12 Steps to Filling Your Tag from Your Treestand This Fall
Hunting from treestands is one of the most time proven strategies for ambushing wary whitetails. Whether you’re hunting from a manufactured or homemade stand, 10 feet or 20 feet above the ground, there are certain preparations to be made and precautions that should be taken to maximize your chances for success while bowhunting this fall. Here are 12 pointers that will boost your chances of harvesting the deer of your dreams.
1. Keep Your Hunting Gear Scent Free
How we store and care for our hunting equipment and garments can have a significant influence on bowhunting success. When purchasing new hunting clothes wash them in scent-free detergent, which is readily available at most hunting stores, and hang them outside to dry (do not use a machine dryer with a scented fabric softener smell!). If possible, find natural cover scents that represent the location you hunt. For instance, if you’re hunting by an apple orchard, collect some apples to store with the clothing – but don’t leave them in there long enough for them to rot – a week should be plenty. Or, if you’re planning to set up near evergreen trees like cedar or pine, cut branches to keep with the clothing for a natural cover scent – these natural conifer cover scents should work sufficiently for most hunting scenarios. I place my hunting clothes in large plastic tubs that seal well enough to keep outside odors from entering while containing the masking scents that I’ve placed inside. The tub should have a few small holes to allow air flow and not trap any humidity.
2. Select Your Stand With Care – Always Keep Safety And Comfort In Mind
With the incredible array of treestands available on the market, it’s important to find one that suits your needs and will be comfortable. The size of the seat and footrest can vary considerably from one manufacturer to another – so make sure that you compare models before parting with the $$. Some brands have a weatherproof cushion attached to the seat – bonus comfort! Arm rests also reduce back and shoulder strain while adding considerable comfort for longer sits.
The method of ascent into the stand is very important to consider for safety reasons. Ladder stands offer the easiest climb (metal ladder attached to the stand), while others require you to purchase steps to attach to the tree. If this is the case, make sure that you place them on the tree close enough so that you never have to overextend your step as you ascend or descend. It’s far better to spend the extra dollars to purchase more steps to attach to the tree than to risk a fall. Always wear an approved safety harness and be tethered to the tree whenever climbing up or down.
Purchasing a back cushion that has adjustable straps and quickly attaches to a tree can also add significant comfort. Bonus Tip – on cold hunts an insulated back rest and seat cushion can be game changers when trying to stay warm.
3. Set Up Your Stand Weeks Before You Plan To Hunt
By hanging or constructing your treestand well before the hunt it gives deer time to become acclimatized to it. Give them a few weeks and they’ll ignore it by the time hunting season rolls around.
If I’m building a stand, I use pressure-treated wood for all support pieces. Also, keep in mind that homemade treestands are sure to weaken over time as the tree grows and sways in the wind and will require careful annual maintenance.
When selecting trees to hunt from I always look for a grouping so that there are additional tree trunks to breakup my outline. I also hoist my bow up and practice drawing it to ensure that there are no branches that could get in the way.
4. Add Concealment To The Stand
After hanging or building your treestand spend time to carefully fasten scent-free camouflage netting, or even better, attach some evergreen boughs to hide your outline (using zip ties or rope) – especially important for when the moment of truth comes as you draw your bow.
5. Choose Your Approach Carefully
When hiking into to your stand always keep the wind direction in mind, selecting the route that will cause the least disturbance. Avoid crossing open areas. Instead, skirt the perimeter of clearings or walk along a pre-planned route inside the edge of cover.
6. Always Use A Safety Harness
Undoubtedly the most important aspect to hunting, especially from a treestand, is safety. A fall, whether it be 8 feet or 20 feet can result in very serious injury. When hunting from any elevated position, always wear a safety harness. Modern harnesses are so lightweight you hardly realize you’re wearing one. It’s worth the added expense for one that is easy to clip into and supports each leg as well as your torso. The easier it is to use the more likely you’ll wear it everytime you’re in a tree.
7. Try A Climber Stand
If you’re fit enough, consider the incredible mobility of a climber stand – my personal favorite. The versatility is second to none and some models are downright comfortable! You can select whatever height you’d like to stop at and if the wind changes direction mid-hunt, no problem, just relocate to another tree.
You’re also not committed to one tree because you can select a different location for each hunt, preventing wary bucks from patterning you… bonus!
I might have 6 favorite trees / locations on a property that I’ve zoned in on for ambushing bucks – with a climber I only have to purchase one stand. Compared to setting up 6 attachable clip-on or ladder stands to keep all those options in play… resulting in less stress on the wallet.
When using a climber I use a waist or fanny pack to carry essentials like water, snacks, pruning shears, a small folding handsaw to cut away small obstructing branches, and hand warmers during late season hunts. Based on my experience, a waist pack is far easier to access and to accommodate in the limited space of the climber than a hunting backpack.
8. Cellphone Security
If there’s cell coverage where you hunt, make sure to carry a phone in case of emergency. Zip it into an easily accessible pocket. Turn off the ringer (silent mode) and resist surfing the internet while on stand…you don’t want to miss that one opportunity at a buck of a lifetime! If there’s no cell coverage make sure to hunt with a buddy, or tell someone exactly where they can find you (with a map) if you don’t return on time. Satellite communication devices like an InReach or Spot beacon can also provide that lifesaving connection in case of an emergency for hunting areas that don’t have cellular reception.
9. Take Optics
Binoculars can be very useful while on stand. With the aid of good pair of binos movement off in the woods or across the field can be easily scanned to confirm if it’s a deer and whether it’s a bruiser buck or a doe? If it’s a wall-hanger buck, we can employ the next tip (#10).
10. Try Calling And Rattling
Enticing bucks with the sounds of battle or by mimicking an alluring doe in heat can seal the deal for a lovesick bruiser. Before calling always make sure that you’re in a position that an approaching deer will have to reveal itself in one of your shooting lanes before being able to circle downwind – something that all wary bucks will try to do! This is why carefully selecting you stand location is so important!
I recommend a couple of doe bleats to kick things off. If there’s a buck nearby, they may be enough to draw him in. If after half an hour no deer appear then try a 20 second rattling sequence – gently at first – but make sure to grind those antler bases as well as tickling the tines – making it sound like a realistic shoving match. If after another half hour no buck shows up then repeat with more vigor – making it sound like an all-out battle! Then sit tight – if there’s a buck in the neighborhood it’s hopefully on its way.
11. Use Scent Lure
Spice your hunt up by adding deer scent lure. Try placing doe-in-estrous scent on and in the vicinity of an active scrape. Use a few small sealable plastic containers (old film canisters are ideal) filled with cotton that are doused in doe scent. Using elastics attach them to branches that are 5 feet off of the ground within 20 to 30 yards of the scrape. Hang them within range, on the downwind of your stand. Cap and collect them at the end of each hunt, as there’s no point leaving them there for a buck to discover when you’re gone.
12. Work A Decoy!
Few things match the hypnotic power of a deer decoy. If you’re hunting during the peak of the rut, a decoy can have great powers. A buck that isn’t already preoccupied with the company of a doe in heat will stop dead in its tracks upon spotting a decoy.
Keep in mind, whether or not you attach antlers to the decoy will influence a buck’s approach. If you set out the decoy as a doe the buck will come in with quite a bit of romantic interest and will usually circle around to approach it from the rear…something to think about when placing the decoy and considering the preferred shot angle to the vitals from your treestand.
If you set up the decoy with antlers attached then the attitude of an approaching buck will be aggression, and it will typically approach a buck decoy head-on!
A decoy can be a great distraction, holding the focus of an otherwise wary buck – I was able to draw my bow above a buck at 10 yards and it didn’t see me because its focus was on the decoy 20 yards in front of it.
BONUS TIP: Hunt All Day!
Persistence is one of the fundamental keys to bowhunting success. A full day in the field is good for the soul, it not only helps to slow things down and to put life into perspective, but it also elevates the odds of seeing a mature buck.
During the pre-rut and post-rut bucks are not only on the move for the first and last couple of hours of the day, but they’ll also get up and shake a leg around mid-day to feed briefly, have a drink, and move to a different day bed. For the 2-3 weeks of intense rutting in November bucks will be on the move 24–7 – so truly, with the exception of high wind and torrential rain, there’s no bad time to be in the bush during the rut. Not only that, you’ll probably see more deer, learn more about their movement patterns, and have a better chance of setting your eyes on the ghost of a mature buck that’s been haunting you since first appearing on your trail cam.
Mark Raycroft has spent the past 30 years traversing the continent during his career as a professional wildlife photographer, biologist, and author. Specializing in filming the icons of the north country, Mark is world-renowned for his images of heavy-beamed white-tailed deer, monster moose, giant elk, incredible caribou, full-curl mountain sheep, bears, and more!
Mark’s award-winning published portfolio includes hundreds of articles, thousands photos, and several books. Mark’s recent book “MOOSE: Crowned Giant of the Northern Wilderness” won 1st place from the Outdoor Writers of Canada.
Mark has been a Deer and North American Big-Game hunter his entire life. He believes that if one includes meat in their diet, the best route from field to table is harvesting one’s own food, fostering the respect and appreciation that comes with that ownership.
His work can be viewed and easily ordered as stunning prints, ready-to-hang canvases, and vivid HD metals on his website.