August 17, 2023
Whitetail experts have long advised hunters to employ low-risk tactics. Conventional wisdom dictates that hunters be conservative and go out of their way to avoid alerting deer to their presence. As a result of this long-standing mentality, multiple generations of hunters have grown up playing it safe in the deer woods.
However, that isn’t always the best tactic, especially when it comes to treestands. Sometimes it pays to defy conventional wisdom and to find, scout and hunt from stand sites that are generally considered unorthodox. These locations might not always be good spots to try, but sometimes they are, especially in the scenarios below.
1. UPWIND OF THE ACTION
For decades we have been told to keep the wind in our faces—to always hunt downwind of expected deer travel routes. When hunting does and younger bucks, that likely works just fine—in fact, it’s probably best. But it doesn’t always work well for mature bucks, which reach old age by trusting their noses. That doesn’t mean they’ll always walk straight into the wind, but they certainly do use it. Although it might sound unconventional, killing mature bucks often requires giving them a slight wind advantage.
This tactic is called hunting with a “just-off” wind. In this situation, the wind direction is largely in the target buck’s favor. Allow the wind to blow toward the oncoming deer to a degree. But, position the treestand to the side just enough that the buck believes the wind is in his favor. All the while, it’s off just enough that scent drifts to the side of the deer. Use this tactic and increase your number of encounters with mature bucks.
2. BEDDING AREAS
Many hunters routinely oppose hunting within or even near bedding areas. Doing so is considered a taboo, low-odds, ruin-everything tactic that will burn a property for an entire season. While a misstep can negatively impact a bedding area—and the surrounding property’s hunting value—that isn’t a reason to never hunt close to and within bedding areas.
When hunting mature whitetails, it’s crucial to hunt where they are. Based on available science, much of their daylight movement occurs within bedding cover. While the early season (prior to hunting pressure), the rut (when some bucks go bonkers) and the very late season (when hunger drives them to food sources) are times to catch deer moving outside of bedding areas, it isn’t an everyday occurrence—especially in real-life hunting scenarios. Most bucks at least 4 1/2 years old don’t make it far from their daytime bedding lairs during legal shooting hours.
Hunting on the fringes of bedding areas helps mitigate this problem. Of course, it requires bulletproof entry routes, stand locations and exit routes that don’t alert deer to your presence. Ingress and egress might be achieved via a ditch system, a creek or a wall of cover that aids in infiltrating the edge of a bedding area.
3. BIG-WOODS HABITAT
Hunting homogenous terrain, such as monotonous big woods, is usually a challenging situation. Deer densities are lower, patterns are sometimes diluted and it’s difficult to find the spots deer frequent. Finding these locations also takes time. For these reasons, homogenous big-woods settings aren’t ideal for short road-trip hunts, where it’s better to focus on areas that are easier to scout, pick apart and hunt effectively with minimal time.
Those who have more time to scout and learn a property shouldn’t shy away from homogenous big-woods spots, though. Deer still inhabit these areas, albeit in lower numbers and in less obvious locations. But when hunters have the time to scout and hunt more, learning these areas is not only possible but also advisable.
These spots are often overlooked due to their daunting nature. Hunters don’t want to spend the time figuring them out; as a result, they often receive less hunting pressure. However, areas falling into this category just might hold a mature buck seeking solitude.
One prime example is a small, overlooked bedding area within this type of habitat that isn’t obvious via an aerial map. Or it could be a small patch of early successional cover where trees blew down. Or against a mound of boulders. Or within some fallen logs. Maybe against a ditch bank. Another option is where a network of trails converges along a high-odds travel route. And don’t overlook small watering holes deer frequent. Whatever the play, find the weak link in a big-woods buck’s home base.
4. NEAR PARKING AREAS
A lot of public-land advice urges hunters to hike deep into a property to escape hunting pressure, and often that is good counsel. However, since it’s been repeated so many times, many public-land hunters now do this. Paradoxically, that might mean a shorter walk on public ground is in order. After all, in an effort to escape pressure, hunters sometimes bypass good spots immediately surrounding parking areas and access routes. Instead, go shallow and then divert perpendicular to the flow of hunting pressure in one direction or another.
Another way to avoid long walks and other hunters is to hunt close to a road, but farther from parking lots. Some hunters might still hunt close to the parking lots, but rarely do they walk up and down the road before diving into the property. Most park in the designated area, then branch out via the two or three main routes leading from there.
Instead, consider parking on the side of the road if allowed. If it isn’t, have someone drop you off along the roadway or park in the designated area and walk up or down the road. Then, ease into the property wherever your digital and in-the-field scouting efforts lead you. Sometimes, deer frequent areas very close to the road simply because hunters avoid them.
5. ULTRA-SHORT TREES
Ask an expert how high to hang a treestand, and the answer will often range between 20 and 25 feet. Typically, that is the best advice. Such a height decreases the odds of being seen, smelled or heard. It’s also not so high that you as a hunter can no longer see and hit the animal’s kill zone, which shrinks at higher elevations and steeper angles, and becomes virtually impossible to hit above 25 feet.
Hunters don’t always need to be way up a tree, though. Sometimes, large trees don’t exist where mature bucks live. In fact, this is quite common in grasslands, marshlands, swamp ground and other thick, early-successional cover. Deer often don’t feel as pressured in these areas because they don’t see a lot of hutners.
That may sound overly simplistic, but for the hunter who recognizes it, it’s an advantage.
If there are any trees standing at all, see if they’re safe and sturdy enough for a treestand. Height or limbs might prevent getting more than 5 or 10 feet off the ground, but with adequate cover, that could be more than enough to catch a big, mature buck off guard.
6. ODDBALL RUT HOLES
Mature bucks typically inhabit the best available habitat. Hunt anywhere else and your odds of success decrease. These deer inhabit the best cover with optimal bedding, feeding and security because these areas provide what they need to grow old. Generally, mature bucks don’t hide out in small pockets of cover or strange locations that even younger deer would overlook.
But sometimes, particularly during the rut, that’s exactly where mature bucks hang out. When does start becoming receptive, mature bucks that pair off with these females don’t want competition, so they will often push receptive does away from the bulk of the herd and into areas that other deer don’t frequent.
Potential locations include brush piles, ditch lines, sinkholes, thick fencerows, overgrown homesteads, spots close to human activity and isolated pockets of cover. These and other areas are quite different in nature, but they share a common thread: Few deer live in them outside of the rut. Those that do visit, though, are likely buck-and-doe pairs attempting to avoid the bulk of the local herd.
7. SWIRLING WINDS
Some spots appear to have all the makings of a perfect stand location except for one problem: The wind swirls. That’s a major issue for deer hunters, and these spots should almost always be avoided, regardless of how great they look.
This situation is common in bowls, creek bottoms, coves, depressions, thermal hubs and other areas where the terrain influences the wind. Fortunately, the advent of more user-friendly elevated, enclosed box blinds is changing the game. Hunting from these air-tight perches, and only opening the window once to shoot, can be an excellent play for these spots.
All things considered, there are many stand locations that conventional wisdom urges hunters to avoid. In some instances, perhaps even most, it’s wise to heed such advice. Nevertheless, there are situations where it’s prudent to hunt from these unorthodox locations. If you do it right, it just might result in tagging the buck of a lifetime.
- Sound advice for evaluating trees when hanging your stand.
Many trees seem like a great fit for a hang-on or ladder stand. However, there are numerous reasons to avoid certain ones, even if they seem to be in a perfect location. Let’s highlight some factors that rule out stand locations.
- Dead, damaged or leaning trees: These are very dangerous to hunt from.
- No shooting lanes: What’s the use in hunting from a tree if you can’t shoot from it?
- Poor entry routes: If deer spot a hunter en route to the stand, the jig is up.
- Poor exit routes: If deer spot a hunter exiting a stand location, the next hunt is adversely affected.
- Scaly or otherwise dangerous bark: This can result in treestand slippage or falls.
- Too little cover: Being without cover makes it much easier for
deer to spot hunters.
- Terrible wind direction: If deer smell a rat, the game is over.
- Too far from the action: Deer that pass by out of range aren’t heading to the freezer.
- Too close to the action: Sitting over deer trails can limit shot opportunities.
- Too large of a trunk: These trees are too dangerous to reach around and hang stands on.
- Too small of A trunk: These trees might snap or break from your weight.
- Too many limbs: This will make it difficult to get a shot off.
- Too skylit: Hunters need immediate cover, but they need back cover, too.
This article on deer hunting was featured in the Midwest edition of August 2023's Game & Fish Magazine. Click to subscribe.