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Where do you set up your deer stand in big hardwoods?
One big question every rookie deer hunter has is where do I set up my stand? The question really needs to be how do I decide where to set up my stand. Even experienced hunters ask themselves that question sometimes when in new territory.
The answers to the question have a few common rules regardless of the terrain being hunted, but a lot has to do with the specific terrain you will be on. This article will concentrate on what I’m most familiar with, and that’s hunting big woods with no agriculture in the area.
Big woods hunting can be very difficult. There is seemingly an endless amount of places deer can hide. With plenty of oak trees around and a generous mast the past few years, they don’t have to travel far to find food during the hunting season. Chances are there’s a stream or at least a little crick where the deer can get water nearby. So what does a guy do?
It’s going to take a lot of leg work and more than a couple of hours in the woods to figure this out. The first thing you need to figure is where the deer are bedding down. Think about the geographic features of the area you’re in. In the northeast it’s pretty hilly if not exactly mountainous. My experience is deer like to bed near the top of ridges when the weather is decent. They do this so they can spot a predator at a distance and put the top of the ridge between themselves and danger in a hurry. Plus the sun stays on the top of a ridge longer than in the valleys so it tends to be warmer up there.
In cold and windy weather the deer tend to go into the valleys to get out of the wind and they hunker down in the thickest stuff they can find. One real cold and windy day after deer season was over I was hiking where we hunt and kicked up three deer that were bedding under a huge oak that had blow over a few years before. It was in a tight little valley between four good sized hills in real thick cover. They let me get 20 feet from them before they bolted. Scared the heck out of all of us!
So keep in mind the terrain and the weather and go looking for sign – tracks and droppings. Even though there may be a fair amount of sign all over the place there will be areas with more sign than others. Finding the actual beds is your goal. Here’s a hint: look for thick brush. Amongst young saplings, mountain laurel, swampy areas, this is where the deer like to bed down.
Now there are a couple of options. You can setup in the bedding area or try to ambush them on the routes to and from food and water. There are advantages to both.
Notice earlier I said bedding areas – a plural. Deer don’t go to sleep in the same bed every night like we do. Based on weather conditions and hunting pressure things change. So finding the active bedding area can be a little tricky. But if you’re right, you can have action all day long. Early morning they’re coming back in. The deer will then bed down during the day, but, they don’t stay down all day. They’ll get up and browse a bit. I have shot as many deer between 10 am and 2 pm as early or late in the day when the deer or more active. A lot of guys leave the woods by 10 and come back at 2 for the night sit. I think your missing a lot of good hunting by doing this.
One late bow season about 1:00 pm I had a doe walk up to my tree stand and browsed around a bit and finally she bed down 20 yards away. She was pretty alert for a while but finally put her head down. Every time the wind blew a little hard or a dead branch fell out of a tree I could see an ear perk up to interrogate the possible threat. Finally about 2 hours later her head popped up fast. She got up real easy and just meandered off, browsing a little and looking back once in a while. You could tell she was concerned but not panicked. About 15 minutes later my hunting buddy appeared from the direction the doe had been looking. She had made him way off in the distance, but didn’t bolt. It was a real good learning experience.
The second option is to look for likely routes for the deer to get into and out of the bedding area to find water or food. They will either go through real thick stuff in the valleys or along the side of a hill. I have almost never seen them travel on the top of hill in daylight. There may be sign up there, but it’s almost always made at night. While the bedding areas change, the better food and water supplies typically don’t. If you can find some mature oaks, you’ll notice the woods are little more open as the big trees tend to make it tough on saplings to grow. Also, if there are homes within a mile or so look for routes to and from the houses. Deer look at your shrubs as a smorgasbord and easy pickings, especially when the ground is covered in snow and finding acorns is hard.
Trails leading to food and water tend to be many coming from the bedding area and funneling down to a few trails. Try to find a number of places to set up stands along these routes closer to the water and food than the bedding areas. That way, there are fewer trails you can minimize the chance of being on the wrong trail that day. These stands work best at first light and later toward dark.
By spending quality time scouting and paying attention to the type of land you’re hunting, you will see more deer and greatly increase your hunting enjoyment.