|May - June 2005
Volume 3, Number
Cover photo by Donald M. Jones
As I write this in late November, I am on the
heels of another season of bow hunting whitetails. From Kansas Illinois Colorado, I waded
in among them, the goal to arrow only top-tier bucks. I was successful half the time, a
pretty good ratio.
If you hunt many new places each season as I
do that are far enough away from home that preseason scouting is out of the question, you
quickly learn the importance of being able to go into the area cold and still set up
killer stand sites. Years of trial and error have shown me there is a definite right way
and wrong way to go about this.
In a nutshell, the key is to find the best
stands on a given property while minimizing your physical presence to zilch. Thats
simply because a mature buck is extremely tough to arrow even when he doesnt know
hes being hunted. Once he knows its on, your odds of killing him sink like the
Heres how to make it happen.
Step 1 is obtaining U.S.G.S. topographic maps
of the property. They illustrate features like roads, rail-road and power line right of
ways, buildings and other man-made features along with natural features like wooded areas
and the all-important narrowed necks that show potential funnels.
Also important are water courses, including
swamps, rivers, lakes and ponds, which can also show funnels. A common example is a narrow
piece of dry land between two bodies of water. Also, rivers and streams are often used as
travel corridors by deer. Water can also provide the hunter an excellent low-impact route
to stand sites. We also have the swamps that serve as potential bedding areas.
Vision from Above
Aerial photos are the very best overview you
can have, even though they do not show relief changes like topo maps. From a good photo,
you can pick up many food sources, such as farm fields, grassy meadows and even orchards.
Also, some intermittent streams and smaller swamps arent shown on topos but are
plainly visible on photos.
Photos do a much better job showing wooded
areas. With most you can differentiate between deciduous and coniferous trees, as well as
gauge the thickness and maturity of a wooded area. With deer seeking thick areas for
bedding, photos can be used to identify potential bedding sites.
Photos show the level of detail
required to make educated guesses on how deer are using the habitat, while contour maps
show how they use the relief. Between the two, its almost like scouting in the
woods. When studying them create a list of promising locations. With that, a game plan can
be built to check each spot and prepare the most promising.
Information is everything, which is why on
private farmland I try to speak with the landowner and other deer hunters to find out the
little idiosyncrasies that can alter deer movement. Examples include fields that have just
been, or are scheduled to be, harvested; burns; higher or lower water levels; hunting
pressure; and of course, where the land-owner just may have recently spied a mature buck.
Now its time to hit the woods, but I
dont just dive in. I will take the first day and scout from the fringes, often
slowly driving around at dawn and dusk, glassing food sources. When a nice buck is
spotted, I note the area a likely trail he used and potentially good ambush spots.
I may also set a pop-up blind or tree stand on the fringe of the best areas I can ferret
out from my photos, maps and people sources and simply watch as much country as I can
before moving in.
To some, this is wasting a precious day of
hunting. But to me, wasting time is sitting in a tree stand and learning nothing. I would
much rather spend two days of a five-day hunt carefully planning a killer stand site
chosen on information and personal observation. If everything goes right, Ill only
need a day or two to shoot my one arrow if I am in the right tree.
When setting then immediately hunting a new
stand, its crucial to keep human disturbance to a minimum. I always shower with
unscented soap and shampoo, wear scent-free clothing and boots and spray myself liberally
with scent-blocking sprays before entering the woods. I am extremely careful to set my
stand as quietly as possible and trim shooting lanes lightly. This isnt the time to
chain saw the woods!
The two keys to going in cold and coming out
hot are finding productive stand sites and keeping disturbances to a minimum. Identifying
potential stand sites from maps and photos is a good start. Add a little buck observation
time, and all thats left is a quick combination midday scouting/stand setting trip.
My September western Kentucky trip is an
example. It was unseasonably hot, so I knew the bucks would be near water, probably a
water source close enough to food and bedding cover so they didnt have to move much.
An aerial photo showed just such a spot, a small pond on a ridge line separating a thick
bedding hollow from alfalfa and corn fields. At midday I got the wind in my face and made
a quick trip to the spot. The edge of the pond was tracked up to beat the band, with the
most used trail from the bedding thicket running along its east side.
No sweat. I set a tree stand in a big oak
right on the ponds downwind edge, which gave me a clear shot along the pond, the
mouth of the entry trail and across a small grassy flat that led to the trails leading to
the fields. I went home and let the stand rest until the following evening, when I slipped
in about four hours before dark. As predicted, deer did not move until an hour before
sundown, but when the buck appeared, he came out right where I thought he would. The big
9-pointer, which green scores 145 Pope & Young points, never knew what happened.
Dont get me wrong doing plenty of
preseason scouting and stand site prep is by far the best way to bow hunt mature
whitetails. But when you are traveling and time is at a premium, you can still get it