The satisfaction one gets out of any endeavor is usually proportional to what one puts into it. Preparation leads to confidence, and confidence leads to success. And nothing prepares us for a hunt like a do-it-yourself attempt. Not only will you gain a lot more satisfaction from the hunt, you’ll also acquire a learning experience you can use for the rest of your life, and even pass down.
One of the most important aspects of the right tree for a tree stand is an entrance/exit that will create as little disturbance as possible. In almost all cases, we are better off hunting undisturbed animals that are moving with some predictability. This is a fundamental truth.
A low-impact entrance/exit is vital, and the smart hunter must consider sight, sound, and scent during their approach and departure. Let’s use an example of each in illustration.
- Often, your stand placement is just off the crest of a ridgeline. Human nature is for old logging/skid roads to follow the crest of the ridge because it makes sense for ease of travel for humans and equipment. But it doesn’t make sense for the deer.
- Although not always the case, game will usually shy away from being sky lined on a ridge top. They’ll tend to walk parallel to the crest on the downwind side. It sometimes depends on the angle of the terrain and visibility (density), but usually they will prefer just far enough off to the side so their silhouette is less obvious, and where they can see downhill just as well as if they were on the crest. You’ll also notice their passage will tend to be on the downwind side of the crest. Think about it — they can see downhill and can scent-check areas upwind, and still not be silhouetted.
We, as hunters, must do the same thing. When entering a stand site along a ridgeline, it’s easy to walk the logging road on the top. This is fine when it’s dark (another advantage of stand approach before light). But when it’s already light, or in the afternoon, you’re usually better off picking your way in by walking parallel to the crest.
Walk in on a logging road, try to walk in the “tire track” of the downwind side. For example, say the logging road is running north/south and the wind is coming from the west. You walk in the east tire track so the wind carries your residual ground scent off the road. This ensures any deer that happen to be walking the road later will be less likely to smell your passage.
In addition to this, if you use a scent drag on approach, you will notice it will benefit you even more so. Tie a scent-soaked rag to a short cord off a four-foot switch (or your bow tip), and drag it down the west tire track while you walk the east (downwind) track.
Because most hunters tend to sweat, carry extra clothing/gear in a backpack. When you get to within 100 yards or so of the stand, stop and put the layered jacket, facemask, gloves, and safety harness on. It’s an obvious advantage having your scent on your final approach blowing away from the direction you think the deer will be coming/going.
To ensure a silent approach, rake out a footpath to the stand. For those of you who have hunted bear over a bait site, you may have noticed that when multiple bears are hitting the bait, they will approach it via specific footprints.
This is a dominant/subordinate situation. A subordinate bear knows if he is caught by a dominant bear on his approach to the bait, he will likely get his butt kicked. And it could even be a fatal mistake. Therefore, if you look closely around the bait site, you may find distinct, separate footprint/pad marks that bears will actually place their pads in, in order to guarantee a silent entry. Do the same thing when approaching the stand site.
After the foliage drops, you’ll often have dry leaves covering the ground. Walking through dry leaves silently is hopeless. If there is any cadence/rhythm to your gait, it’s almost impossible to keep your entrance/exit covert. At this point leaving your ambush silently is just about as important as entering it silently, and in both cases use the “bear trick” to my advantage.
- After the majority of leaves drop, face the fact that you will be disturbing the area and go for it. Time your entrance for midday, knowing what you’ll gain will be worth it in the long run. You can use a regular garden rake with the stiff teeth, but a garden hoe actually works better, because you won’t have to constantly clean leaves from the teeth. Clear away the leaves every couple of feet in order to place your boots on solid ground rather than six inches of leaves.
Yes, continued foliage dropping will fill in the raked spots somewhat, but you can just kick them away with your boot tip if needed. Quiet foot placement is especially important on quiet days, or if you are within hearing distance and/or sight of a known bedding area.
You’ll know it was all worth it when after quietly entering and settling in you see the flick of an ear and notice a deer bedded within eyesight. That probably won’t happen on a calm day if you don’t pre-rake your approach.
Break out the trusty ratchet belt hand pruners to open and clear the understory of brushy twigs, both from where the deer will be walking as well as your own approach. An opening through the brush will shift the deer to the path of least resistance, and they will adapt to it in short order. At the same time, you want to eliminate brush and twigs in my entrance path to reduce scent retention and the noise clothing may create as you pass by.
On approaching a stand setup, try not to cross the main travel pattern you’re hunting. Sometimes there are situations where you have to do that. In these cases, plan your approach to the stand right in a precut shooting lane. That way if the deer cuts your entrance trail on approach and stops to smell your minimal ground scent, at least he is standing in a shooting lane.
Some of this may be hard to follow along with unless you are actually shown. The bottom line is there will be a lot of satisfaction for your efforts. Not only will you watch a deer react exactly as you wanted and intended him to, but your efforts will hopefully shift his movement to a position where you almost can’t miss the shot. And that alone will boost your bow hunting success rates tremendously.
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