The Search for Shed Antlers and the Stories They Tell
It’s that time of the year again. Shed hunting season may have made its arrival unnoticed to some, but it hasn’t escaped our attention. Far from it. When you’re a deer hunter in February and you’re already looking forward to opening day of archery season, it’s usually the perfect shot in the arm to limp us along and fuel our passion. Looking for shed antlers can be a very time-consuming and frustrating hobby, but it can also be an extremely fun and addicting one. Fortunately, shed hunting has other benefits beyond the possible promise of finding a nice shed antler for your collection in the living room. You can also learn a lot about the woods and become a better hunter in the process. We’ll look at a few ways you can improve in the shed hunting 2017 season.
But first, what is it about shed antlers that captivate us so much? After all, they’re really just bones at the end of the day. There seems to be something special about their shape and texture that capture our imagination. It blows our minds that something so beautiful could be formed randomly on the head of an animal through the deer antler cycle and then be simply discarded one day. Maybe it’s because they can be so hard to find sometimes; rodents and other people love them. Their scarcity makes them valuable to us. Private landowners who have had a history with a certain buck over a few years tend to get really obsessive over finding the matching set every year. It’s no wonder why they love to collect them. Yet those who primarily use public hunting land and have never seen a buck or have any history of the property are just as happy finding a shed. No matter what your circumstances, finding shed antlers is a lot of fun.
How Does Looking for Shed Antlers Help You?
But there’s more to shed hunting trips than actually finding antlers. A day in the field or woods is always a chance to learn something new. It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new hunter or a seasoned veteran; there are always new things to learn. Here are a few ways that shed hunting can make you a better hunter before next year swings back around again.
First and foremost, hunting for shed antlers is basically just another way to do some post-season scouting. Without the fear of bumping deer, you can wander wherever your heart desires. Do you have an area you usually stay out of so you don’t bother the deer there? That spot is now fair game to look for shed antlers right now. The winter conditions also make it possible to explore some typically unreachable areas, such as swamps and bogs, which usually end up being great winter cover for whitetails. During your hike, take note of any prominent areas you’d like to keep in mind for next hunting season. For example, you might find a remote clearing the deer like to congregate in that you never knew was there. Or if you notice lots of deer trails converging on a single field access, you might want to hang your Guardian XL ladder stand there next summer. It’s big enough to easily handle two people, which is great for taking your child along.
Second, shed hunting can be a lot of work. On heavily pressured public lands, you might walk for hundreds of acres and never find a pair of whitetail deer antlers. The odds can be increased on private land where you can control the habitat and who accesses it at what times, but it’s still a lot of walking. This is good because it challenges your body to keep up with the rigors of navigating the woods. We have a tendency once deer season closes to relax at home instead of continuing to explore the forest. This makes it harder to get going again the next year when hunting season begins. If you continue that trend for several years, you’ll be in much worse shape than you should be. This is one way to reverse that trend.
Finally, spending time in the woods is the best way to become a better outdoors person. The more time you spend in it, the more you will learn about wild animals and their habits and habitats. When you learn more about your prey animal, it’s easier to hunt them because you know what they need and where they like to live out their lives. Finding deer sign and knowing how to interpret it is easier too. This really pays off when you’re carrying your tree stand in to hunt and need to make a quick decision. The Boss Lite is a great fixed position tree stand that you can use on those kinds of hunts.
How to Find Shed Antlers
While it’s true that shed hunting can be a lot of work, there are ways you can go about it more intelligently and successfully. Here are a few shed hunting tips for you to have a higher success rate this winter.
Before you head to any public property, make sure you know the shed hunting laws in your area. Most public lands allow you to collect shed antlers, but there are a few places that may not, such as scientific and natural areas or wildlife preserves. Luckily, the process of finding a shed is very simple (in theory). You just need to pick an area and walk around with a keen eye to the ground. Don’t forget to look up every once in a while though to scan the woods around you. If you focus on the ground too much, you might walk right by a shed laying only ten feet away.
Finding shed antlers consistently is all about timing and location. If you can hit the magical combination of the two, you shouldn’t have any problem finding at least a few antlers. If you miss one of these two, you might get lucky occasionally. But if you miss both, well, at least you’re learning more about the woods and becoming a better hunter, right?
Where to Find Deer Sheds
Start your search by focusing on location. Deer stay bedded for most of the day in the winter, which conserves their energy and keeps them from exposing their bodies to the weather. In very tough winter conditions, deer typically seek out bedding areas with thick thermal cover to protect them from icy cold winds. This cover is usually in the form of conifer plantations with plenty of low-growing branches (i.e., spruce is better than pine), dense young forest regeneration, or dense herbaceous areas (e.g., cattail swamps, switchgrass plantings, etc.). If you can find an area like that with a sunny southern exposure, you stand an excellent chance at finding some shed antlers. Field edges are another common bedding area and a great place to look for sheds. In fact, bedding areas are probably one of the best places to find shed antlers, period.
Of course, deer also spend a good chunk of their day feeding, which is why it’s one of the other best places to shed hunt. There likely won’t be many food plots available, unless you keep some uncut standing corn or beans for the deer. More likely, deer will feed on browse to get them through the winter. If there is a young forest regeneration area (i.e., recent clear-cut), there will be loads of young browse species for deer to feast on. Additionally, there will be lots of thick branch tangles to potentially pull antlers loose as they feed.
You will occasionally find a shed antler along a trail between a bedding area and feeding area, but there usually needs to be a cause for it. For example, when deer have to jump up and over a log, the landing force can sometimes rattle an antler loose. Pay special attention to obstacles along deer trails for that reason. But use trails more as a method to get from the bedding area to the feeding area and vice versa.
When to Shed Hunt
The second prong to the shed hunting approach is timing. Unfortunately, when to go shed hunting is a much trickier variable to peg down because it varies with your area of the country. Shed hunting in Minnesota, for example, will usually take place during a very different time than Georgia. It all depends on the local conditions and the environmental stresses that deer feel, which all influence when they drop their antlers. Across the country, prime shed hunting times will generally start around mid-January and continue through the end of February, though they can be much earlier or later than that. Because of that variability, the best time for shed hunting is whenever you can spare the time. If it overlaps with the ideal timeframe above, that’s even better.
The Real Purpose of Antler Hunting
Finding shed antlers definitely takes some hard work and determination. You might get lucky a few times, but more often than not, it just takes a lot of miles walked to find them. But even if you don’t find one, don’t get discouraged by it. The reality is that you won’t find them all that often. They’re kind of rare, remember? As we started the article with, the overall point of shed hunting is not to amass a crazy wall full of sheds. It’s to get outside and learn a new thing or two about the world we miss as hunters once hunting season closes. We can always improve the world we miss as hunters once hunting season closes. We can always improve the way we hunt in some way or another. Shed hunting is the solution you’re looking for.
Where You Should and Should Not Use Tree Stands
We’re pretty sure that you’re aware of it, but just in case, archery season is almost upon us. Lucky hunters are starting to post pictures of big velvet bucks they’ve already tagged. And those of us whose bow seasons aren’t open yet are going a little stir crazy watching them. Now is the time to hang our tree stands and fine-tune our archery form as we prepare for opening day.
What is it about the early season that’s so enticing? After all, it’s usually still pretty hot for hanging tree stands, the bugs haven’t yet disappeared, and the vegetation is still so thick that you feel like you’re hunting in a jungle. It’s not at all like the cool weather and fall colors we associate with hunting season. The first month of the early season has its challenges to endure. But the simple fact is that the early season may be your best bet at shooting a truly big whitetail.
During the summer, bucks are just about as predictable as they will ever be. Forming bachelor groups, these bucks consistently travel from bedding areas in the day to feeding areas in the evening and then back to their bedding areas. Rinse and repeat. There’s not much variation, nor much of a reason for them to change it up. We really don’t enter the woods very much to disturb them during this time and so there’s no human pressure to influence their behavior. This summer pattern is so predictable and the deer are unsuspecting enough that many a hunter has put a Pope and Young whitetail on their wall because of it. That doesn’t mean it’s so easy that anybody can do it though. It takes discipline and precise deer hunting stand placement to pull it off. To know exactly where you should hang your tree stands, deer sign is usually the best indicator. Let’s look at some commonly discussed sign that you may want to use this archery season.
Types of Deer Sign You’ll Find in the Early Season
Since bucks have much smaller home ranges during the summer and bed in fairly close proximity to food sources, you can bet that any fresh deer sign you find means there’s a deer nearby. If you’re seeing buck tracks and scat along a trail from the food source, for example, he’s very likely to return. Though bachelor groups tend to switch things up now and then by using a slightly different trail, you should be able to set up near enough for a shot. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
If you’re hunting a farm field, there are probably hundreds of deer tracks covering the ground in every direction. As deer enter these fields, they mull around finding the best and most palatable forage. That could take them all across the field and back again, like hairy lawnmowers. It might seem like this kind of sign is useless for a hunter. Out in the middle of the field, it probably is.
But if you look at deer trails on the field edge, this is where things can get useful. Try to sneak in during the mid-morning hours for a little reconnaissance, paying attention to the wind direction so that you don’t spook any bedded deer nearby. Look for fresh tracks from the morning feeding, paying attention to which direction they’re facing. If you find lots of tracks leading away from the field on a certain trail, you can bet that the deer are bedded within a few hundred yards of that spot. You can ignore the trails with tracks facing towards the field, as that was where they entered the prior evening. Remember, buck groups will change the trails they use from time to time. Your tree stands should be near the trails with the most recent activity.
Similar to tracks, you might not think much of a pile of digested beans. After all, you already know that deer are near and on the field fairly consistently. But scat is one of those deer hunting secrets that can tell you much more. Do does and bucks tend to have different types of scat/pellets? Some hunters will swear up and down that pellets are produced by does and clumped piles are from bucks. But the evidence from penned deer doesn’t really show this to hold up consistently. What does hold true is that the type of food the deer are consuming has a large effect on the resulting scat. Deer that are consuming lush green soybeans, soft mast, grasses, or forbs tend to have wetter, clumped piles of scat, while deer eating much drier browse (e.g., maple branches, acorns, etc.) have pellets.
Using this information, you can hone your whitetail deer hunting strategies a little more precisely. If one of the trails has a lot of pellets along it, you can bet that deer are also browsing somewhere during the day before they get to the field. Depending on the type of habitat around the field, you may be able to guess where they are bedding. For example, if you only have mature trees and grassy cover nearby but there is a thicket of young browse species a hundred yards away, you can probably guess that the deer are bedding near that thicket during the day.
Unless it’s very early in the summer, you probably shouldn’t be walking through strict bedding areas unless you want to put bucks on alert and ruin the nice summer pattern they’re following. But if you feel the need to explore the trails leading away from the food source, there’s a lot to learn at your own risk. As you walk along near the food source, you should pay attention to any beds nearby. These may just be temporary resting areas during the night as the deer feed. But as you get further away from the field, you’ll probably start to see smaller beds, which are does and fawns, first. You’ll likely bump deer out of there as you push further into the woods. Further on, you should find buck beds, which will be larger in size than the doe beds. If you find a series of beds with piles of scat around, you can bet you’ve found a bedding area.
Every hunter’s favorite thing to find in the woods, rubs are a sure sign there is a buck in the area. They may be on finger-width sprouts or fence pole-sized trees, and the size of the tree does not necessarily correlate with the size of the animal. Though generally, larger bucks will be the only ones rubbing truly large trees. You can also estimate the size of the deer and it’s antlers by studying the rub a little more closely. For example, if there are deep gouges into the wood and the bark is frayed from one to four feet off the ground, the buck likely has a very strong neck, has a large body, and probably has sticker points that are cutting deep into the wood. Bucks tend to choose smooth or aromatic trees for rubbing, likely because it is easier and helps hold the buck’s scent a little longer. Such trees include aspens, maples, cedars, and pine.
Really early in the season, bucks will still be in full velvet, and they will be careful to not touch their antlers against trees during this time as they are sensitive. So rubs won’t help you much during this time frame. But as fall approaches, they will start to rub against trees to help scrape the velvet away from the hardened antlers underneath. At this point, it’s time to start hunting deer rubs. If you’re wondering how to read deer rubs, you can determine the direction of travel from them by looking for patterns. For example, if you notice a rub line that is all rubbed on the side facing away from the field, you know that buck is rubbing trees on his way to feed in the evening. You can set up your tree stands on the downwind side of one of these trails in the afternoon, and wait for him to come walking down the trail in the evening.
If rubs get people excited, then scrapes drive them nuts. Scrapes are made by a deer when they paw the debris from the forest floor to expose the dirt underneath. They use several glands to leave their scent in it, including the gland between their hooves when they’re digging, the tarsal glands as they urinate into the scrape down their legs, and their pre-orbital gland as they rub their face/eyes on a licking branch above the scrape. There’s a lot of information being exchanged by these hormones.
Deer use scrapes like we use a bulletin board or online forum. It’s a way for animals to keep in touch about who is in the area, when they were there last, and when they are receptive to breed. Bucks use them to mark territories once the rut starts, to a degree, but they also use them for establishing a social hierarchy early in the season. As far as how to find deer scrapes in the early season, look along habitat edges (i.e., where field meets forest, where swamp meets thicket, etc.). Deer like to use habitat edges anyway, and so it’s a natural spot for a scrape to act as a message board.
If you don’t find any natural scrapes in your area, you can make your own mock deer scrapes, which can be very powerful if used near your tree stands. These are simple imitations designed to fool a deer into checking it out. Making mock scrapes for deer is really simple to do. Find a tree with a branch about four feet off the ground, and scratch up the dirt so that there is some fresh overturned soil and little debris in it. Use a stout tree branch instead of your boot to scratch the dirt so you can keep your scent out of it. As far as when to make mock scrapes, deer are drawn to the fresh smell of soil any time, so you can use this tactic any time. You can add deer urine to the scrape if you wish, but make sure it’s just deer urine in the early season. A full doe-in-estrous scent in September would probably raise some flags. Hunting mock scrapes can be done by placing one just upwind of where you expect the deer to enter a food source. Bucks should enter the field, immediately smell the dirt, and turn to investigate it. This allows a perfect quartering away shot with the deer looking down and in the opposite direction.
Where to Hang Your Tree Stands
We’ve covered the common types of deer sign you’ll find in the woods and what role they play in early season whitetail deer hunting. Now let’s transition into using this information for a successful hunt. As we mentioned, the best early season tree stand locations will be located on or near food sources (e.g., row crops, hayfields, hard/soft mast trees, etc.). If it’s a particularly droughty year, setting up your tree stands near water sources for afternoon sits can be a great place too. Deer will generally take a drink before and after eating.
If you can glass an agricultural field from a distance, this is the best way to scout because you won’t spook deer. But if that’s not possible, you can also use trail cameras to spy on them, only checking them once before you decide to hang your best bow hunting stands. Or you can hang some observation tree stands near enough to the food to see, but far enough away to not be noticed. As you bring your climbing tree stand in, you can also do some very quick and stealthy scouting near the food source for deer rubs and scrapes.
Speaking of which, lightweight tree stands like lock on stands and climbers are great at setting up quickly for an afternoon hunt. You can easily bring in a lock on stand with climbing sticks and set it up with your deer stand ratchet straps in no time. The Big Game Tree Stands® Outlook climber tree stand is light to carry and great for aspens or other trees with very few branches lower down. You might already have permanent box blinds set up with shooting lanes or set over food plots, which would also work great for early season deer hunting.
Any way you can distract deer as they enter a food source, the better off you’ll be. As we mentioned, using mock scrapes will grab a deer’s attention and focus it elsewhere while you prepare for a shot. The problem with hunting right on food sources is twofold. One, there are usually many pairs of eyes watching from the field, so you’ll need to be hyper-aware of minimizing your movements. Two, it can be hard to leave a feeding area in the evening if it’s a destination area. Smaller food plots and staging areas are a good solution to both of these problems. They don’t allow many deer to be there at the same time, and deer will generally feed away from your tree stands as they move onto larger fields.
Should You Use Sign This Season?
If you’ll be hanging tree stands soon for some early season bow hunting, paying attention to deer tracks, scat, beds, rubs, and scrapes will definitely help you to pinpoint your tree stand location. Follow the tips above, and you could be looking down at a velvet buck with your name on it.
Cutting Shooting Lanes While Hanging Tree Stands
If you’re used to hanging tree stands in thick woods, you know the value of shooting lanes. Without them, you might be able to see a mature whitetail buck moving below you, but you could not ethically take a shot at it; this is especially true if you’re bow hunting. While natural openings work well enough in some forested settings, some are not well-suited for this. Some examples could include young aspen or conifer forests, which grow too densely together or have too many lower branches to effectively take a shot through them.
Conventional wisdom is to wait until the week before deer season opens before hanging tree stands and clearing new shooting lanes or cleaning up existing ones. This can be a problematic situation. Deer are far more familiar with their environment than many realize. Imagine if someone knocked down one of the walls in your house or cut down one of the trees in your yard. You’d realize it pretty quickly, right? Deer know their surroundings very well and can notice when something looks different. They can also smell the freshly-cut trees lying around with whatever other scent you leave behind. Depending on where you live, this might not bother them all that much or it might put them on high alert. For example, suburban deer might not hesitate to move through a disturbed area like this, but big woods bucks would certainly be suspicious of the area for several days, if not longer.
A better strategy is to go out in the mid-summer months to cut new shooting lanes and clean up old ones. If you hunt on private land, this is also a good time for hanging tree stands. Then, a week or two before the season opens, you can simply go check everything to make sure the lanes are still open and in good condition. Unless a tree falls within them, they should only require minimum work (and thus disturbance) to finish them. But first, let’s take a step back.
Planning Your Shooting Lanes
Before the chainsaw or pole saw comes out into the woods with you, you need to do some quick thinking. For help visualizing how the shooting lanes will fit into the surrounding area, use some desktop scouting software to map it out before you cut anything. Ideally, you should also climb into your tree stand and picture the best direction for a shooting lane to go. Which way would be the most advantageous for a quick shot? Also, how many do you plan to cut? You want to walk the fine line between not seeing enough ground and having too many lanes. Though each tree stand location will vary in its shooting lane requirements, a good rule of thumb to start with would be at least 2 to 3 lanes per stand. This way, you can cover three different directions to accommodate different deer travel patterns. Be sure to remember this every time you are hanging tree stands.
The ultimate design or layout isn’t really important – it just depends on what you’re willing to do and how much the deer would be disturbed. If you’re going to cut a series of larger or longer shooting lanes, it’s best to do it now so whitetails have time to settle down and get used to the new openings. The simplest option is a basic V-shape extending out from your tree stands, so you can see in two different directions. Theoretically, if a deer walks in front of your stand, you should get one opportunity to spot the deer and one to shoot it with a quartering away shot. However, another popular option is the hub and spoke design, where there are several shooting lanes radiating out in every direction from the tree stand. This allows a hunter to intercept deer along any of these paths.
The ultimate length of each shooting lane will depend on your goals for that location too. For example, if you plan to only bow hunt from a given area, you really only need lanes that are at your maximum ethical shot distance. For most, that would be 40 to 50 yards in length. This helps you gauge distance without a range finger, and eliminates any temptation to take a longer shot. But if you plan on hunting with a rifle, you could easily have 200 yard lanes in front of you.
Trimming While Hanging Tree Stands
As we mentioned, the best time to cut these lanes with the least impact is when you’re hanging tree stands. It doesn’t really matter which type of hunting tree stands you’re setting up. But if you’re going to go through the effort of cutting shooting lanes, it goes without saying that you should probably hunt it more than just once or twice out of climbing deer stands. The best tree stands for these lanes would be something more permanent, such as ladder stands. The Venture ladder stand has a wide, curved platform with a matching seat so you can watch several shooting lanes around you.
First, climb into your deer stand and locate the direction you chose earlier. Now pick a landmark tree off in the distance along your intended path. Stay between your tree stand and that landmark as you cut, which should produce a straight shooting lane. You can use a chainsaw for larger trees, but a simple hand saw and pair of pruning shears/loppers is usually all that’s needed for saplings and brush. Inevitably, there will be branches from larger trees extending into your shooting lanes that would interfere with a shot from up in your lock on stands. An extendable pole saw is invaluable for these situations.
How to Enhance Your Shooting Lanes While Hanging Tree Stands
Instead of simply piling the cut branches and brush off to the sides of each lane, consider using them to enhance your tree stand concealment. Wary whitetails often look down each side of a shooting lane before entering it. Your tree stands will really stick out if you don’t use some natural camouflage. Use zip ties or twine to attach some of the branches to your tree stands, which will break up your outline in the tree. Bring along a portable tree saw when you hunt, just in case something shifts in your stand. You can also prop cut trees up against your tree and attach them to the base so your single tree looks like a clump.
Additionally, deer will sometimes use shooting lanes as short-distance travel routes since they offer the path of least resistance. But sometimes they will bolt right across them since they have no real reason to stay in the open. There are a few hunting methods to counter this tendency. The first would be hanging a scent wick where you want them to stop within the lane, and applying your favorite deer odor to it. Another, where legal, is to use a mineral block near the end of the lane to catch early season bucks.
Planting small food plot strips along your lanes is also great to hold them still long enough for a shot, this is something you should keep in mind when hanging tree stands and trimming shooting lanes. Provided your lanes get enough sunlight, simply use some herbicide on the existing vegetation, being sure to use one that will kill cut tree stumps (e.g., triclopyr) as well as the herbaceous growth (e.g., glyphosate). After letting the herbicide work for a few weeks, go back in and expose the soil using a hard-tined rake, roughing up the surface a little in the process. Broadcast seed that can handle your local soil, sunlight, and water conditions. Perennial clover varieties should work great on shaded trails with less-than-perfect soils. Remember, you’re not trying to make these shooting lane food plots into lush, ultra-attractive plots. Instead, you simply want deer to pause for an opportunistic snack while they’re walking through. Therefore, you don’t need to spend a lot of time and money making them look like one on TV.
You probably didn’t think much about shooting lanes when hanging tree stands before, except that they might give you a better shot at a deer, if you were lucky. But if you use the tips above, you should be able to increase their effectiveness many times over to put luck on your side.
Deer Hunting in Bad Weather with Tree Stand Umbrellas
Year after year, whitetail hunters will endure many trials and tribulations throughout the season. Highs and lows, misses and hits, busted hunts and successful hunts. While these are normal for a whitetail hunter to endure nothing compares to the one thing hunters deal with on a daily basis….the weather. Deer hunting in foul weather is not fun. High winds, rain, sleet, snow, and/or hail is all weather that deer hunter’s battle. You know it is coming this deer season, there is no way to avoid it, so the best thing you can do it plan for it by grabbing tree stand umbrellas. When the tree is swaying, the rain is sideways, and you’re getting cold, tree stand umbrellas could be your saving grace.
Predicting the Weather
If you are a deer hunter, you most likely dislike, potentially swear at the weather man quite often. Predicating the weather is hard and yes nearly impossible from the inaccuracies of weather channels and the news channels. As whitetail hunters it is good to be prepared as much as we can, and as much as we hate it, it means relying on the most accurate information you can get. Most deer hunters in this case turn to Weather Underground. This can show a hunter everything he needs to know to plan and go hunting. This includes, temperatures, pressure, precipitation, wind speed, and most importantly wind direction. This allows hunters to not only look at the weather but plan hunts based off of patterns and opportunities like cold fronts. These can be noticed by a drop in temperature, rise in pressure which often give rise to deer activity and a harvest opportunity. These cold fronts are especially important to take advantage of during October.
While these patterns are key to focus on, nothing is for certain and more times than not predictions are wrong especially when hunters are relying on them to be extremely accurate. So when the day comes that there is a cold front but you see a high chance of rain, the question isn’t if it’s going to rain, but is it worth deer hunting in that foul weather?
Is Deer Hunting in Foul Weather Worth It?
We can’t believe you just asked that question! When is deer hunting not worth it? To be fair, freezing temps, sleet, and a recipe for hypothermia might be a bad time to deer hunt. These problems can be solved with tree stand umbrellas, but is it even worth the trouble? Overall you will be dealing with 2 times of weather that you may not want to hunt in, rain and snow.
Deer Hunting In Rain
Rain, and rain accompanied by high winds is by far the most unfavorable hunting to do. It can be extremely frustrating for opening weekend to have solid rain in the forecast. As much as you hate the forecast your inner hunter pushes you to go out. The real question is simply “is it worth it”? The answer depends. Hunters often misunderstand deer activity, mostly missing that deer are an awful lot like us in regards to weather and activity. Absolute downpours and thunderstorms will have both you and deer hunkered down. However, deer get spooky with high winds and rain, meaning at any moment deer could be busted from their bed and taken advantage of. Mostly deer will hunker down, but there are always possibilities when deer hunting in foul weather.
Light rain and overcast/dreary weather conditions is an entirely different story. Deer hunting in foul weather like a soft light misting rain that can soak everything slowly, is actually a great time to hunt. The overcast and darker sky allows deer the comfort to stay out later in the morning and come out earlier in the evening.
Deer Hunting In Snow
Deer hunting in foul weather such as rain, wind, and pure nastiness is one thing, deer hunting in snow is entirely different. For anyone that has ever experienced it, deer hunting in late winter during a snow event is one of the most relaxing/majestic sights you will lay your eyes on while whitetail hunting. There is just something about the dead quiet snowfall and beauty of it that makes you completely zone out. Snow is quite different than rain, especially heavy snowfall. With heavy snow, deer become more prone to visiting standing crops like corn and beans. Theses food sources are above the snow and are easy pickings. Food plots and food sources like late season standing beans or corn can set the stage for hunts that have some of the highest likelihood for seeing mature bucks during daylight and getting a chance to harvest them.
It can be wonderful and can produce great results especially when hunting over the right areas, but only if you can keep the snow off of you and stay in the tree stand!
Tree Stand Umbrellas
So is deer hunting during foul weather conditions worth it? Absolutely, but only if you can stay out in the tree stand. For that you need special equipment and tree stand accessories, more specifically tree stand umbrellas.
The Pop-up Umbrella
- -SIZE: 54” Wide x 49” Deep
- -CONSTRUCTION: Hub-style design for quick set-up; durable, wear resistant fabric
- -CARRY CASE: Included
- -FOR USE WITH: Most Big Game Treestands
- -FASTENERS: Six 39” snap-on tie-down strings
The Universal Umbrella
- -SIZE: 48” Square
- -CONSTRUCTION: Hub-style design for quick set-up; durable, wear resistant fabric
- -CARRY CASE: Included
- -FOR USE WITH: Most Big Game Treestands
- -FASTENERS: 2 support straps
Deer Hunting In Foul Weather with Tree Stand Umbrellas
Many hunters might look at deer hunting with an umbrella as a risk as it adds more in the tree to potentially silhouette. While this might scare some deer hunters off, the facts stack in favor of having one of these handy. One, deer can and will be out even in foul weather conditions, in fact certain conditions make deer hunting more favorable. Finally the second fact is that staying dry while hunting during rain or snow will be a lot harder without a tree stand umbrella.
It is inevitable, you will end up hunting during the rain or during the snow at some point each and every season. It’s up to you weather you will be prepared enough to stick around and reap the benefits of deer hunting in foul weather.
Camouflage Cover for Tree Stand Concealment | Tree Stand Blinds
Imagine sitting in your tree stand on opening morning. As the first rays of sunlight start shining through the autumn leaves, you hear a branch break. Just as you imagined, you spot a deer walking down the well-used trail you found earlier in the week. It’s a brand new stand site and the deer should have no clue you’re there. But as soon as it enters a slight clearing, its head shoots up and aims right at you. You didn’t make any noise and the wind is in your favor. But still, the deer turns and disappears faster than you can do anything to stop it. All because you didn’t take time to hide your tree stand with tree stand blinds. If you’ve hunted long enough, you’ve probably had an experience like this.
Whitetails are remarkable at spotting differences in their environment. Their eyes are amazingly adapted at finding things that stick out from their surroundings; a new tree stand, for example. In order to beat this amazing sense of theirs, you have to take a little more care to hide your tree stand when you hang a new stand. This often includes installing tree stand blinds. If you’re hunting unpressured private land deer, you can probably get away with less. But the steps below are almost a requirement for public land hunting these days.
It’s no doubt that ground blinds can be much more easily hidden than tree stands. They are low to the ground and can be covered with all manner of camouflage patterns and branches. But they can be more difficult to hunt deer out of sometimes. You don’t have the height advantage on your side, for one thing, which inhibits your prey detection and prevents any longer shots. But there are some things you can do with tree stand concealment to hide it just as effectively as a ground blind.
How to Hide Your Tree Stand
One of the first tips if you’re using a really old stand is to either get a new one or freshen it up. If there aren’t any safety concerns, then painting a tree stand or just installing tree stand blinds could do the trick to help it blend in better. Grab a couple cans of spray paint, in black and various shades of brown, green, and yellow. Next, collect some natural materials (e.g., grasses, weeds, branches, leaves, etc.) from the area you’re going to hunt. Spray a light background color, such as sage green, all over your stand. Then either sparsely lay some of the natural materials on top of the stand, or tie them down with some twine. Once they’re tight against the metal frame, spray a mustard yellow or brown paint over the top. Add some more materials over the top of these, and lightly spray a black color over what’s left. You can experiment with the colors and which sequence you spray them in, but focus on colors that match the season you’re hunting in. In other words, no bright green colors if you’ll be hunting in late autumn. You can quickly camouflage a deer stand with a couple cans of paint and a few hours.
One of the best deer stand concealment steps you can take is to simply take advantage of the natural cover around you. There are no synthetic materials that can beat the natural vegetation in an area in terms of camouflage value offered. That being said, some trees are better suited to hanging a new stand than others. For example, trees with multiple trunks or lots of branches work great since they offer so much natural camouflage and structure that you can hide in. Pines, cedars, and oaks come to mind as excellent choices since they generally have a dense branch structure and maintain their needles or leaves through most of the hunting season or year-round. These trees are excellent choices for hang on stands, since you can tuck them right into the branches. With a good set of camouflage clothing, you should stay pretty hidden.
Deciduous trees with bare trunks (e.g., aspens, maples, birch, etc.) are great for ladder stands, but you tend to stick out like a sore thumb without any ladder stand concealment. If you must hunt from a tree such as this, you should definitely use a tree stand blind kit or camouflage burlap. Wrapping the seat and platform of a ladder stand is a great way to at least hide your movements while in the tree. Using fabric with loose-cut leaves is even better since it adds a natural look and motion. These tree stand blinds are simple to carry with you while hanging stands, and do so much to hide your profile. Simply drape the fabric or ladder stand blind kit around the shooting rail and use twine or zip ties to secure it thoroughly. Leave a slit opening at the front so you can climb into the stand with all your bulky hunting clothing and gear. There’s nothing worse than trying to quietly slither through a narrow gap on opening morning, realizing that a knife is the only way you’re going to get into your stand.
While this definitely helps hide your movement from keen eyes, a large bulky shape in the sky among a bunch of bare trunks still sticks out to deer. Another way to really hide your tree stand involves a more three dimensional application. Real or fake branches are excellent to blend into the surrounding area. Using tree stand concealment branches can be done in two ways. The first is to collect some actual branches from near your stand, preferably live ones with leaves still on them for deciduous trees (oaks tend to hold onto their leaves longer than many others), or coniferous branches for a coniferous tree. The other is to stock up on fake Christmas tree branches when they go on sale at the end of the year. Obviously, these are more useful for coniferous trees. Either way, attach the branches to your stand with twine or zip ties, spreading them out evenly to hide your profile. You want enough branches so that it looks natural and blends in, but not so many that it sticks out (when’s the last time you saw a ball of branches extending every direction 20 feet up a tree?). And you definitely want to make sure to leave yourself ample shooting lanes for close-range bow shots. Too often, we don’t know when to stop and suddenly realize we can’t see the ground from a sitting position.
The final way to really hide your tree stand is not so much a mechanical add-on or fancy camouflage system of tree stand blinds. It simply involves hanging your tree stand higher. Climbing stands and lock-on stands makes this is easily doable. Well-educated public land deer have come to expect to see hunters at the typical 10 to 15 foot range off the ground. So if you can sneak up a little higher, say 20-25 feet, you’ll be further out of their peripheral vision. If you go much higher than that, your shot angle can be too severe to get a double lung pass-through. Make sure to stay safe while hunting higher and always use a hunting safety harness. And of course, pay attention to your state hunting regulations as some states have maximum allowable tree stand heights.
While you’re out deer scouting this summer, pay attention to the surrounding trees and think of ways that you could hide your tree stand better. Using all of the steps above whether it is natural cover or tree stand blinds, it should leave you pretty invisible to all but the wisest whitetails. You’ll need a little luck on your side to get close to them.
6 Things to Do This Summer That Bring Deer Closer To Your Tree Stand
Summer is a busy time of year. From installing food plots to creating mineral stations, our time is valuable as deer hunters and managers. It’s hard enough to find the time to hang our tree stands or install food plots, surely finding time to start just one of these 6 summer projects is unrealistic? It is unless you realize that any or all of these projects will count towards what’s really important…they are ways to bring deer closer to your tree stand!
If you really think about everything that a deer hunter or manager might do during the summer, you realize a good portion of it most likely does not directly affect the hunting. In fact the food plots, mineral sites, and off season tasks are more a way to get out in the outdoors than actually things that will benefit hunting. These 6 summer projects are not those tasks, and unlike the other chores they do directly affect your hunting, in fact they steer and bring deer closer to your tree stand! Read this article on the 6 summer projects and figure out which one, if not all can apply to your deer hunting property and tree stand location.
Create a Watering Hole
Creating A Watering Hole For Deer
(Video) Spring is giving way into summer! Soon the rain will let up and the dry warm weather will hit, making water a great resource to have in the right location. Join Buck Advisors Weston Schrank as he explains how to create a watering hole for deer on your property.
When the word summer is brought up two things pop into your mind, the sun and the heat. Why? June is just the start of the long hot summer months, the heat will be relentless until fall arrives. This creates a perfect scenario for a watering hole for deer. Why put a watering hole on your property? Well the obvious reason is to supply water, especially when a property is lacking any water sources. But in the case of a way to bring deer closer to your tree stand, a watering hole, even in the presents of water source on your property, can be effective!
Installing a watering hole will create a big attraction for your tree stand location. If not a direct draw during the early season in September and October, than at least a great stopping point and potential shooting lane and shot opportunity. The great thing about a watering hole, besides being a way to bring deer closer to your tree stand, is it is extremely easy to install. With minimal digging, a $20-$50 dollar tank, and a little planning a watering hole can be installed and filled up to start attracting deer this summer.
Before putting out anything for deer that can be consumed, check your states regulation and baiting policies.
Summer Deer Mineral Site
Deer Mineral Station Placement and Strategy
(Video) – Putting out minerals for deer is critical to start in May! Join Weston Schrank as he explains exactly how many mineral stations for deer you need and where to place them on your deer hunting property.
Summer deer management would not be complete if it was not without mineral stations and sites. Fortunately these mineral stations, which need to be removed before the dee season to not be considered baiting, can bring deer closer to your tree stand location even when they are gone. How?! By creating a social area and travel route. Putting out a mineral or salt attraction is not only a great place to hang your trail cameras, but a way to attract deer to your tree stand location before the hunting season. Deer determine their movement by 3 criteria, ease, security, and social influence. The path or area they choose to travel through depends on whether or not it is safe, it is easy to move through, and other deer move through it. By putting a summer mineral station out around your tree stand and keeping pressure off the site, you are creating a hotspot for deer activity. While the minerals might be removed, the memory, social interaction, and influence of the mineral station will last, ultimately becoming a great way to bring deer closer to your tree stand.
Before putting out anything for deer that can be consumed, check your states regulation and baiting policies.
Creating A Micro Food Plot
What and How To Plant for Small Food Plot Success
(Video) – Small food plots (under an acre) are by far the most common food plot planted for wildlife. So what should you plant in small food plots to succeed? Here is our number one choice of species, the reasons why, and some other small food plot tips.
A lot of deer hunters and managers will be talking food plots this spring, summer and early fall. While most will worry about planting that 2-5 acre food plot or bigger, the small time food plotter will be planting a much more important and vital plot. This food plot is a micro plot and it acts as a kill plot if done correctly! These kill plots or micro plots are less than 1 acre, less than ½ acre even, and are usually an unbelievably effective ¼ or 1/8 of an acre big! They key is that small size. It creates a pit stop, staging area, and afternoon or morning snack that can turn into a prominent shot opportunity. The key with these plots are prepping the plot and planting the right species. White clover, small grains, and brassicas are usually the only crops that can last in a small food plot. They also give attraction in the early and late season.
Rake a Trail to your Tree Stand
One way bring deer closer to your tree stand is by steering them with a raked trail. Why would that work? Well deer are just like you when you hunt, they want to stay quiet, and take the path of least resistance. The only time you really hear a deer in the woods is the rut or through an oak flat searching for acorns, for the most part deer walk quietly and on deer runs. By taking a hard rake, or leaf blower you can essentially create an artificial deer run. While this is usually a tactic in creating silent tree stand access routes, it can work to steer deer by your tree stand, as long as it is in the general area they were already traveling towards.
We usually see it when we hunt, deer filtering out into a food plot or AG field from a logging road or four wheeler trail. The same principle here. If an easy route, such as a freshly raked trail, is available to travel on, it obviously is the easiest route to travel and will result in deer usage.
How To Grow A Small Soybean Food Plot – Electric Fence
(Video) – Soybean food plots are the deer managers and hunters best friend no doubt about it. However, the one thing that limits soybeans is the size of the food plot. Make and Install your very own DIY dual perimeter electric fence to successfully grow a small soybean food plot.
An electric deer fence is a great and effective way to bring deer closer to your tree stand. This is especially true when talking about deer hunts involving youth hunters and bow hunters. It is common knowledge that soybeans are one of the greatest food plot species and this is where an electric food plot fence shines.
By fencing off one section of a soybean field, you can hold the beans off from being demolished by deer, and by the time fall rolls around put an extremely productive yield at the deer’s level. Soybean pods in the late season, November –January are one of the very best places to be in a stand. If you’re a bean plotter, look into a fence this summer as a productive way to bring deer closer to your tree stand.
Hinge Cutting a Funnel
Another popular summer project among deer hunters and habitat managers, is hinge cutting for deer. Usually this takes the form of creating bedding areas and thick sanctuaries for deer, but changing up the style of the cut can result in steering deer to your tree stand.
It’s called screening, or in this case funneling deer with hinge cutting. By hinge cutting small diameter non mast bearing trees like maples, poplars, hackberries, and elms you can make a natural and impenetrable fence that if done strategically can create a massive funnel. Just be sure to think out every cut, the funnel, and take all the necessary safety precautions.
Create a Mock Scrape
Later this summer into early fall, when bachelor groups begin to break up, communication will begin. In this case the communication is through mock scrapes as a social bulletin board for deer, creating an opportune moment to bring deer closer to your tree stand.
By finding or placing a licking branch, and pawing up a patch of dirt with a stick or your boot, you can create a stopping point or wall on a run that could potentially draw a buck into a shooting lane. Whether they are scent checking for does and happen to stop at the scrape or are specifically checking scrapes and stop, you will have an opportunity within range if place correctly.
This summer, while you are hanging your tree stands in order to prepare for the upcoming deer season, think about which project makes sense in that area. These 6 projects can bring deer closer to your tree stand, only if you can find the time this summer to complete one!
Tree Stand Placement | How Aerial Deer Scouting Techniques Can Lead To Great Sets
Tell me if you’ve been here before. After wandering through the woods for hours carrying your tree stand, things get depressing. You still haven’t found the magic tree that you were hoping to find and you saw very little deer sign either. Finally, you give up the search and reluctantly hang your stand in a less than ideal location on the off chance that you’ll get lucky. What if we could magically change that outcome for you? Let us introduce aerial deer scouting.
Aerial scouting would be way easier if we could ethically go deer scouting with drones. But even with its slightly less exciting approach, it’s still a very effective method of finding high percentage spots to hunt. Simply open up your favorite online mapping program, and navigate to your hunting land. That’s where the fun begins. We’ll talk about that some more below, but first let’s define what we mean by aerial scouting.
What’s the Difference?
Traditional scouting means boots-on-the-ground walking of public or private land properties. It’s time- and labor-intensive and you may go through all of the effort to find nothing. But you can also learn a lot about a new property using that approach, so don’t completely throw it out the window. Aerial scouting consists of opening up a deer scouting software and doing a lot of that legwork before you even physically set foot there. You can do it from a library, in your home office, or even lounging on the couch. Once you locate some good-looking spots from the map, you can then field verify them using the traditional deer scouting techniques. It allows you to cover way more ground, but you do need to eventually physically investigate a site before you commit to hanging tree stands. Those are the primary benefits and drawbacks of each scouting approach. Now let’s discuss how you can start your aerial assault.
How to Use Aerial Deer Scouting
The best thing about aerial scouting is that it frees up your time by eliminating 90 percent of a property before you even arrive. That’s time not spent wandering through the woods getting poison ivy or battling mosquitoes, which is undeniably great. But since time is our most precious commodity, that time-saving aspect is worth its weight in gold.
Deer Hunting Strategies| Scouting A New Property With Aerials
(Video) – There is a wrong way and a right way to scout. This especially true when we are just months or even weeks out from deer hunting season. The key during this late summer period is minimal disturbance and scouting smart.
As we briefly mentioned, download and install any deer hunting mapping software you want to use. Alternatively, Google Earth is one of the easiest free deer scouting software programs to use and it’s very user-friendly for a wide audience. You can find dozens of different map features (layers) online that can help you for scouting whitetails. For example, many counties offer free layers with property ownership information, which is basically a plat book on steroids. Many governmental agencies provide wetland, topographic, soil, or land cover layers, which you can turn on and off to create your perfect map. To find these layers, simply use a search engine to look for terms like, “topographic map google earth.” After collecting the data sources, it’s time to start deer scouting the smart way.
If you’re simply looking for new spots to hang your tree stands on a property you already have access to hunt, jump ahead at this point. If you’re looking for a new property, turn on the plat map layer to find public lands near you or promising private lands that you could then ask the landowner to hunt. Once you find some spots that look good, you’re ready to continue.
Start by turning on the wetlands layer, and you’ll likely eliminate many spots right off the bat that look like forest on the aerial but are actually intense shrub swamps you wouldn’t want to venture into with a tree stand. Locate any likely feeding areas by looking for open meadows, agricultural fields, pastures, or recent clear cuts. Since whitetails are browsing generalists, you can bet that they feed just about anywhere there is vegetation, but these are the most likely spots to focus on. If you wish, use the mapping tools to draw a green colored polygon (or any other color you prefer) around each one so that they stand out as feeding areas. Once you’ve found those, now try to pick out possible bedding areas. These will be much more challenging since deer can bed anywhere. However, south facing ridge slopes, conifer clusters, upland islands surrounded by wetlands, prairie grass plantings, and regrown clear cuts are some good spots to look for. Now mark these spots with a different colored polygon (brown or your preference).
Now we’re getting somewhere! Many people wonder how to find deer trails. Using only these two types of locations, look for possible travel routes between them, and you’re set. This is where it’s helpful to turn on topographic layers. Deer are fairly lazy creatures, and prefer to travel parallel to contour lines instead of against them, meaning they would rather walk along a ridge than straight up and down it. They’ll obviously make exceptions if the elevation changes aren’t very severe or if they get spooked, but keep this in mind as you’re searching. Also look for areas that are connected by natural or manmade corridors (e.g., logging trail connecting two clear cuts, conifer hedgerow connecting two fields, etc.). In agricultural areas, these travel corridors should be obvious and will likely be shrubby hedgerows and overgrown fence lines. Basically, any kind of structure that crosses relatively open agricultural land or fields will be used. On heavily forested properties, however, these trails may just follow the edge between two different habitats. Deer have plenty of structure in a forest, so you’re just looking for where several habitat types come together.
Using those corridors, try to identify a location along them that really funnels them to a good hunting spot. We call these spots “pinch points” because they squeeze the deer activity into a tightly bound location. Some examples include a six row windbreak narrowing down into two rows, a beaver pond and river coming together to funnel deer movement between them, or the middle of an hourglass-shaped food plot. If you can identify a spot like this that is near some mature trees where you could set your tree stands up, then you can move on to the next step below. If not, keep scanning the aerials to find a decent ambush site.
Now that you’ve theoretically found a handful of good tree stand locations, it’s time to put some miles on the boots and make sure that your hunches are correct. Whether it’s the middle of the summer or you’re doing some post season deer scouting, print out a map with your polygons and stand sites labeled on the aerial and bring it with you to the field. It may also be helpful to download Google Earth or similar mapping software on a smartphone (there are several smartphone hunting apps) so you can see exactly where you’re at and tweak your stand location while you’re in the woods.
Whether you use paper maps or technology, navigate to your pre-selected spots and take a look around. Does it look like you had envisioned when you were sitting at the computer screen? If it’s clearly not where you want to hunt, move on to the next spot. If it has some potential, though, it’s time to investigate a little more thoroughly. Even if it takes some slight re-adjustments of the original location, at least you didn’t spend all day wandering the woods to find it.
Scan your surroundings for deer sign along the funnel areas. If you chose well, you should be able to find a deer trail, droppings, or rubs without too much effort. Ideally, you’ll find a heavily-worn trail with plenty of scat, and several past rubs lining the way. Now do you see any good-sized trees overlooking this trail that could hide your profile once sitting in the stand? Try to stay away from aspen, ash, or birch trees as they generally don’t have a wide enough profile to hide your silhouette. However, oaks, maples, and conifers usually have enough structure at height to help you disappear.
Stealthy Access and Wind Direction are Critical
Alright, you think you’ve found the perfect spot, but did you miss something important? Most hunters focus too much on the stand location in terms of deer sign, and completely neglect the access side of things. This is one of the most important deer scouting tips. If you can’t sneak in and out of your location without spooking the deer, then the perfect tree you found is actually garbage. By hunting it, you risk disrupting normal deer behavior and travel patterns, making your top-notch pinch point useless. Similarly, if you see a perfect tree on the predominantly upwind side of the trail and still decide to hang a stand there, you could spend more time educating deer to your presence than seeing mature bucks. And that is not the goal.
Take another look at the aerial map and see if there’s a way you could approach and leave the stand location without crossing the deer trail or otherwise leaving any sign you were there. Since you’re perched on a deer trail versus bedding or feeding areas, it should be a little easier to do, but keep this in mind. For example, is there a ditch or creek near the funnel that you could use to navigate there without leaving much sign? Is there a steep ridge that deer are unlikely to use that you could approach from? Even if it means going out of your way a bit, it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to entry and exit routes. Yet many people ignore these basic whitetail deer hunting strategies because they get lazy.
Don’t set up tree stands on the upwind side of a trail if you can possibly help it. It’s better to choose a less-concealing tree downwind than perching in a great tree upwind. Why? You can sometimes fool a whitetail’s vision if you dress appropriately and don’t move. But it’s pretty much impossible to convince them you’re a tree after they get a nose full of human scent. For most of the whitetail range, the predominant wind direction is from the northwest, but there will be localized differences depending on the topography. Make an effort to understand that before you commit to a hunting spot.
The Best Tree Stands for Different Situations
Whew! You finally found the perfect hunting spot using your aerial deer scouting techniques and field verifying them. Now you need to decide what type of tree stand is best for the location. If your resources are somewhat limited, you may only have one stand to choose from, which makes this section pretty easy for you. But if you have a couple different types hanging in the garage or shed, this process can make a big difference in the ease of hunting and your ultimate success.
First, consider how difficult it would be to physically get tree stands to your final location. For example, do you really want to weave a ladder stand through a maze of aspen trees or brush, or haul it up a steep ridge by yourself? We’re guessing not. But a fixed position tree stand or climbing stand would be relatively easy to carry into remote sites full of the conditions above. Alternatively, if you’re hunting an open field or food plot with good access, you could easily use a side by side or ATV to haul a double-wide stand in. Along those same lines, will you be the only one hunting from the stand, or do you plan to take your kids with? The Duo is a great option for bringing along a hunting partner, no matter the age. The footrest, seat, and shooting rail all flip back to offer more room on the platform while setting up, but the stand is big enough for two people and is rated to hold 500 pounds of hunter and gear. For these reasons, it’s also one of the best ladder stands for big men, as well.
If you use hunting stands and blinds alike, you’re familiar with the challenges of private versus public land. When you primarily hunt on private land, you can leave your stands up throughout the season without much fear of it being stolen. Since you have that option, you can also choose larger, more permanent stands such as a tripod tree stand or box blind. But if you’ll be hunting public land, you’ll probably want to choose a climbing tree stand or fixed position stand that you can take with you or hope nobody notices it if you do leave it out. Your hunting personality will also play a role in deciding which tree stand to use. If you like to be very comfortable while in the woods and have all the tree stand accessories, including camouflage tree stand blinds, then a more spacious model might work better.
These considerations will all help you narrow down what kind of tree stands you decide to use. Whichever one you choose for your situation, you need to make sure that it’s safe by doing seasonal maintenance. The best option is to take it down at the end of the season and tighten all bolts, grease any moving parts, and renew your cables or straps.
The Final Touches
As you can now hopefully see, aerial deer scouting saves you from walking many, many miles to find new hunting hot spots. By first screening hunting properties and the land cover on them, you can eliminate 90 percent of the area, which saves you time and effort. Then you can focus on really examining the high priority spots in person. So this next season, spend some time deer scouting the smart way, with a refreshing beverage in hand and sitting on the couch.