November 26, 2018
It was one of those mornings you just dream about. Hoar frost covered everything, so still the steam of your breath just ascended in your face and you almost had to wave it away to see. A certain scent filled the air signifying the peak of the rut was happening.
The sound of does attempting to flee courting bucks could be heard in every direction, and the flicker of a white tail or a glimpse of a brown body could be occasionally seen. As the early morning minutes ticked by, and as the darkness transitioned to pinks, reds, oranges and yellows, a small buck would hurry through a shooting lane — multiple, in fact.
Things were just right. Almost.
Thinking back on that frosty November morning in Iowa, just a few short miles from my hometown, I got out of bed knowing it was my day. Sometimes it’s like that. You just know.
My plan was to sit in that particular set dawn until dark, but as plans so often go things changed. The wind shifted to the exact wrong direction, and I had to make a change. While I had hoped the wind would remain consistent, I was prepared just in case.
At 11 a.m., I packed up, climbed down and returned to my truck where I kept a Lone Wolf Assault and four climbing sticks, all conveniently bundled together for an aggressive and calculated tactic I call a spot set. I kept the hang-and-hunt method in my back pocket in the event that I needed a quick relocation to accommodate a specific wind direction, and that situation was at hand.
Recalling a certain corner of timber that seemed to be a hub of rutting activity, I strapped the stand and extra clothes to my Badlands 2200, and walked half a mile into the spot I had hoped to hunt. As I neared the location, I could smell rutting buck, and upon arrival I was very encouraged by the amount of sign.
It was clear a big buck was working the area and defending his turf.
Without much effort, I found a perfect tree that overlooked the ridge trail junction. In less than five minutes I had the sticks and stand in position, and was hoisting my bow up the tree.
I remember looking at my watch, it was 12:05; the relocation had taken less than an hour. I was suddenly distracted by the raking of antlers on branches — a buck working a nearby scrape. I quickly grabbed my bow, located the source of the sound and came to full draw as a mature, bristled-up 10-pointer quickly approached an opening in the brush at 22 yards.
He had no idea I was there.
The Spot Set
Being very familiar and proficient with your gear is critical to effectively executing a spot set. But having the right gear trumps all else — without it you’re working too hard.
But first, let’s talk about timing.
Every year, I do my best to leave several spots completely untouched until the timing of the rut has the bucks in a near frenzy. Why do that? Keeping human intrusion non-existent, and elevating the element of surprise to confident levels will put you in control.
Do not hunt those spots until things are absolutely perfect. It takes patience no doubt, but when you wait, you can take advantage of the first sit, which is the very best time to surprise a mature buck.
To be honest, awesome spots are usually good for one, maybe two hunts at the very most. However, your chances of killing a big buck skyrocket when you finally make it in there. By waiting until things are ideal, you may only need one hunt to connect on the buck you’re after.
The spot set keeps the first sit fresh every sit, but you have to know when and where you plan to be — at least to some extent. Getting into an area and finding the right tree each time is the challenge, but if you already know where you’re going before you head in there, that’s all the better.
Keep that in mind during your preseason scouting.
Depending on where you live and/or hunt, watch the calendar and move in when things are rocking.
The right backpack is at the core of this system, and for me it’s been a Badlands 2200 or a Summit. There are other options to consider for sure, but you want a pack that is capable of keeping your essentials inside while strapping a lightweight stand and climbing sticks along with a few clothes to the outside — all without making any sort of noise.
I’ve exclusively used a Lone Wolf Assault hang-on treestand with four Lone Wolf climbing sticks. The system allows for compact packing, silent installation, and the stand-and-sticks combo weighs about 20 pounds. It’s very sturdy and secure, and it’ll easily accommodate a big man like myself.
I also think its essential to have compact and dependable brush clearing tools. Wicked Tree Gear. gets the nod here from me. The components are very sharp and highly durable — the last thing you want is for anything to break while you’re in the middle of your set-up.
I use the handsaw, hand pruners and the 16-foot extendable pole saw. All three have yet to fail me.
This probably goes without saying, but a quality safety harness complete with a lineman’s belt and rope are obviously necessary for safety purposes. Don’t skimp on this part.
I also take two 25-foot ropes along to help hoist things into the tree. The key is to make as few trips up and down as possible.
Once I have the tree located, I start with the bottom two climbing sticks, and the remaining two tied to one of the ropes and the second rope is tied to the treestand. During the climbing process, I always keep three points of contact, and stay attached to the tree thanks to the lineman’s belt.
Once the stand is securely fastened to the tree, I take note of any branches that may need a quick trim, but keep shooting-lane trimming to a minimum. Cut only what’s absolutely necessary.
When I’m back on the ground, I briefly clear a couple shooting lanes that I determined earlier, and return to my bow and remaining gear. I tie one of the ropes to my bow, and the other to the extendable pole saw if I have remaining limbs to clear that are better reached from the treestand.
I’ll change clothes if necessary, and climb back up the tree and get set. In all, this entire process takes about 15 minutes, but the more familiar you are with your gear and location, the faster you can move.
Safety, speed and silence are key.
There’s no question that the hang-and-hunt method takes forethought and extra work, but by staying mobile you can maintain the freshness of each spot you hunt. It’s no secret that the best time to kill a big buck is during the first sit in a spot.
If you want to take advantage of that freshness every time you hunt, the spot set is your ticket.
My result back on that particular November day in Iowa ended up being one of my biggest bucks to date. He stepped into one of the shooting lanes I had cut minutes before, and I made a perfect 22-yard shot. He ran 60 yards before piling up, and remains one of my all-time favorite trophies.
I worked for that one. But I appreciate it more because of my decision to move in and hunt a fresh location with a spot set.
I promise you it works.