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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
May - June 2005
Volume 3, Number 3
ISSN: 0
Number 13
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Cover photo by Donald M. Jones
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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. That’s simply because a mature buck is extremely tough to arrow even when he doesn’t know he’s being hunted. Once he knows it’s on, your odds of killing him sink like the Titanic.

Here’s how to make it happen.

Cartography Class

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.

A 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 aren’t 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, it’s 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.

Low-Impact Scouting

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 it’s time to hit the woods, but I don’t 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, I’ll only need a day or two to shoot my one arrow – if I am in the right tree.

The Stand Site

When setting then immediately hunting a new stand, it’s 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 isn’t the time to chain saw the woods!

Conclusion

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 that’s 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 didn’t 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 pond’s 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.

Don’t 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 done.

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