With opening day of archery season for whitetails less than two months away, hunters should be in the woods tuning their stands, if they haven't already done so.
Why so early?
Deer are very savvy to changes in their dining room and bedrooms and a new stand or "improvements" for shooting corridors needs time to become part of the natural environment.
What makes a good tree stand?
Near the top of the list is the stand's location in relation to wind or air movement. We call it scent-control.
Deer hunters who do not pay attention to the wind...or air movement such as thermals can find themselves awfully bored, especially as the season goes along and Mr. and Mrs. Whitetail become very aware of a hunter's presence.
Just because a hunter is not in a stand, the scent hangs there and deer are very aware to this human presence...even though the hunter is gone.
We all know that odds are...a stand is not worth much if it's on the wrong side of the wind and the deer picks up the hunter long before it's in sight.
So set your stand up on the downwind side of where you expect the deer to appear.
But there are other elements that help make a good stand that rank right up there too.
I have a portable on top of a high ridge at the top of a deep wooded basin.
And when we are having a good acorn year (about every four years or so...) it’s a goldmine up there - acorns in big clusters, high up at the top of the old trees' crowns.
The actual tree stand tree is placed in a “good tree,” which is one that had a triple trunk coming out of its base. Split base trees are not bad either.
But in contrast, tree stands that are put up on lone pole trees may seem all right in the first week or so of the archery season, but when the leaves come down in the middle of October, the bow hunter sticks out like a stop sign.
The main thing is to break up the hunter's silhouette, hiding movement like drawing a bow or taking a gun off the hook and positioning it for a shot.
It always feels good, after setting the stand in place and testing it for stability by shifting weight. A couple tie-down straps can come in handy to firm up any shake.
A couple weeks ago I tuned one of my stands.
"Ground seems a long way down," I thought to myself as I looked through the wire floor of the two-foot by two-foot folding platform. The mandatory nylon safety harness always gives an extra feeling of support.
"Nice. Sturdy, doesn't wobble." Has good, natural shooting lanes. Covers the main trail across the ridge at a decent distance," I thought. (Not too close but not too far, either.)
When the stand is sturdy, pick up an imaginary bow or gun and pretend to shoot it at imaginary deer to make sure lanes are clear.
But as I studied the winds and considered their swirling patterns, the realization sunk in that this stand was in the wrong location and basically had been a waste of time,.. climbing up, setting the stand, and even trimmed a bit on the shooting lanes.
"Darn it," I thought. What a waste of time.
Too late to do anything about it, now.
So the following week found me back up on top of the ridge, pulling the stand and moving it 40 yards to the other side of the trail, putting it in a different tree, so that the prevailing breeze (from the southwest) would be in my face and hit any deer moving on the trail first, before the wind came to me.
Don't fall in love with a tree. No matter how nice it is, if another tree is in a better spot, "fine-tune" your stand location.
When putting in a stand, it is easy to say, "it is good enough."
And we recall times when deer came in from downwind and rationalize to get out of the work of moving the stand again.
Experienced deer hunters know that maybe either stand could produce deer sightings, but one of the key placement factors, if not the most important, depends on the prevailing winds and thermals. Deer hunting is a game of percentages.
For most of us, our deer are truly wild. And hard-hunted bucks and old does remember the game quickly.
Correct placement of a tree stand is crucial.
Mostly, in the Northeast and the Midwest, our winds tend to prevail from the Southwest. But of course, during hunting season, every few days or so we get a front move in from the Northwest. And every once in a while, but rarely, a Nor’easter or a storm on the Atlantic will churn in winds from the east. And we have to add the complication of thermals, or the normal upslope flow of air in the morning as temperatures rise and down-slope flow of the air in the evening as the valleys and hollows cool down with sundown.
After a stand is hung in the right tree, the work is not finished.
Next comes the pruning of tree limbs for shooting lanes.
Prune the twigs so that a deer coming in still has some cover, but at the optimal range for gun and bow. Make sure there are clear openings to shoot through, at ideally 270 degrees in around in front.
A wide clear space is not a good thing, much as one might think. Shooting corridors, instead, allow an arrow or "a round" to fly unimpeded. But have enough cover so that when a deer walks past, its head is behind a tree or brush, allowing us to come to full draw, or move the gun undetected.
Many deer have been spooked or the shot ruined when a hunter drew back his bow or moved the gun after clearing out too many branches and what was considered obstructing brush in the early season.
And a couple hints about trimming out a stand:
Have a hunting buddy up in the stand, or down on the ground so that you can make quick work of obstructing branches without climbing up and down by yourself.
Get yourself one of those extendable pruning cutters, used by orchardists. Wow, they make trimming branches a breeze!
Imagine which direction the deer will be moving. Imagine the shot. Fold the seat down and see where it is most convenient to hang your bow or gun, so when the deer is coming, there will be a minimum of movement and a minimum of noise. I like to practice lifting an imaginary bow or gun so that when it's show time, there are no obstructing twigs or other surprises.
But sometimes, no matter how much we plan, figure, and dream, our stands still are not perfect and the deer of our dreams shows up somewhere else than where it is supposed to.
Deer may be reacting to the changing elements from shifting food sources to pressure from other hunters, along with the behavior variations in the breeding cycle.
And they don't come in every time like we plan.
But taking the time now to tune a stand certainly helps swing the chances a bit more our way when "Showtime" arrives in a couple months.
Oak Duke: firstname.lastname@example.org