practices, Klement likes to wait until the sun is peaking over the horizon.
“If you get in there before daylight, you’re using a flashlight and you’re jumping deer,” he said. “Again, you’re educating those deer.”
Instead, Klement opts to ease in as the light begins piercing the early morning gloom.
“If you get in there at the crack of daylight or just after and play the wind, you can get to your stand without bumping deer,” he said.
And that sets him up to be there when bucks are more likely to slip into the bottom to check out the scrape line or to grab a quick bite to eat.
“If bucks are on a 12-hour cycle, and they’re nocturnal, it would make sense that at 9, 10, 11 o’clock in the morning, he’ll slip back in there,” he said.
Next on his list would be the right-of-way between the 10-year-old pine plantation and the mature pines of the main forest.
“That’s a great travel corridor,” Klement said.
He said he would set up his stand to the north of the rub line where the most trails converge, and then he’d wait to catch a buck crossing.
Obviously, this would be a prime location for a rifle or muzzleloader stand.
“They’re not going to stay out long when they cross, but it’s a good place to get a quick shot,” Klement said. “I might use a scent just to sort of stop them.”
But this stand would strictly be there to rifle hunt in, since he would only expect to catch deer on the move.
“That 10-year-old pine thicket for the most part will be haphazard hunting if it’s been burned,” Klement said. “There’s just nothing there to hold the deer.”
For more of Klement’s tips, visit his Web site at spectrumoutdoors.com.
Dave Moreland, La. deer study leader
Food sources are much more important to Dave Moreland, who has spent more than 25 years studying deer.
“I’m just assuming we’re going to have the mast crop that it looks like we’re going to have,” Moreland said. “There are a lot of them developing out there.”
For that reason, he would first turn to the lush oak bottom.
“Deer, even when there are other foods available, they’re going to be on those acorns,” Moreland said.
Stand location in the bottom is a no-brainer to him — near the meeting of the four trails and the rub line.
“You have evidence of bucks, and you have a lot of trails,” Moreland said. “I would certainly put myself in that vicinity.
“There seems to be a serious gathering point, a meeting place.”
He said he would hunt the stand when the wind was favorable, which in this setup would mean north, northwest and west winds.
“If the wind is right, I wouldn’t hesitate to hunt that all day because with the acorns, the deer are going to come to it some time,” Moreland said.
His next choice would be on the eastern side of the bean field.
“That would be a stand for the early season,” Moreland said. “Usually the beans are gone by the late season.”
The key is to place the stand so you can catch deer staging to move into the field.
“Whether you’re hunting bow or gun would dictate exactly how close you would get to the field,” he said. “If you’re bow hunting, you might want to get where you can see in the field a little bit. If you’re gun hunting, you can move back.”
But he wouldn’t go near the stand in the morning.
“I would strictly use that for the evening,” Moreland said. “Once the pressure gets going, they’re not going to be on that field during the daytime.”
So he would be angling to ambush deer as they staged inside the woods waiting for the sun to set.
His third stand location was a bit of a surprise.
“I thought about that right-of-way that would certainly be a choice, but I like this thick spot by the 5-year-old pine thicket,” Moreland explained.
The problem with the right-of-way is that it’s bordered by open woods on both sides, even though the northeastern patch of woods is relatively younger.
“There isn’t a lot of cover to hold deer,” he said.
The other side of the property, however, has plenty of cover in the short plantation pines, and it’s got something else going for it.
“There’s good cover, and there’s evidence of bucks,” he said, referring to the rubline south of the thicket. “And I like that trail going to the soybean field.
To take advantage of all these factors — cover, buck sign and a travel corridor to a food source — Moreland said he would place a stand where the southbound trail forks to the southeast.
“I’m trying to catch deer moving out of that thicket,” he said.
Because of that, Moreland would avoid the stand during southerly winds.
In contrast to the soybean-field stand, however, this would be almost exclusively a morning stand.
“I’m trying to catch them moving out of that thicket,” he said.
The only real exception to the rule on this stand would be if there was poor weather.
“If the weatherman says it should break about 9 o’clock, I’ll want to be there at 9 o’clock and catch deer moving out to feed,” Moreland said.
If a storm hits in the afternoon, he would likewise want to be on stand when the system moved on.
“They’re going to come out of that thicket to feed whenever the weather breaks,” he said.
Tommy Smith, biologist, International Paper
Transitional zones top International Paper wildlife biologist Tommy Smith’s game book.
“Deer like to move along those transitional areas. They like the edges,” Smith said.
To take advantage of that, he would place his first stand on the right-of-way crossing the eastern side of the property.
“It’d be an excellent stand to see a lot of deer, particularly during the rut, crossing that pipeline,” Smith explained. “You can see a lot of territory, and you can easily see those four trails crossing the right-of-way.”
To add to the allure of the locale, Smith said the 10-year-old thicket, which he assumed hadn’t been thinned yet, would give deer a lot of cover.
“There’s a bedding area in that 10-year-old pine thicket,” he said.
To best take advantage of the ready-made shooting lane, his stand would be set up just north of the scrape line, but on the western edge of the right-of-way.
“That way, you’re watching that transitional zone on the edge of the thicket, and there’s that buck sign,” he said. “You’ll catch deer moving to the oak bottom to feed.
“And, of course, you’ll see bucks crossing during the rut.”
The stand would be effective only when the wind is out of the north, and most effective during evening hunts, when Smith’s scent would be blown away from the thicket and deer would be exiting the thicket on the way to feeding grounds in the center of the property.
Stand No. 2 would take advantage of the oak bottom, but Smith would still be focusing his efforts on thick border areas.
“I would place my stand on the southwest end of the bottom,” he said. “It’s a transitional zone between the oaks and the pines.”
The stand would serve double duty: Smith would be able to see into the bottom where four game trails meet, while at the same time watching the thickets between the open hardwoods and the mature pines.
“Bucks don’t spend a lot of time in those bottoms, but they like to cruise them looking for does in estrus,” he explained. “And you do have that buck sign in there.”
But even if a buck is reluctant to leave the cover of the pines for the airiness of the bottom, Smith’s location allows him a chance to get a shot.
“They like those edges,” he said. “They’ll trail that bottom right in that edge.”
His stand’s very location also takes advantage of the food sources available to the property.
“It’s central to several feeding areas, so you’re going to have deer moving through there,” Smith said.
Rounding out his choices would be a stand placed about 80 yards away from the 5-year-old pine thicket in the northwest corner of the property.
“The pine thicket is a bedding area,” Smith explained.
Exact placement would be between the two western-most trails.
“Hopefully I’d be able to see deer moving on both of those trails,” Smith said.
Hunting the stand would be dictated by wind direction and time of day, however.
“I’d hunt it with a north wind in the evening to catch a buck moving out to feed in the soybean field or that nearest food plot,” he said.
Again, the emphasis would be on watching the transitional thicket to catch deer stepping out.
However, this stand might also be hunted in the morning, if the wind allowed.
“You might be able to catch deer moving back into the thicket from the feeding areas,” he said.