I’ve been telling you for months that every man should be a hunter. Today, I’m going to tell you where you should set up your stand.
All of this is assuming you’re hunting from a portable climbing stand, as I recommended in this article. You could still use these guidelines when choosing a spot for your ladder stand.
Some of this even plays a part for the ground blind and stalking crowd.
First Things First: Take A Stand On Your Own Property
Your hunting experience is going to be much more enjoyable if you’re the property owner.
No one can tell you when and where to hunt, and you don’t have to worry about other hunters contaminating the area. You don’t want some bozo setting his stand upwind of yours and then chain-smoking all day.
The only reason this might be problematic for you is if you don’t own property. If that’s you, I’ve already got you covered.
My preference is to hunt on my own tree farm.
No one is going to take care of your property like you, especially when that property is one of your hedges. Might as well get a few decades of great hunting before you clear cut and replant the property, right?
Now, this might be a future goal for you and you’re hunting somewhere else today. That’s fine, this advice still applies.
It’ll just be easier if you’re intimately familiar with the property on a year-to-year basis.
Why It Matters Where You Set Your Stand
Simple. You want to bag more deer. Or at least, you want the opportunity to.
You might want a higher caliber of deer. You might want to bag out this season. Maybe you just want to pick off the bucks with bad genetics and have a more robust herd next year.
Whatever your goal is, there are three things you can consider to choose the best location for your stand.
- Concealment and Camouflage
- Tree Type
- Signs of Activity
I’ll cover these one at the time.
Concealment and Camouflage for Your Stand
Don’t mistake the use of the word “camouflage”. For the purposes of choosing where to set your stand, concealment is probably a better word.
How visible will your position on a certain tree be, relative to the angle on the ground? This presupposes that you have a good idea of specifically where deer will be standing when they look up.
We’ll come back to the idea of patterning deer behavior shortly. For now, just understand that concealment means you’re camouflaged from a 40 to 50 degree angle relative to the deer’s likeliest position.
Trees, bushes, and especially branches above and below your stand will help with this. Terrain features like hills and large rocks will also play a part.
Can you see why intimate familiarity is important?
If a large tree has fallen, but not all the way to the ground, in the middle of a field then you’ll know about it. You’ll be able to use it to your advantage.
Concealment is going to be a different dependent on on factor: does your stand face the tree, or face away from the tree?
Stand Facing Away From The Tree
I hate facing away from the tree. In a portable climber, it’s hard to find a spot with the right concealment.
With ladder stands, you can at least create concealment.
Hunting in a portable climber facing away from the tree can be done. But then you’ll have to worry about having a limited field of fire.
What you have to keep in mind is that small “windows” between branches look smaller when you’re on the ground. When you’re behind them, you’ll be able to see better.
You’re looking to break up your outline from multiple angles. If you imagine yourself sitting in the center of a clock, you want concealment at the 9, 11, 1, and 3 position.
That’s going to be hard to find. Also remember that you want your concealment close, so you can look around it. A large cropping of trees thirty yards away is more of a hindrance than concealment.
Your rear is already covered by the tree, but you can’t shoot directly behind you. On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about deer behind you spotting you.
If you hunt into the wind, you shouldn’t have to worry about deer coming out behind you. Some deer do walk directly into the wind, but most deer I’ve seen like to walk perpendicular to wind direction.
You’ve probably figured out that I prefer to face the tree.
Stands Facing the Tree
Facing the tree gives you the option to hide behind something. When a deer comes out, you can position yourself so you can still see it, but most of your body is out of your prey’s line of sight.
You also have the luxury of being able to lean to one side or the other. That means your field of fire isn’t diminished at all compared to facing away from the tree.
The concealment you’ll need to worry about is easier to find. If you’re the center of a clock, you need concealment at 9, 6, and 3.
If you’re not moving, it’ll be hard for anything to spot you. I’ve had people walk by my stand and never notice me there, despite wearing blaze orange.
You also don’t have to worry about where to put your rifle. Picking up your rifle is the biggest movement you’ll make after seeing a deer – and the movement they’re most likely to see.
If you’re facing the tree, you can lean your rifle against the tree trunk itself, almost vertically. Whether a deer comes out to your right or your left, you’re able to get on target without showing nearly as much movement.
Facing the tree just gives you better concealment.
Tree type – Softwood versus Hardwood
If you think climbing a softwood versus climbing a hardwood won’t be much different, you’ve obviously never climbed a tree.
Since I live in the south eastern United States, I’ll use pine trees and oak trees for this example. They’re far and away the most common examples of these two types of tree.
Before we get to that, remember to always choose a tree that’s big enough. If you get up a tree that’s too small, you’ll never make that mistake again.
Also, never climb a twisty tree. You want your tree to be as close to perfectly straight as possible. Twisty trees are a good way to fall to your death.
Now, on to the types of tree.
Softwood Stand Pros & Cons
The wood is softer. That’s both a blessing and a curse.
Your climber attaches to the tree using a steel cable wrapped in rubber and metal teeth on the opposite side of the stand’s base. It bites into the tree while the cable stabilizes it.
The teeth on your stand will go in much easier on a pine tree than an oak. It’s easier to climb up, and more importantly, it’s easier to climb down.
This can be important for older guys or for new hunters who aren’t used to the muscle fatigue of remaining still for six hours. My hunting buddy is more than twice my age, and he likes climbing pines.
The big downside is that the wood is softer. That means sap is going to get everywhere.
People around here used to use pine sap as a nature-made band-aid. It’s that sticky – sticky enough to seal a wound.
Hell, you can use it as super glue. I’ve used it as adhesive before, and it does a good job.
If you’re going to hunt a softwood, take along a pair of gloves so you don’t get covered in sap when you’re taking your stand off the tree at the end of the hunt.
Bugs also love it when you hunt a softwood, because you create several entrances into the tree for them when you climbed up. You might find yourself sitting in an ant bed by the time you’re ready to climb down.
I don’t care for hunting a softwood, and only do so when there aren’t any oaks around.
Hardwood Stand Pros & Cons
I love hunting in an oak.
For starters, there’s no sap and rarely any bugs. The less distractions, the better.
More importantly than that, deer absolutely love acorns. Hunting in an oak means sitting on top of a food source.
The deer come right to you, as long as you’re not moving or putting off scent.
The downside is that they’re harder to climb, and there’s usually less of them. That’s assuming you’re hunting on a tree farm.
Do you know what the forester calls my tree farms? Pine Plantations. As in, predominantly pine trees.
If I were hunting public land, there would probably be more oaks, so this trade-off isn’t going to be common to everyone.
The difference in ease of climbing isn’t even noticeable to me, but it’s worth mentioning. Someone in their late fifties could be reading this and thinking about taking up deer hunting.
I think the difference in ease of climbing is overblown. You be the judge.
Signs of Activity
Simply put, do deer walk here?
There are different things to consider depending on whether you’re hunting a cut over or deep in the woods. There are also a few things that always come into play.
Cut Overs, Food Sources, Time of Year
Cut over means a place that used to have trees and is now home to all kinds of underbrush. Like a field, but full of wild vegetation.
Hunters love a cut over. Concealment is lacking, but your fields of fire can’t be better than here.
Deer love a cut over. They’ll use it for different purposes through the year.
They love to walk the edge all year long. That means they’ll walk up along the tree line. They know they’re well camouflaged here, and they’re keeping their options open.
They’re likely to bed down in a cut over. The underbrush is thick enough to conceal them when they’re seated.
It’s common to see a deer “just appear” in the middle of a cut over. The deer was bedded down and stood up when you were looking somewhere else.
During the later months of the season, deer will also look for food in a cut over. They’ve eaten up all the better food sources and now that their breeding season is at it’s end, they’re looking for whatever they can scrounge.
In short, a tree at the edge of a cut over is a great place to set your stand.
Deep Woods, Rub Lines, Deer Trails
In deep woods, it can be a little more difficult to determine where to set your stand.
On the one hand, anywhere you decide to place your stand will have great concealment. On the other hand, deer could walk right by you and you may never see them.
If you’re hunting deep woods, you have to be very picky about which tree you choose to climb. We all know deer walk the woods, but its easy to go a whole season without seeing any if you don’t know what to look for.
First, if you’re after bucks, look for rub lines. A rub is what we call the markings left on a tree that a deer has “whooped up on” with his antlers.
They rub the bark right off. Particularly virile bucks will whoop the tree right over like a bad frost.
These rubs aren’t singular occurrences. If you look around when you see one, you’ll see a trail of them. Hence, rub line.
You’ll also be able to tell “deer trails”. These are places where deer have been following the same path for a very long time, for whatever reason.
The final thing to look for are openings where a big buck could fit through. A big buck is walking around with a giant rack that gets tangled on branches and vines. Find a place where he has an opening.
All of these criteria are things to consider when putting up a stand in the deep woods.
Bedding, Food and Water Sources
These things will come in to play no matter where you hunt.
Don’t make this more complicated than it has to be.
Deer have to sleep, eat, and drink every day. If you can set up your stand in between a bedding area and a food or water source, you can catch deer in transit.
Intel Intel Intel
The final and most useful thing you can have is a trail camera. This will give you vital intel that would take years to come by otherwise.
You’ll know exactly where the deer are, how many are around, and what they look like. You’ll know when they are where they are.
There’s a lot of benefit to buying a trail camera. They don’t cost much and they pay for themselves in grocery savings.
The last two tidbits on selecting your hunting grounds are more general advice that don’t fit with the big three mentioned before.
Don’t Set Your Stand Too Close
Don’t set up too close to the action. You’ll want to be a good thirty yards back from where ever you expect the deer to be.
Sure, you can get closer…but if you can, you’re a better hunter than me.
Your scent control better be on point and you best know when to make your move. I’d rather be a little further away and have a little more wiggle room.
Word of Warning
If you’ve never hunted the site you’re going to set up your stand, go in the afternoon. Don’t go in the morning.
You’re not going to be able to look for any of these things if it’s dark out.
I prefer to hunt in the morning, but I’m intimately familiar with my hunting grounds. I already know where everything is.
Go in the afternoon so you can at least do more than choose what type of tree you’d like to get up.