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Whitetails: Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

Remaining at a deer stand site or moving to a new one is a big decision. Consider these points first.

Whitetails: Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

Moving a fixed stand, especially a ladder stand, requires a lot of work. Let in-season scouting, not impatience, guide you in your decision on where to move so you don’t waste the effort. (Photo by Bruce Ingram)

You knowthat feeling of doubt. You’ve been very careful about hunting a favorite tree stand site: playing the wind correctly, practicing scent control, not over hunting the area and taking roundabout paths to the spot. Deer traffic has been consistently good and perhaps you’ve even shot a nice buck or a plump doe.

And then it happens—the whitetail traffic dramatically decreases. At first, you believe it’s just random bad luck, but then you start to feel it’s time to move on. But should you? Here are points to consider.

Have Deer Food Sources Changed?

Food sources changing is often the number one reason a hot stand grows cold. But whether you permanently vacate that stand for the season depends on a host of factors. For example, let’s suppose a bumper acorn crop has occurred and your stand resides in a hardwood hollow where acorns still lie scattered about. A bedding area exists several hundred yards away; the stand site has experienced deer traffic both in the morning and evening the first several weeks of archery season, then mysteriously slows and shortly afterwards stops.

Assuming the rut is yet to begin, the reason for this is likely a hot, new, but temporary, food source has come into existence. Perhaps a soft mast food source had started to bear or a neighboring farm’s food plot or agricultural harvest is at its peak. In the South, those soft mast vittles might be grapes, persimmons, paw paws, and/or a host of other items. A food plot with apple or pear trees planted around the perimeter could be the culprit as could agricultural crops such as corn or soybeans.

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Regardless, the prudent strategy would probably be to abandon that stand until those other food sources dwindle. If you scouted your property during the pre-season, you’ll know what those soft mast menu items are and likely how long they will continue to affect deer traffic. Likewise, you should have an idea what is growing in nearby food plots or agricultural fields. In short, your red-hot stand site could return to its former glory in a few weeks. Don’t give up on it.

However, let’s suppose that the acorn crop has been spotty in the area around your stand site. Furthermore, the woods are fairly open, no nearby bedding area exists, and no soft mast sources have produced that autumn. This, too, is a fairly common occurrence and it happened last autumn on the land where my wife and I live. A favorite stand site is just 60 yards from our backdoor.

Last fall, for the first three weeks of bow season, the deer were constantly meandering by that stand and continued to do so until the acorns were consumed. But when the whitetails stopped coming, they never returned the rest of the season. Thankfully, I had enough sense to move on to other stands—and you should, too, if a similar situation exists on places where you hunt.

Wild grapes are an important soft-mast food source for deer throughout the South. The onset of ripe soft mast can at least temporarily change movement patterns of local deer. (Photo by Bruce Ingram)

Have You Overhunted Your Deer Stand?

There are two ways to overhunt a stand, and I’ve been guilty of committing both of these snafus. It was early in the season, the acorns had not yet fallen, and because of a rainy summer, a nearby food plot was lush with clover and other green delicacies. Moreover, a bedding area lies several hundred yards above the plot, and I had found the sweet spot where deer enter the opening.

On opening day, I was so confident of success that I told my wife to have our butchering and skinning knives sharp and ready for use. And at 6:15 that evening, my records show that I arrowed a doe that was about to enter the food plot. We butchered part of the whitetail that evening and finished the task the next morning.

I should have waited more than the four or five days I did before returning to the plot. I spent some time at other stands on another property, but deer traffic there was non-existent and I once again returned to my “hot stand.” The next three times I did so, I saw no or few deer—proof that I had overhunted the area. At one point, I even hunted the stand two straight days. I finally had enough sense to stop hunting the site for a fortnight or so, then returned and killed a huge, mature doe.

Takeaway points? I think it’s prudent to not hunt a stand for at least two weeks or preferably longer if you’ve killed a deer.


I also think it’s also wise not to hunt any stand, no matter how productive, more than once a week. Yes, I know that we’ve all read or heard of stories where a fortunate hunter hunted for a certain big buck from the same stand for day after day, then killed the broadbeam. But I don’t think that’s the percentage play for successful deer hunting, and I believe in the logic of percentages.

Does Your Deer Stand Site Seem Promising, But The Deer Traffic Isn’t?

A stand site may possess food, well-used trails and a nearby bedding area, and yet, when you sit the stand, you see few or no deer there. That is one of the most perplexing of all “where-to-hunt” situations and the most difficult one to decide how to correct. Here’s how I recently handled that situation with in-season scouting.

Last year, my son-in-law and I were alternating bow-hunting a stand site that is about an hour away from where we live. David was often aloft in the stand in the evenings; I was always there just in the mornings. The ladder-stand site has been famously productive for years, and I’ve shot numerous deer there over the years and so has David. We don’t feel comfortable leaving hang-ons or trail cams there because of past trespassing issues.

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Yet, neither of us were seeing any whitetails there last fall, let alone a nice buck. So one afternoon, I ventured to the property just to observe (not hunt). I went to the creek that runs through the property, specifically a spot where I could witness deer leaving the bedding area, but where they were very unlikely to see, smell or come near me.

About an hour before sundown, deer came streaming out of the bedding area. None of them turned toward the ladder stand, however, as they often did in the past. Instead, they all walked through a narrow corridor of evergreens toward a bottomland creek hollow that lies adjacent to a field. Likely, what the deer were doing was visiting the traditional stand site (thus the sign there) only after dark and spending their mornings and evenings either in the bottomland stream area or the field.

I told David what I had observed, and he took advantage of the new deer movements, arrowing a deer later in the season. Neither one of us was savvy enough to figure out why the deer had changed their long-standing travel pattern, but we were smart enough to change our stand site. So if a stand site should be productive, but isn’t, don’t spend time bemoaning your fate. Get up and go.

Every year, sometime during the season, most of us are likely be faced with the conundrum of do we stay or do we go? I hope my tips—and miscues—will help make the decision process a little easier for you this season.

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