Clean your shooting lanes now for unobstructed, lethal shots while deer hunting this fall.
Text, photos, videos by Thomas Allen
In its simplest form, trimming shooting lanes to aid in a clean, lethal and ethical shot seems like a fairly basic and necessary skill for the dedicated whitetail hunter. But you’d be surprised at how many times the task is done incorrectly, and to the disadvantage of the hunter behind the grip of the shears.
Typically, I’d stick to the notion that less is more, but in all reality every treestand, shooting house, ground blind — even trail cameras — requires an experienced pruner’s eye.
Regardless of what type of hide you’re trying to conceal or shooting lanes you’re trying to reveal, don’t forget that that what gets trimmed during the summer will look vastly different once the foliage dies. Think about that before you clear too much brush.
Ground blinds and shooting houses generally require a similar approach to clearing brush. The difference is within the intention: Bow hunting or gun hunting. A deer must be pretty close for a good shot with a bow; therefore take advantage of existing obstructing brush to hide movements, and clear what might inadvertently deflect an arrow. Just don’t over do it.
When it comes to deer hunting, I suggest brushing in a ground blind so it becomes a part of the backdrop. It needs to conceal as many hard lines and potential movements as possible. But it’s also important to have it placed behind existing trees and brush, and back from the main edge of the food source or where the anticipated shot is likely to occur.
Depending on how each ground blind is constructed, leave existing brush to conceal the sides without shooting windows. Let that natural cover work to your advantage, and conservatively trim shooting lanes from the sides or corners where the most convenient shooting windows are.
Regarding a gun-hunting shooting house, the position is usually quite a ways from where a shot is anticipated; so subtle movements are easier to get away with. That means from an extended elevated position, preparing lanes will require attention generally higher in the tree, so an extendable pole saw is critical.
Cutting Shooting Lanes Before & After
I’ve hunted in many treestands that had way too much brush removed exposing every breath I took. I’ve burned spots, missed big deer and got busted more than I care to admit. Lessons learned the hard way, I guess.
Now when I trim out a spot, I look for ways to cut as little as possible, yet still maintain the passage needed for a clean shot.
When the situation lends itself to my objectives, I also like to keep a portion of the tree between my body and where I expect the deer to appear. It requires extra maneuvering for the shot, but ultimately it’ll keep more of you out of sight as the deer approach.
I do my best to place a solid backdrop behind my stand, and then trim lanes 180 degrees to the front where I expect an encounter to happen. I’ll trim in a fashion similar to the hours on a clock. In other words, I’ll open a lane (12 o’clock), then leave some brush and branches (1 o’clock), open another lane (2 o’clock), leave more bush (3 o’clock), trim out another spot (4 o’clock), and so on.
Trimming Your Bow Stand
The basic purpose is to give plenty of opportunities for the archer to get into position, draw and make the shot. Conversely, if things are wide open, accomplishing all of that is nearly impossible considering a whitetail’s heightened sense of sight.
Not every situation will allow for the exact same approach, and each will require a certain amount of creativity. But the clock method makes you aware of what you are cutting and where. And that is very important.
How does this fit into our trimming discussion? Well, the same basic application applies if you want to get piles of clear and crisp trail cam photos of deer. Or you if you like having a bunch of junk blowing around in front of where you expect to get pictures and filling up your SD cards, then don’t worry about it. (I jest, but seriously)
I take a Wildgame Innovations Trail Pad Swipe SD card reader every time I pull cards on my cameras. I do so to check on a few of the pictures to insure the camera isn’t being triggered by moving grass or branches that may have grown up or fallen down obstructing the camera’s view.
I also always keep a handsaw and pruners on my belt when checking cameras, so I can immediately clear brush if need be. It’s just a way to stay prepared and eliminate trips back to the truck.
Don’t be afraid to haul the weed whacker out and clean things up a couple times during the summer. Contrary to trimming out a treestand or ground blind, I trim every possible obstruction from the front side of a trail cam.
You’ll get more and better photos.
The right tools are critical to making the clearing process easy. Here are a few I fully believe in.