With his broad shoulders and high beams, he was a shooter buck, and as I watched him slowly walking by just out of shooting range, a wave of regret enveloped me. Obviously, I had found the sweet spot for that particular postage stamp of land, but just as apparently, I had not located the sweet spot on the sweet spot. Specifically, that certain tree that ensures that when a whitetail does come by, it will be within our shooting range.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.
I believe seven factors go into our making a logical decision concerning where to position a stand. At one point in my bowhunting career, I would have rated one or more of these steps as the most crucial ones, but now I feel that they are all relatively equal in importance. For if we fail to consider any one of the seven, then we may not be able to arrow the buck — or doe for that matter — we are after.
STEP ONE: NOTE THE BEDDING AND FEEDING AREAS
Although each of the seven steps is equal in importance, the one I want to take first is to establish where the bedding and feeding areas exist. Regardless of whether I want to bowhunt an area in the morning or evening, I don’t want to be too close to the bedding area — or too far for that matter.
Bedding areas often remain constant for whitetails even when the feeding locales change. There are too many factors involved for anyone to list an arbitrary yardage on just how close to set up to a bedding area, but here is a general guideline. Based on the terrain, don’t go so close that a resting deer can either see or hear your approach. If the wind is blowing toward a bedding spot, you shouldn’t be in the area anyway.
Regarding the food destinations, veteran hunters already know the obvious — set up closer to food sources in the evening and nearer to bedding areas in the morning. But here is one mistake that even many long-time archers commit when the topic is stand selection. The day, the very day, that deer don’t stroll through an area or the first time you notice that the sign (droppings and tracks primarily) appears just a tad stale, abandon the area. Don’t be loyal to a stand site just because you viewed deer from that perch the day or days before.
STEP TWO: DETERMINE WIND DIRECTION
Once again, an obvious statement must appear — we bowhunters have to take into account the prevailing wind direction when locating the sweetest sweet spot. Of the seven steps, this is the one that the deer will be less forgiving, if you will, of any error we might make.
For example, about five years ago, I had truly found a wonderful, potential sweet spot for opening day. The few acorns that were falling were concentrated in a small grove of oaks that were situated between two clearcuts. The area was a natural funnel, and deer traffic had been heavy as evidenced by fresh droppings, new rubs and scrapes, and nut hulls that littered the ground.
However, before the sun arose on the opening morning, I heard a deer snort at me. At sunrise, two more whitetails uttered this alarm note. By the time, I climbed down from my seemingly sweet, sweet spot, I had a sour taste in my mouth. No matter how promising a stand site can be, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, the locale is no good.
STEP THREE: FIND THE RUB LINE
Locating a rub line is a crucial third step. Rub lines often appear in certain areas for specific reasons. For example, the area may be the most direct route between a buck’s feeding and bedding area; the buck may have made the rubs there because doe traffic is high; the line may be through an area that has very dense cover where a buck feels secure; or a buck may have rubbed trees because the locale traditionally has been an area where other males did the same.
Any of these reasons make a rub line a potentially important part of your stand-placement strategy.
STEP FOUR: DETERMINE WHEN THE RUB LINE IS BEING VISITED
Once we have learned where the rub lines are, we must analyze each of the above four reasons on why the lines exist in a certain location. For instance, if the line appears to be along a direct route between a feeding and bedding area, this particular pathway may be a good place to position a stand early in the season before rutting activity takes place. Later in the fall, this particular type of line may be very unlikely to produce deer sightings.
If this signpost is situated along known doe travel ways, then these trails may be an excellent place to hang a stand during the late pre-rut period and the rut itself. A rub line through thick cover is a marvelous place to set up when hunting pressure increases, during the rut, and later in the season. Indeed, this is not a bad place to set up just about any time.
The fourth situation is one that is often the hardest to fathom. The fact that a buck or bucks continues to rub trees along a traditional rub line argues for our hunting the area. But what if the cover is so sparse that bucks are only visiting it at night? To determine the potential of this buck runway, an archer might want to set out a trail camera or look for both fresh and old droppings, indicating current and ongoing usage of the line.
STEP FIVE: DETERMINE WHERE THE TRAILS LEAD FROM THE RUB LINE
Locating a rub line and determining how and when it is being used are quite apparently important third and fourth steps; nevertheless, they may or may not lead to our putting a stand in those areas. For example, let’s say that we find a rub line that leads away from a field edge and toward a bedding area. This would seem to indicate that a buck is making or following that line early in the morning before sunrise. So, putting up a stand there may, at best, only result in our hearing a buck walk under our stand in the dark.
Conversely, a rub line just outside of a bedding area and leading toward a feeding area may be impossible to access during the daytime or late in the afternoon and unlikely to produce desired results during the morning hours. Another example of unproductive trails leading from a rub line is where those pathways encompass a field, food plot or agricultural area. Once again, this may be an example of a signpost route that is only being checked out after sunset.
STEP SIX: DETERMINE WHERE THE MOST RELIABLE FUNNEL IS
So far much of this article has detailed which steps to take toward finding the sweet spot within a sweet spot, but then pointing out why the areas may often be fruitless places to actually position a stand — no longer,
though. Now is the time when we are moving very close to actually erecting a stand somewhere.
Across the region, three major forms of terrain are present: mountain and valley, rolling hills, and flatland/swamps. Each of these hosts well-defined terrain characteristics, but each of these also has one common trait — funnels. Now, the funnels themselves may be quite different, but they all serve as pinch points and they all channel deer through certain areas.
In the highlands, a superior funnel might be a saddle (which is a noticeable dip in the terrain) that runs between two steep coves. Almost any deer looking to move from one hollow to another to feed will travel through this funnel, as will a buck looking to do the same or seeking out companionship.
In rolling hill country, a fantastic funnel might be where a steep hillside borders a narrow creek bottom. Stream bottoms often feature either hardwood-producing nuts or dense cover and sometimes, delightfully, both. This type of funnel could produce deer sightings throughout a hunting season.
And in flatland and swamp country, a textbook pinch point might be where a marsh abuts or runs near a slightly elevated tract of land. Any deer going through this area will likely have to squeeze through here. Topo maps can be a big help in finding funnels, regardless of the habitat.
All of these corridor types involve natural terrain features, but we bowhunters should definitely not neglect manmade ones either, as they can have just as much potential. For instance, in any kind of terrain in our region, an overgrown fence or hedgerow can serve as a funnel — as long as they are some 15 yards wide. Rows of planted evergreens that lead through a field or opening of some sort is a super example of a manmade funnel. So is a windbreak or any strip of uncultivated area between two agricultural areas or pastures.
So, after taking these six steps, here is what we should ideally know before we actually position a stand.
- Location of the major bedding area.
- Location of the most current food source.
- Knowledge of the prevailing wind, as relating to when we want to hunt an area.
- Knowledge of where the rub lines are.
- An understanding of when and why the rub lines are being accessed.
- Knowledge of where the rub lines lead.
- The finding of fresh sign (and hopefully older sign indicating longstanding usage) such as droppings, tracks, and rubs.
- Knowledge of where the major funnel is, and by major I mean the funnel that takes into account all the bullet points before this one.
STEP SEVEN: DETERMINE WHERE YOUR AMBUSH POINT SHOULD BE
Now it’s time to actually place a stand on that one certain tree that fits the definition of a sweet spot on a sweet spot. For example, several years ago, I gained access to a 50-acre tract characterized by a cow pasture, several open, isolated groves of evergreens, and one long, narrow stretch of hardwoods that extends some 300 yards from a fencerow marking the property boundary to the pasture. The boundary itself lies 100 yards from a dense bedding area.
Few if any deer were ever likely to be within the evergreen groves during the daytime, so they were quickly eliminated from consideration as stand sites. The 300-yard-long narrow length of hardwoods definitely fits the definition of a funnel for any type of terrain throughout the region. And the funnel contained a number of oaks that were producing acorns, as well as abundant fresh and old sign.
The first few times I bowhunted this necked-down area, however, I failed to even loose an arrow. On the initial outing, I set up about 70 yards from the boundary and observed two nice bucks cross the line and feed under some oak trees. However, those trees were located some 40 yards from my stand — well past my effective shooting range.
A week later, I set up closer to the oaks, but this time the deer departed the bedding area too late in the day for me to have a chance at them. Next, I moved the stand to a hardwood that was just 20 yards from the boundary, but the tree was out in the open, and several does spotted me when I drew back.
Agonizing over my inability to find the sweetest sweet spot, I visited the funnel during the middle of the day and considered half a dozen trees that grow just past the boundary fence. Finally, I found a tree that offers all the requirements:
- Wide enough so that my camouflaged body does not stick out.
- Limbs that help further to conceal me but don’t obstruct shooting lanes.
- Nearby wide trees that deer will likely walk behind so that I can raise and draw my bow.
- Mast-bearing trees within my effective shooting range and where deer will stop to forage.
Since I have found the tree, I have killed several deer from it, and fully expect to enjoy similar success this year. Find the sweet spot on the sweet spot and you, too, will likely savor success.