It’s hard to think about whitetails right now. Harder anyway, than it is in the middle of August when bachelor groups are visible and antler growth is nearing its velvet end. During the month that precedes the bow opener the buzz around whitetails reaches a fever pitch and along with it plenty of us take to the woods with vigor.
While it’s pretty tough to argue that it’s better to get a few stands set before opening bell, the timing could be more beneficial if we took to the woods now. Granted, there are a few areas that demand extra scouting attention that can’t be given now, but for the most part all of us have at least a few go-to stand sites. For those, it’s best to get to work right now and then get out of the woods.
Pressure Is Pressure
After years of hunting whitetails on public land I’m absolutely convinced that the biggest enemy to our personal bowhunting success is pressure. We look at this as the impact hunters have on the deer during hunting season, but I don’t think it’s that simple. When you walk into the woods in August with a stand on your back and not only disturb a specific area, but leave a nice human scent trail where there hasn’t been one in months, the deer have to take notice.
Hunting pressure is the number one enemy to success, and it comes in all forms of human presence in the woods — even stand hanging sessions.
Do they know you’re not hunting them at that exact moment? I doubt it. They just know that a predator cruised through where they’ve been largely absent. If it’s a one-off event, it probably doesn’t have that big of an overall effect. That’s the key to setting stands now and getting out — the impact is minimal.
When you think about hanging a bunch of stands in late August or early September, and then within a week or two, returning to hunt, you’re erasing the margin for error. This only gets worse with the popularity of trail cameras, which have prompted more of us to go into the woods more often adding to the cumulative effect of pressure. In other words, it’s no beuno.
This gets even worse if you’re not lucky enough to have 500 acres to yourself. If you’re sharing 40 acres with another hunter or two, human presence in the woods is a huge factor. Small properties are the most susceptible to pressure, simply because there is only so much the deer are going to put up with on any given parcel. If they can travel 250 yards away and not be harassed all of the time, they eventually will.
There is no better way to preserve good hunting than to back way off of the pressure. And that all starts today, with getting in and getting out.
Do It Right, Right Now
When we push it time-wise, meaning we wait until it’s close to the season, we are less prone to set up stands the way we need them. Sure, the sticks will go up and so will the stands, but how much are you going to want to trim? All of us are aware of the impact of clearing shooting lanes and entrance and exit routes, and that is always on our minds when we go in close to, or during, the season.
Hanging stands now in your go-to spots is one of the best ways to minimize impact and allow the deer to settle down long before the season opens.
That also means a lot of times we set up so-so stand sites. If you really want to do things right, going in now allows for liberal trimming and cutting. That’s a good thing. By summer’s end, the cutting you did will grow over quite a bit but still leave you plenty of places to shoot.
The closer to deer season we hang our stands, the less likely we are to trim shooting lanes properly. Hang your stands now and avoid that pitfall.
When I head into the woods to put up my season-long, go-to stands I make sure to do it right. I clear and tack trails, get the stands situated just the way I like them, and clear all of the shooting lanes I want. This process makes a big impact, but there is time for it to wear off.
Public Land Problems?
What if you hunt the type of public land that won’t allow for treestands to be set and left? I spend quite a bit of time each fall on these types of properties and it’s a pain in the neck. Typically, you can’t trim shooting lanes or cut any type of brush either, as if hunting public land wasn’t difficult enough already.
If you hunt public land that doesn’t allow for stands to be set before the season, find your trees and flag them to be as ready as you can for the opener.
In this case, boots on the ground and biodegradable flagging tape are usually your best friends. Find the right trees, figure out how you’ll get into and out of them, and plan accordingly. Make sure to really spend some time eyeballing your tree so you don’t suddenly find out that it’s far more crooked than a casual glance revealed.
If the type of public you hunt does allow for stands to be set and left, make sure you know the regulations. I hunt some parcels out-of-state that allow for this, but there are time limits on when and for how long they can be up. Some states also require you to have your name and other information attached to them. Again, it’s a pain but is the way it is.
Even though we’ve just wrapped up turkey season and are most likely thinking about bowfishing than anything else, now is the time to get as many of your treestands up as possible. With a couple of months to erase your presence, the woods will return back to normal long before it’s time to hunt — and that makes those first sits all the more productive.
Who doesn’t want that?
by Tony J. Peterson (This first appeared in Bowhunter Magazine)