Break In the Weather Offers Hunters Mid-Summer Opportunities
It looks as if Mother Nature has turned off the hose, the western wildfires have shifted direction and daytime temperatures are looking cooler than normal. It is about this time that many of us start the slow process to start thinking of hunting season.
I have begun by checking out the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website to double check on license sale start date and DMP numbers. Regarding DMP tags, the 2021-22 season numbers should be good-to-high for first selections, but the second selection of 9J has dropped from a high past couple years down to medium for state residents.
Either way there are more than enough deer for hunters to have some fun in the field this coming season and fill the freezer in the process.
Between verifying hunting ground — whether it’s new property or longtime property — it is always best to stop in and visit with the landowner. One never knows what happens in the few months regarding landowners, and you are hunting right on their property.
Whether you pursue whitetails with a gun or a bow, hunting from a tree stand yields the highest success rate of any technique by a large margin. Regardless of the time of the season and no matter where you roam, a tree-top ambush affords you advantages you would not normally have on the ground. In an elevated position, you can see further and your movement is concealed somewhat because you are out of their normal line of sight.
Let’s be clear, you cannot just nail a handful of 2-by-4s in the crotch of a tree and expect great results. Ambush location selection, site preparation, quality equipment and choosing an appropriate time to hunt the site all have a huge sway over how victorious you will be. As always, here are a few things that we have discovered over the years; feel free to use and fine tune for your tree-top perch.
Much of choosing the proper stand site has to do with the structure. In the same way that an angler finds their honey holes, hunters use the lay of the land and topography differences that confine or guide movement as keys to stand placement. As with most animals, whitetails travel from place to place using cover and terrain to their advantage. Learning to recognize the transition areas, access points and travel corridors is crucial to choosing “the spot.”
When looking to hang a stand in a new area — whether you have hunted the ground before or not — it is always best to focus on funnels. It doesn’t matter if you are hunting big timber, agricultural land or rural lots, there are funnels in your hunting area. With agricultural land and more populated areas, funnels are easily located because of the sections and manmade dividers, but there are bottlenecks everywhere. Wherever you can limit their movement to a smaller zone there will be more traffic, and if you can confine their movement to a smaller area, it is easier to position yourself to beat their astonishing sense of smell.
It is actually best if you can use both a satellite image and a topographic map. An aerial photo or satellite image will not show you the terrain breaks, so it’s difficult to tell whether it’s flat ground or a steep incline. Whitetails always want to take the path of least resistance or the safest from predators.
When looking over an area, I like to imagine it without any trees, brush or blowdowns. Look for the points, topography breaks, steeper angles, edges or turns that will force or encourage the animal to go one way or another. If you try and foretell their travel patterns this way first, when you add the physical obstructions back to the picture, it can sometimes seem obvious where they will pass through.
So many hunters never even consider the wind direction, whether the thermal is in their favor, if they can approach their site without being detected, and a dozen other details that will ultimately factor into their success. They hunt because they have the opportunity to hunt. The problem being, their target buck or other deer for that matter will often pattern them before they ever see the animal. It’s best to only hunt when the conditions are in your favor, or at least wait until the majority of the details back your success. Hardly ever will everything be perfect, but you must at least make sure the air current is right for your spot.
I know how you feel. We only get so many days to hunt each season, so we want to make the most of each opportunity. However, by making mistakes and hunting when the list of details favors the animals, we teach our quarry how to avoid us. If the conditions are not right, use that time to practice shooting, set up another ambush, scout a new location, deal with camera traps, prepare other equipment, glass a food plot or field edge, search for new properties to hunt or many other tasks that are also part of the hunt. This way prime ambush locations are not wasted just because, and the likelihood of harvesting the buck you’re after still exists.
Make sure you plan to hunt the site when there is the best chance for the buck to also be there. Many hunters lick their finger, stick it in the air, and set up downwind of an area with great sign. You must question, however, will the buck you are after ever want to spend time there with the wind blowing that particular direction? All the sign you have set up on may have been made under totally different conditions. Therefore I like to map wind directions and correlate them with my trail camera photos. As I have said many times before, I keep a log for year to year. It will give you an idea of what the pattern history has been for the area for your hunting area.
Often your scheme is blown before you ever reach your stand site. Getting there undetected is just as important as hunting during the right conditions. There are numerous deceptions we can use to help us make it to our stands undetected. Prepare silent approach trails and use cover scent or scent eliminator as soon as we leave the road, then again when we get on stand.
Take advantage of available cover and break up your silhouette. Using the available cover somewhat relates to tree stand height. In bald trees, I am more likely to go higher than I do in trees with good cover. Look for trees that lose their foliage late like red oaks, clusters of trees, or trees with a “Y” in the trunk to aid in concealment. A less-than-perfect tree stand tree with minimal cover in a good spot is better than the perfect tree stand tree in a mediocre spot.
Determine where the sun will be when you want to hunt the site. Do you like to look into the sun? Neither does a deer. In fact, we have a UV filter over our eyes, a whitetail does not. This makes it even more difficult for them to see while looking toward the sun. In my opinion, wind direction and cover are more important, but if you have a choice, position yourself up-sun from where you think the deer will be.
Pick a tree that will be easy to climb or make it simple to climb the tree you have chosen. If you have a great spot but you alert every deer within 500 yards by making a commotion while climbing to your platform, your great spot will go for naught.
When looking for a tree, stand away from the “perfect stand” and instead look for the perfect spot. Years of hanging thousands of tree stands has taught me one thing, the perfect tree and the perfect spot is a long shot. Finding the perfect spot with a tree that you can work with is more important than sitting in the perfect tree as deer file through the perfect spot.
The older I get the more I have warmed up to ladder stands. They are very popular for not only older hunters but for just about all hunters. They are a great choice for parents wanting to introduce kids to the sport because of the two-person models on the market. They are more difficult to transport but are reasonable to set up and quite simple to scale. With a little extra effort, it can be disguised to blend into the surroundings.
What about climbers? While I am not a big fan much anymore does not mean that they work for the right hunter in the right situation. In large timber lots of certain varieties of timber there can be a lot of straight trees with few limbs which is where these models shine. Using a climber means that if the wind switches or some other wrench is thrown into your plan, you can probably remedy the setback by simply choosing another nearby tree.
If you are going to hunt from a tree stand, practice from a tree stand. The higher you get the more drastic your shot angles decrease. The only way to know for sure is to practice from a tree stand.
If you are hunting from a ground blind, do you practice while kneeling or sitting? I call it “perfect practice.” I want to practice in the most realistic conditions possible. If it is early season, will you hunt with a mosquito net and if so, can you shoot with it on? During late season, practice with the same type of winter clothing you will be wearing while actually hunting. Don’t you want to know how you and your equipment will perform under similar conditions long before you are at full draw on a monster buck?
Next week we will go over a few more ideas that may help you out but always remember that before you take one foot off the ground make sure you are properly wearing a three-point body harness.