Will you hunt private land or public, and will your deer stands be permanent or portable? Those are the four P's you'll need to ponder for whitetail deer.
By Stephen D. Carpenteri
Early season bowhunters across the country are faced with the same basic dilemmas as we enter the 2017 deer hunting season.
Among many other variables of the sport, hunters must decide if they are going to seek their venison on private or public land, and then whether to use portable or permanent stands — or both!
There are pros and cons to each element but experienced hunters will recognize the positives and avoid the negatives, hopeful of ending the season with a fine trophy for the wall and a freezer full of meat.
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Here's a look at each of the "Four P's" and how they can be used to advantage this fall.
It's generally accepted among hunters that private land is the place to be for the best odds in deer hunting, and in most cases that is correct.
Gaining access to privately owned land usually means less competition, more freedom, the ability to manage the property by creating food plots and travel lanes to attract, hold and direct deer, while having unlimited access to every acre.
Also on the plus side, hunters using private property can place their stands anywhere they like and keep them there for the duration of the season. They can hunt any time they choose without worrying about other activities interfering with their hunt or other hunters showing up unexpectedly.
Deer on private lands are generally less pressured and, as a result, are much easier to pattern.
Bowhunting is, by nature, a secretive sport where silence and stealth give the hunter a decided edge over his quarry.
A lone hunter with full access to a plot of private ground is all but assured a successful hunt — most of the time.
In some cases, however, hunting on private land can be extremely restrictive, sometimes frustrating, and occasionally limited by the landowner's basic rules, desires or management plan.
For example, some landowners allow only buck hunting, or only hunting of bucks with antlers carrying more than 8 points. Some landowners won't allow hunters to bring a guest, while others won't allow hunting on weekends or holidays so that their friends and relatives can have a place to hunt.
Leased lands, too, can create serious issues for hunters by limiting hunting areas, hours, and stand locations, number of hunters, and species of game that may be taken, restricting guests or even requiring non-members to pay extra for the privilege of hunting and for any game they may take.
Anyone planning to bow hunt on private land should discuss all of these points with the landowner from the outset so there is no confusion about where, when or how a hunt can be conducted.
These days it is rare indeed for a landowner to give hunters free reign on their property even when permission is granted, so get that order of business out of the way on Day 1.
Hunting on public land, including state parks, state forests, wildlife management areas and the like, may be the only option for hunters who are unable to connect with a private landowner. All is not lost, however, if the hunter is willing to do his homework.
Scouting public land is mandatory because the concept of "multiple use" invariably includes management issues far beyond mere wildlife habitat. In fact, most state-owned or maintained lands are 80 percent forested, where few deer may be found, while the remaining 20 percent may be in grassland, brush, sapling stage, or wetlands.
Road access may be extensive on some of those properties and such amenities as beaches, picnic areas, parking lots and hiking trails can create problems for early season archers looking for a quiet, secluded corner of the woods.
Also, while public lands open to hunting allow unlimited hunter access during the various deer seasons, they usually do not allow the use of permanent tree stands, food plots, brush cutting (for shooting lanes) trail cams and other common hunting tools, or they restrict the use of these things.
Another advantage of hunting public lands is that most of these properties have been surveyed for habitat types, managed for the benefit of wildlife, and have downloadable maps with painted borders that are easy to find and understand.
The drawback to bowhunting on public land is that the property is open to the public, which can mean unexpected competition or interference from every direction. Not only will other hunters likely be using the property but horseback riders, hikers, joggers, bikers, dog walkers, fishermen, and many other "multiple use" fans will take advantage of the "public" aspect of the land.
Intensive scouting is the key to success on public lands.
The challenge is not only in finding good places to hunt deer but also determining how to get into and out of these places without detection — from deer or humans.
The basics for choosing a hunting area on public lands are the same no matter where you hunt: Get off the trails and roads, get into the thickest cover available, and use different routes of access and egress every time. It's not unusual for public land hunters to walk a mile or more away from a parking area or vehicle and then hike overland to a remote area that is rarely visited by other people. The harder it is to get to and the more difficult the terrain, the higher the odds for success.
To be fair, some great hunting can also be had in areas that most other hunters overlook, such as overgrown clearcuts, wetland areas or uninviting thick habitat that can be surprisingly close to parking areas or well-traveled roads and trails.
Deer hunters may have to become a little more creative when hunting hard-hit public lands. Scouting, of course, is the best way to find and consider these peripheral hotspots, but many times they offer the best deer hunting on a particular plot of public land.
For most hunters, permanent stands are the way to go on private lands. Extensive scouting will reveal heavily used trails, feeding or bedding areas, or the presence of copious buck sign that all but demands a stand be placed nearby.
Modern ladder stands make the chore of carrying in and installing a permanent stand much easier than in the old days, when hunters were forced to lug lumber, nails, screws and tools into the woods. These days few landowners will allow the use of wooden stands on their property and such structures are not legal on many public lands.
A permanent stand works for the hunter in many ways, first and foremost providing a comfortable, elevated place to sit and wait for a deer to come by.
Above the wind and out of sight of ground-level whitetails (usually!), a permanent tree stand gives early season bowhunters the edge they need.
Permanent stands should be installed well before the season opener to give deer time to get used to them. After a few days of inactivity, the whitetails will ignore the inanimate object and proceed as usual with their normal routines, but some deer — often the older does — will spot a hunter sitting in a stand that was empty the last time she saw it, and she'll let everyone know something is awry.
When that happens, the hunter is best advised to sit tight and let the agitated animal calm down. Don't move a muscle until she is out of sight. That's because her antics are designed to make the hunter reveal his position. Don't fall for it! Next time she'll show up and ignore or merely glance at the stand, and perhaps an attending buck will walk right on by as well.
The disadvantage of a permanent stand is that it is ... well, permanent. Once a 20-footer is set up and strapped in, the hunter is pretty much locked into hunting that area, which gives him a mere 40-yard field of fire. If, as the season progresses and after sitting in the stand a few times, it appears that the deer are moving farther east or west, or perhaps not at all, the hunter must decide whether to stay put, or move the stand to a new area, which can be a noisy distraction for whitetails as the rut approaches.
However, if a stand does not produce a shot or even a sighting, it's only common sense to move it to a new area and repeat the process. It's not easy to handle a heavy ladder stand or establish a new site in mid-season, but if there are no other options it's best to get the job done sooner rather than later.
One way to solve the tree stand problem is by using a portable climbing stand. These are generally lightweight, sturdy and easily transported.
The only issue is in finding the right tree to climb within range of the expected target zone.
Wooded areas generally offer countless options for a climber but in certain situations (farm country, grasslands or other treeless habitat) picking a tree to climb can be more challenging than finding a deer to shoot at in the first place.
In any case, select a tree that is amenable to climber use and, if necessary, backtrack along a trail, creek or other natural travel lane to a point where there is a high likelihood that a deer will pass by in range.
The most important advantage of using a climbing stand is that if the original site isn't working out, the hunter can climb down and move 50, 100 or 500 yards and be back up in a tree within a short time.
As the season wears on, whitetails will change their travel patterns as the available cover dictates.
If it's obvious that the deer are hanging back, diverting, or using other trails, it's an easy matter to move the climber to a new location.
In fact, it's not unusual for a bowhunter to change positions several times per day, especially if the wind shifts or the angle of the sun becomes bothersome. That is where portable stands really shine.
With all this in mind, there is one final piece of the deer-hunting puzzle for hunters to consider: time in the woods.
There is no sense in setting up a stand, permanent or portable, and then not hunting from it because it's too cold, hot, wet or dry. Get out there and hunt as often as possible.
The best stand site in the county, on public or private land, is of no use if the hunter is not there to take advantage of it.
Read more stories by Stephen Carpenteri