“He was the biggest buck I’d ever seen in my life,” a hunting friend told me when I met up with him in the woods. “The buck had at least 22 inches between his main beams and had well over 12 points on his non-typical rack, but somehow he smelled me. Although I’d taken a shower, left my clothes hanging outside overnight and squirted myself down with odor neutralizer, that buck still smelled me.” However, my friend carried a brand-new, shiny climbing tree stand on his back. I asked him when he’d gotten that tree stand. He told me with pride he’d bought it the day before and that today was the first day he went tree stand hunting with it.
Hunters may destroy their chances of taking a deer when they first buy a tree stand. Often, they purchase a stand the weekend before they plan to hunt. Then, they carry the stand to the hunting club in the box it came in and unpack it the night before the hunt. The first time the hunter takes that tree stand into the woods to hunt, the smells and sounds of that new tree stand will spook more deer than a group of sweaty sumo wrestlers trying to tiptoe through a briar patch.
What to Do with a New Tree Stand
Longtime deer hunters recommend never taking a new tree stand into the woods. Instead, as soon as you purchase the stand, carry it home, remove it from the box and hang it in your backyard to release the new smell from the stand. Also, spray some type of odor neutralizer on a new tree stand. Many old-time hunters use a mixture of turpentine and water as an odor killer to spray on a tree stand to give the stand a piney woods scent.
Also remember that tree stands may rattle, pop and squeak when you walk. So, before you hunt, put your tree stand on your back and move around with it. Listen for any sounds the stand makes. Unfold the stand. Attach it to a tree. Rock back and forth and side to side on it. If it squeaks, squirt some kind of lubricant on those places.
My friend Ronnie Strickland, vice president of Mossy Oak, explains, “When I’ve eliminated the squeaks, I next glue carpet to the base of my tree stand to muffle the sounds of my feet. I leave the tree stand outside for several days to allow any glue or lubricant odors to subside and then spray the stand with an odor neutralizer.”
Hunters will spook deer when deer smell or hear the hunter and his or her stand. Often a hunter may make the mistake when bow hunting or gun hunting of using a pull-up rope to lift bows, arrows or guns into his tree stand. Invariably, equipment bangs against the tree, catches on a limb or falls off the rope. When you buy a tree stand, purchase some type of a gun and/or a bow rack that allows you to attach your gun or bow to the stand and spray it with odor neutralizer. Then your equipment goes up the tree at the same time you do with less noise.
Where to Put Your Tree Stand
Choosing a good hunting location can also determine hunting success. Always select two or three different trees when scouting to place your tree stand in later. Early in the season, deer hunters are scouting when leaves are still hanging on the trees. Then, when they return to these areas they’ve scouted earlier to hunt a few weeks later, the leaves may have fallen off the chosen trees. They may be totally exposed if they climb the trees. However, if each hunter selects two or three trees for possible stand sites, then he or she will know which tree will provide the best back cover if the leaves do fall off.
When to Use Different Types of Tree Stands
Climbing Tree Stands – Most hunters buy one tree stand and attempt to use that stand under a variety of hunting conditions. However, avid deer hunters have learned that you’ll find a climbing tree stand most effective when you use it as a first-strike stand. After scouting and finding a place to hunt, leave your climbing tree stand there to hunt the following morning. You probably already have enough scent in the area from scouting to spook a big deer. The more times you use a climbing tree stand in a region, the less effective that stand site will be.
Once you’ve hunted, wait three days to a week before returning to that area to hunt again. The less time you spend in a spot and the less noise you make, the better your chances are to bag a buck there. Often the most successful hunters hunt from climbing tree stands in the morning and then scout until 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. If they pinpoint productive-looking places to go up trees while scouting, they hunt those spots in the afternoons. At dark, come out of the woods with the tree stands.
By using a climbing tree stand, you can climb into a tree and begin to hunt immediately when you find a place with plenty of deer sign. Climbing tree stands offer hunters the advantage of immediate accessibility to a high perch over active deer sign.
Fixed-Position Tree Stands – To hunt the same area for several consecutive days or a couple of times during the season, use a fixed position stand, if you can get to your stand quickly and quietly without disturbing the woods. If you locate a deer hot spot, you can hunt it throughout the season. Attempt to go to it without disturbing the woods. Pinpoint available water to arrive at or leave by water if possible. Also, pick a stand site that no one else will hunt due to the difficulty of reaching this place. You can leave your stand up all year if it can’t be seen and watch deer coming to and going away from your tree stand site in any direction on the edge of a thicket where the deer can’t see you.
Once you’ve decided which tree stand will best suit the area you hunt, you must determine the most productive spot to put that tree stand. If you place your stand in the general area where you see deer sign like tracks, popped hickory nuts or deer droppings, no matter how unimportant the spot may seem, you may bag a buck there.
How David Hale Hunts Hot Spots with Tree Stands
David Hale, of Cadiz, Ky., co-developer of Knight and Hale Game Calls, hunts Alabama during both deer and turkey seasons. He prefers to hunt places to take deer from his tree stand where he may not see trails entering or exiting or any bucks in the area. However, he believes hunting these sites sometimes will help you bag the biggest bucks in the region.
“I look for deep, dark, shady hollows with plenty of cover,” Hale explains. “Initially, you’ll see no reason for a large buck to frequent these hollows. However, when you go into these hollows, you’ll discover deer droppings, but perhaps no deer food. Bucks come to these kinds of places for sanctuary and to loaf.
“On cold, windy days, the hollows provide shelter from storms and shelter and cool temperatures on hot days,” he continues. “The bucks can stand up, walk around and move in these places without fear of hunting pressure. If a hunter climbs either side of the ridge, the buck easily can exit the bottom of the hollow or remain in this hidden sanctuary. Generally, no hunter will go into one of these ravines to search for deer. Since bucks arrive in these hollows to dodge hunting pressure in the middle of the day, I put up my tree stand there the day I’m hunting and hunt from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. in hollows.”
If Hale doesn’t locate a trophy buck in one of these deep-hollow loafing spots, he’ll then hunt trails in the mornings or afternoons. Hale doesn’t hunt the main trails most hunters take. He hunts secondary trails 20 to 50 yards off the main trails.
“Older age-class bucks rarely use the main trail other deer take,” Hale reports. “The older age-class buck trail will be dim and well away from the main trail. I’ll use my stand about 20 to 50 yards away from secondary trails.”
Hale also has developed a tactic to force large deer to come to him. Big bucks and most deer hunters have one thing in common – neither wants to expend any more time or energy than required to be successful. The trophy buck most often takes the easiest route around obstacles.
“I’ve learned by taking camouflage netting into an area where I expect to find a trophy buck I can create a funnel with the netting,” he explains. “If perhaps a 100-yard bottleneck is between a creek and a road, I can string the 3- to 4-foot high camouflage netting from the edge of the road to within 30 yards of the edge of the creek. Deer easily can jump over the netting, but instead of jumping over it, 95 percent of the time, the deer will walk around the netting. Using this tactic, I funnel deer in front of my tree stand and can place my tree stand where I want it, rather than where I must have it to get a shot at the deer.”
Hale suggests tying the netting from tree-to-tree, two to three weeks before you hunt to have the most success with this tactic. If you own property where you can funnel deer near a lake, a creek or a stream, you have the advantage of going to and from your tree stand by water. This strategy will leave less human odor and force the deer to funnel around your tree stand without their spooking.
Why Keep Your Tree Stand Away from the Deer
Tree stand hunters often create problems for themselves when they place their tree stands too close to the spots they expect the deer to appear. The farther away you put your tree stand from where you think you’ll see a buck, the better your odds for bagging the buck when hunting with a bow or a gun. Deer can see, hear and smell things within 10 to 15 yards of them that won’t bother them 25 to 30 yards away.
Don’t forget that a good bowhunter must be able to center a pie plate at 30 yards. So, if the hunter places a tree stand to have a 30-yard shot at a deer rather than a 15- to 20-yard shot, the hunter more than likely won’t spook the buck and will bag the deer.
A rifle hunter should be able to shoot a 3-inch group at 100 yards. Therefore, his or her chances of bagging a trophy buck will increase if he or she sets up his tree stand 100 yards from where the deer should show up than by placing the stand 30 to 50 yards from that place.
How Attention to Small Details
Many hunters are convinced they can shoot more accurately and spook fewer deer by sitting rather than standing to shoot. Gun hunters have learned to sit in their tree stands rather than stand in them when they shoot. However, bowhunters often seem to think they have to stand to shoot accurately. According to many top bowhunters, if more bowhunters will learn to shoot from sitting positions, they’ll make less noise, create less movement and bag more bucks with their bows.
Paying attention to small details will spell success when tree stand hunting. You need to know where and why a trophy buck will hold and move during daylight hours. Then you’ll bag more deer from a tree stand than from a ground blind. Try these tree-stand tactics this season and you might take the buck of a lifetime.
This article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.