When my dad and i went on our first few deer hunts together, and we began looking for good places to sit, there were two key things he usually emphasized: he would say, “Hunt where you know the deer are and sit where you can see good.”
Good advice for me at the time, as I was rifle hunting in the national forest. If you couldn’t cover a lot of ground an didn’t have a decent chance of seeing moving deer, you might have a long day.
However, if you are bow hunting from a tree stand and want to put a tag on a trophy buck, there are a few more variables to tree stand placement that you’ll want to consider before heading out to the woods.
Before I get too involved in narrowing down the location for my tree stand placement, being in an area where the deer frequent is probably my highest priority. While there are lots of “deery”-looking areas out there, only a few show actual evidence of having regular deer activity.
Of course, rubs and scrapes are exciting to find, but also look for scat and tracks in deer trails leading to and from bedding and feeding areas.
Finding old and fresh sign together on one trail really gives you that sense of confidence you need when you are sitting for long hours in the tree stand and nothing happens to be moving… but you know the deer are using the area.
Also you can sometimes find torn browse, a good sign deer are feeding there.
When locating an ideal site for proper tree stand placement, remember terrain and food sources have a huge role in determining when and where a deer will go. Unless some outside force like encroachment changes that, they tend to stay in the same area for generations. A good way to confirm that is to stay alert when scouting.
Old deer sign (mainly in the form of rubs), may let you know the area has had a history of mating activity — and, if you are lucky, big-buck genetics. When we first ventured onto our new deer lease, we were able to confirm good areas of deer activity by finding lots of old rub lines.
Deer, like humans, can’t exist long with out water. Finding a small, secluded stream or pond is ideal, especially if it flows and is fresh. Deer love to have a place they can drink without having to travel too far from their bedding and feeding areas.
See Jason Snavley give his advice on food plots and proper tree stand placement
On our lease, for instance, we have sizable stream bordering the property, which also has several feeder streams running to it.
As a result, the river bottom area of our lease is one of the best buck-hunting sites.
Proper tree stand placement means locating areas with good hardwood mast, like white and red acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts or nearby agriculture.
If you have a food plot, of course that is great. Deer also prefer forbs and browse of trees like maple, white cedar, sumac, white pine, ash, beech and elm, as well as berries, honeysuckle, greenbriar, goldenrod, ragweed, azalea, willow, occasionally some mushrooms, and many others.
Not all of these foods will be on any one property, but they don’t have to be: all you have to do is figure out the food the deer are using at the time you are hunting.
Consider a tripod stand and how each leg is vital for it to stand upright; cover is like the third leg of vital deer habit, with food and water being the other two. Cedar thickets, blackberry tangles, recently logged and overgrown areas with lots of weeds, and young trees are great bedding areas for deer.
Our lease is owned by a timber company and heavily managed for timber. As a result there are large loading areas that were cleared many years ago and left to grow back naturally.
Some of these clearings we use as food plots; others are excellent deer cover, with lots of trails going into and out of them.
Under some circumstances, you may not be able to manipulate trees where you hunt for proper tree stand placement, but if you can, “hinging” crowded or non-commercial trees can improve habitat.
Bend or cut small trees (up to about 6 inches in diameter) halfway through, allowing them to fall over (from about three to four feet high) but continue to grow.
They will provide lots of new browse for deer to eat, and they make excellent cover. If you can keep the does feeling safe and secure in your area, you are certain to attract bucks.
If all of the elements I’ve already listed happen to be far from where most hunters will tread, then all of them are more attractive to deer. While does will tolerate a bit more encroachment than big bucks, they all like to be well off the beaten path.
That being said, there have been many huge bucks that died of old age in small wood lots between roadways or in suburban areas where there are never hunters or people walking through.
Look also for escape routes that deer are using in and out of a secluded area, as well as anything that funnels deer movement, like downed trees, rock outcroppings, fence lines, creeks, ditches or small woodlots between fields.
When deciding on tree stand placement, take lots of wind direction readings (like using one of the many dusters on the market or a small feather) and consider the prevailing wind. It is always good to have one or more back-up stands just in case the wind changes.
You want to always be downwind of where you expect the deer to emerge, based on the cover, food and terrain.
I remember once hunting a stand for the first time. I had to pull myself up a small hill to get to the tree, and I grabbed a small sapling to help me up. Later that morning two does came through the same way I did.
I had rubber boots on and a glove when I came in that morning, but nevertheless the deer immediately became alerted to something they didn’t like when they crossed my path. They actually smelled right up to the sapling I grabbed; then their tails went up and they bolted.
Never underestimate the power of their noses. So how you go to and from your stand is critical. I like to use old roadbeds that may see human traffic from time to time or follow a small creek.
For instance, on our lease we plan on cutting a small trail to a very deep dry creekbed that leads to the back of one of our food plots. We have had problems entering and exiting the back woods plot without alerting deer to our presence.
Anything you can do to not alarm the deer is really important, especially if you plan to hunt the area a lot. Being aware of deer trails and their bedding/feeding areas is not only important to pattern them, but to stay off those areas until you are ready to hunt.
Types of Trees
Just to keep it simple, we will discuss coniferous and deciduous types of trees as the basis for tree stand placement. If I have my climber (mainly when I am hunting in season, looking for a new spot and going to hunt a place immediately) I obviously prefer the coniferous trees, but a hand saw may still be required for some trimming.
Usually I hunt from hang-on tree stands that I can place well in advance of the season and that are well suited for the deciduous trees, especially oak trees that retain their brown leaves all fall.
Such oaks are great for cover, can aid in climbing in and out, have lots of places to hang stuff and can even be a food source.
Too, having some cover you can add is great. It’s nice to easily be able to hide your back silhouette and all around the bottom of your stand.
Obviously the more cover the better in hiding slight movements like drawing your bow or checking ranges.
Last but not at all least, you can’t shoot what you can’t see. I know that you often can be in some real hot spots where the cover is thick and bucks feel safe, but if you can, hunt near the cover and intercept them while they are returning from feeding.
Being able to see as much area as possible is all the better.
Once I was hunting near a field edge and saw a decent buck about 300 yards away. One or two snort-wheeze calls later, he was at 15 yards — but if I never saw him I couldn’t have even had a chance to shoot him.
When you put all of these factors together, you have at least a fighting chance of being in the game. Of course, deer don’t always play by the rules, but you as a hunter increase your odds if you consider all the variables you can in tree stand placement.