Hunting Clover Plots | Tree Stand Strategies
Spring is in the air and chasing white-tailed deer is likely the last thing on your mind, however, the spring months offer those who have a passion for deer hunting an opportunity to fine-tune the placement and positions of their deer stands. Deer hunting is a sport that requires a “trial and error” approach in order to be successful. Just about the time you think you have checked all the boxes, and you have your tree stand placed perfectly, and you have done your due diligence to address all of the variables, something unforeseen arises and it is back to the drawing board. Though it may seem frustrating, the constant grind that comes with punching a tag only helps to make success even sweeter and often teaches us a thing or two that we can apply to future hunts.
Tree stand placement is often a product of two things, the type of area you are hunting (funnel, bedding area, food source, etc.) and the available cover that you have to place a tree stand. These are certainly the “big bucket” concepts that most white-tailed deer hunters tend to adhere to, however, not taking the time to truly analyze the circumstances can often lead to mistakes being made. Often, tree stand placement along with other aspects of your overall hunting strategy can be fine-tuned if you are willing to take the time to dive a little deeper into the “when” and “where”.
Tree Stand Placement Tips
Spring is food plot season, and as such, clover food plots are usually the first thing on hunter’s minds. For good reason! Clover plots, if placed and hunted correctly can serve as perfected kill plots. Take this tree stand placement and clover plot tips into consideration.
Not Every Set Is Created Equal
Would ever you wear football pads to a baseball game? Hopefully, the answer is no! The point is that both football and baseball are competitive sports that are very similar. They both involve a team, they both occur on a field, and they both utilize a ball. Though they are similar, they couldn’t be any more different. The same can be said for each of your tree stand sets. Though you are hunting white-tailed deer from each location and set, each location and set are different in its own way. If you make the mistake of treating each of your tree stands as if they are exactly like the other, then chances are you are missing opportunities to fine tune your tree stand placement and add to add a few more tally marks to your harvest totals at the end of the year.
The Devil is in the Details
Sometimes, identifying the differences between tree stand sets can be tough. For example, if you have tree stands placed in a wooded draw on one side of the property, and a tree stand placed in a wooded draw on the other side of the property, you might argue that there is nothing that separates the two from each other, and in some cases you would likely be correct. That said, the devil is often in the details so before you make your assumptions that all tree stands sets placed in similar cover types are the same, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
The old saying “timing is everything” is certainly true when it comes to how you place and when you hunt your tree stand. Certain sets may see very little activity during the early part of the season, but turn on during the rut or late season. Likewise, you may have certain areas of your property that deer do not specifically use all the time, however, will pass through during certain periods of the year. It is scenarios such as these that separate the wooded draw on the east side of the farm from the wooded draw on the west.
Placing a tree stand is one thing, and hunting from it is certainly another. Understanding the timing in regards to when certain tree stands sets will likely have the most activity and when food plots are attractive can help you understand what your needs will be in terms of concealment. For example, if you are hunting a travel lane food plot such as a funnel or wooded draw staging area, that is exposed between crop or CRP, then the overhead cover is likely at a premium. Additionally, of you have an area like this that you tend to spend more time in after leaf drop, then you may want to keep the saw in the pack and resist the urge to cut too many branches out of the way. It is important to have a shooting lane, however, concealment is equally so.
On the other hand, if you find yourself hunting an early season set when the trees are still in full canopy, then you can likely get away with far more trimming and even a little more movement while in the stand than you could later in the year. Though many white-tailed deer hunters will say that they consider these points while placing their tree stands, it is important to spend some time to really consider them. If you slow down and spend some time truly evaluate your surroundings and understand the “big picture”, you just be surprised at how your original location will slide to the back seat and something new will jump out in front.
Placement over Clover Plots
Deer hunting over a green browse plot such as a clover plot is truly a special thing. There is just something about seeing a white-tailed deer cast against the lush, green vegetation of a clover plot that can get the blood pumping in the chest of any deer hunter. Clover plots provide an excellent opportunity to not only see a lot of deer during the early part of the deer season but to also catch a big mature buck prior to the rut. Green browse such as clovers provide white-tailed deer with an unbelievable source of nutrition, and with little effort on the part of the hunter, can produce an immense amount of biomass, most clovers reaching from 2,000- 3,000 lbs per acre, to help feed a large number of deer on any given farm.
Hunting over a food source such as a clover plot may seem fairly straightforward, however, when it comes to tree stand placement over these areas it can be a little trickier than you might it might appear.
Is it Early Season Hunting?
Hunting over a clover plot is typically early to mid-season activity. These areas can still produce white-tailed deer activity at all times of the year, however, once the season turns colder deer will begin to seek out forages that are more suitable for the conditions. It is important to keep in mind the conditions that you will be faced with when hunting during the early season as you begin to identify potential tree stand locations. As was mentioned previously, the foliage during the early to middle part of the season tends to be fuller. This is both a positive and a negative. It is a positive in that you should have plenty of covers to help you stay hidden and concealed, however, keep your shooting lanes clear and open can sometimes be very problematic and require attention many times throughout the offseason. The spring months are an excellent time to get out and begin considering tree stand locations and evaluating your shooting lanes.
Entry and Exit
One of the positive aspects of hunting a food plot that consists of forages like clover is that while mornings and evenings are likely the most active feeding times, white-tailed deer can and will literally utilize these areas at almost any point during the day. This unpredictability can also be a negative, as it can put extra emphasis on your entry and exit strategy. It is always important to have a way in and a way out of your stand that will keep you quiet and concealed. With a food plot such as a clover plot, this certainly the case, and then some. White-tailed deer will not only utilize these areas at any given point during the day but often will bed close by if suitable cover exists. It can be very challenging to make your way into these areas without bumping deer if you have neglected to do your legwork up front. Additionally, if and when you find yourself enjoying an evening hunt over a clover plot, be prepared to stay until last light. White-tailed deer, especially if they are unpressured, will tend to spend the majority of the evening in these plots, which can make it exceptionally difficult to exit without being seen. This helps to further emphasize the importance of an entry and exit strategy when hunting over your clover plot.
When placing a tree stand, a good rule of thumb is to not be any higher than you absolutely need to be. The height of tree stand is often a result of the location, the time of year it will be hunting and the concealment that is available. During the early season months, temperatures will often still be on the warm side. These humid conditions can greatly increase even the slightest odor, and can quickly cause you to be pinpointed. Early season food plots such as clover plots are areas where you may consider increasing the height of your set if that is an option. Increasing the height of your tree stand will help you with your scent control efforts, in addition to increasing your visibility. Just remember that there is no second chance for safety first, so always use a harness no matter if you are hunting from 10’ or 25’, a fall from a tree stand is serious so treat it as such.
When it comes to deer hunting over clover plots, there is no question about where the deer prefer to be, and that is often the center of the plot. This is often the result of a couple of factors, the first being what is known as the “edge effect”. The edge effect is a term that applies the edges of a food plot or crop field being less productive than they middle or center of the plot. This is typically caused by either a fertility issue or as a result of the nearby trees either shading out the clover or simply outcompeting the clover for nutrients. The key factor here is that this, ensuring that you have your tree stand set within shooting distance of the major entry and/or exit point of the plot is important. Often, white-tailed deer will head straight for the most productive area of the clover plot, and if you are not ready to strike quickly, you may have to result to simply watching deer rather than shooting one.
If you take a few these tips into consideration it will likely help you to not only recognize factors variables related to tree stand placement that perhaps you had not in the past, but they will certainly help you to be more successful in the white-tailed deer woods this fall.
Post Season Scouting for Whitetails
All the snow lately has probably got you thinking about one thing: how much you miss fall. Not just the amazing weather and sights of fall itself, but deer hunting too. Fortunately, hunting doesn’t have to end when deer hunting season ends (we’re not talking about poaching either). You can continue your pursuit to become a better hunter throughout the year, and there’s no better time than now for a post season scouting trip. If you’ve ever wondered when to start scouting for deer, you can start immediately after the season closes! Most people don’t think about scouting for deer in December or January, because it’s either too cold or they don’t see the benefit of it. But it’s really an ideal time to wander the woods and learn more about the animal you obsess about during the fall. Plus, it’s some good exercise to keep the holiday treats from sticking to your gut too much.
Why Post Season Scouting?
Scouting is one of those deer hunting 101 skills, and every hunter should be doing it to maximize their success rate. Similar to pre-season scouting, you can learn a great deal about the woods and whitetails to help you during your next hunt even if you’re scouting after the season ends. When used in combination with scouting before deer season, however, you can double your knowledge. Pre-season deer will have different movement patterns and behaviors than post season deer. So you should ideally combine these experiences to find the average behavior for your hunting area, and know where to target them as they transition throughout the season.
Another nice thing about post season scouting is that you really can’t do any harm from spooking deer. During the pre-season, it’s usually good to sneak around without disturbing bedding areas or alerting deer that you’re there. If you run into a bedded buck, you might hurt your chances at hunting him that season. But you don’t need to worry about that for post season deer. If you jump them from their beds, they’ll run away and have 8 to 9 months to recover from it before you would possibly be able to hunt them again. So feel free to tromp wherever you want.
Finally, the post season is a good time to scout because you can find out where the deer have been gathering in the last couple weeks of the season. Especially if there’s snow on the ground, you can easily see where they’ve been feeding, traveling, and bedding in your area. The frozen ground even allows you to inspect some swampy areas where reclusive bucks might hide out during the season. This allows you to set up predictive tree stands next year in the right spots without having to do much more than a quick reconnaissance scouting trip in the fall. The Big Game Tree Stands® Boss Lite fixed position stand is perfect for quickly hanging on one of those trips next fall. This time of year is a good one for clearing new trails or shooting lanes too, since there aren’t any bugs and the temperatures are cool.
Planning a Post Season Scouting Trip
You have a few options to plan out your scouting trip. You can either use your time to inspect your usual hunting spots and further pinpoint where the deer activity is. Or you could also try a new hunting area you haven’t been to before, to get a feel for the land and check for deer sign there. If you’ve got lots of time, you could easily check out several areas. Plan on a weekend for thoroughly walking a few hundred acres during one of these trips. You can obviously get by with less than a weekend. But if you find yourself crunched for time, you’re not likely to inspect every deer trail you come across that could lead you to a hidden oasis.
Many hunters wonder how to find a good hunting spot on public land, and assume it will takes miles of walking to figure this out. While you do need to walk a bit to confirm things, you should always start your post season scouting with some desktop research before you leave for the woods. You can use any kind of aerial maps for deer hunting purposes as long as you can see satellite imagery and zoom in fairly close. Use them to glance through your hunting area, looking specifically for areas you’d like to target. Identify the food sources and bedding areas you know about, and then locate likely travel routes between them, knowing that mature bucks will often take a very meandering route to stay out of sight. If it’s a completely new area you’re looking at, make your best guess at these spots. Some promising areas to look for include recent clearcuts, agricultural fields, small woodland openings, dense brushy riversides, or thick conifer stands.
As far as logistics for one of these post season scouting trips, you should pack light and wear lighter clothing than you think you might need for cold weather. You’ll be very active beating the brush throughout the day, so wearing layers of performance clothing can make a big difference in staying comfortable. You don’t want to sweat, so peel off layers or slow down if you find yourself perspiring too much. You may want to pack along an extra insulation layer or wind-breaking shell jacket in case you get stuck somewhere you don’t intend. If there’s a lot of snow, plan on using gaiters or snowshoes to make the experience more pleasant and keep your feet dry.
Otherwise, pack some water and a lunch to keep your energy and hydration up throughout the day. If you haven’t pulled your tree stands down for the season, now is a good time to do it before winter really sets in. If you have lock on stands, make sure you can carry them out with your extra gear. If you mostly have ladder stands, however, you’re going to need to recruit some help to haul them out. Toss a notebook, map, and compass in your bag too so you can record your thoughts and not get lost. It’s also always good to carry along some basic tools, especially if you plan on doing any habitat work. You can easily pack a serrated hand saw or some ratchet shears should you need them.
The only caution with post season scouting is to not wait too long. As winter really grabs hold, the temperatures plummet and the snow piles up. Whitetails in many areas tend to migrate to better wintering areas, called deer yards, where there is food nearby and thick cover to protect them from winter winds. Whether they migrate near or far, their patterns will be different. Step into a cedar forest in mid-winter, and it will look like there are hundreds of deer per acre. But the same hot spot will likely be pretty barren during early season deer hunting. The point behind post season scouting is to catch deer patterns while they’re still applicable to hunting season.
Where and What to Look For
If you’re still wondering exactly how to scout for deer in the winter, you should start with some high percentage spots to make the rest of the trip successful. As we mentioned above, food sources and bedding areas are great places to start your deer scouting. A whitetail’s world this time of year revolves around these two things. If you’re not sure about where these spots might be or don’t know how to find deer in the woods, start wandering some ATV/snowmobile trails until you cut a track. Either way, you should start looking for deer trails entering and leaving the areas above or crossing the trail. After finding some with buck tracks in them, start the tracking process. If you don’t know how to track a deer for a few hundred yards, you really need to try it. You can discover all kinds of interesting things about deer behavior by learning where they go, what they stop to look at, what trees they browse on, etc. Very often, they will take strange routes that lead you to a new area you wouldn’t expect them to bed, which is great information for next year. Patterning big woods bucks can be challenging, given the vast acreage involved and seeming lack of food. But that’s when following a buck’s trail really pays off. Use your journal and map to record notes on what you find and where you find it.
The really critical thing you should look for on one of these post season scouting missions is a good-sized travel corridor you could set a tree stand in. The best tree stand placement for most of the deer season will be concealed along a deer trail. If you’ve been puzzled with how to find a good deer hunting spot before, simply keep an eye out for other deer sign and pinch points as you track your deer from food to bed or vice versa. Finding deep woods bucks is easier when you can see their large tracks in the snow. If you see a history of rubs on the trees along a buck trail, it’s likely that this buck or others have used the same route before. If at any point the trail gets narrow against an opening, a fence line, or a brushy point, you might have found a good place for a tree stand. Particularly if there are mature trees with good cover (e.g., big conifers, oaks, maples, etc.), you should record the spot as a place to re-visit next fall with a trail camera. That way, you can analyze what kind of deer movement is still there next year before you hunt it.
While you’re out post season scouting, you should also keep an eye out for other work you could get finished. For example, if you feel confident you have found one of your new deer hunting spots and will put up a tree stand in a the area next fall, grab those ratchet shears and saw and start pruning out an access trail and shooting lanes to save on the work you’ll have to do next year. It will grow in quite a bit throughout the summer, but there shouldn’t be anything heavy in your way to slow you down. That’s good since you want to remain discreet in the fall and make as little a disturbance as possible. Depending on where you hunt, deer can get spooked by fresh cut trees in the fall.
If you’re on private land where you are allowed to cut even more, you may want to consider doing some quick and dirty timber stand improvement to see more deer while hunting. If the property you’re on is lacking in quality winter cover (i.e., consists of mostly mature trees), you may want to consider doing a few quick hinge cuts. Hinge cutting is best done on trees that are 6 to 7 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh). If they are larger than that, you’ll reduce the chance of it hinging properly and make it unsafe to do too. Use your serrated saw to cut halfway through the tree trunk on the opposite side of whichever direction you want it to fall. Gently guide it down as best you can so that it doesn’t break off from the base of the tree. This remaining connection will provide some water and nutrients to the tree top for another year or two, which will keep it alive and producing buds and leaves. Treetops make excellent deer browse in the winter, because the buds and smaller twigs are much softer and more nutritious than coarse, woody growth below. Cutting a tree along a trail produces more food for them as they walk between food and cover, which may even stall them long enough for a shot next fall. But it also helps them this winter by providing some easy-to-reach food and cover. Some good trees to try hinge cutting include maples, basswood, aspens, and beech.
Don’t Miss Post Season Scouting
This year, don’t miss out on the opportunity to make next deer season more successful. Post season scouting is a good way to spend a winter day, even if you don’t find the perfect spot to hang a tree stand. Use these deer scouting tips to check out some new areas or learn more about your property. Getting back out in nature for a while to explore the woods is never a waste of time.