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Darrin Bradley Published #2


I can’t remember how many times I have hung a tree stand, thinking the spot would offer a shooting opportunity, only to fail. On the other hand, I have also chosen locations that deliver every year. This begs the question: What makes one location superb while another seemingly similar spot is an absolute failure?
To help find the answer, I have kept a hunting diary the past six years. In the log, I recorded detailed information on every stand location I have hunted during those six seasons. I named each stand and kept a tally of deer sightings and the number of Pope-and-Young-class bucks I viewed during each hunt. I also recorded the physical characteristics of the locations, including topography adnb proximity to bedding areas and food sources.
Keeping a hunting diary gives me tremendous insight into what combination of characteristics makes the difference between a stand that merely looks promising and one that consistently yields encounters with mature bucks.
The Records

Over the past six seasons, I hunted 464 times from 198 stand locations. On average, I hunt 77 times from 33 stand setups each season. Of the 198 stands, 140 produced more success-hunts with deer sightings- than failure. I saw 97 P&Y-class bucks, including 37 during preseason scouting trips.
(It bears mentioning that during the preseason, I do not watch deer from tree stands. Instead I use high-power binoculars to watch them from long distances. Because of the nature of these low-impact scouting strategies, I omit these sightings from my stand analysis.)
The remaining 60 big-buck sightings occurred at 34 of 198 stands. Obviously, some of these stands produced multiple sightings. I ranked my top 10 stand locations according to their success.

Stand Name Sighting Sighting Nearest Within 150 Classic
Success Failure Food Yards of Terrain
Bedding area Features

1. Brickhouse 8 0 Corn Yes Funnel&Corner
2. Launch Pad 7 0 Clover Yes Corner& Logging Road
3.Slaughterhouse 7 0 Corn Yes Corner
4.Waterway funnel 7 1 Corn Yes Funnel Funnel 6 0 Acorns Yes Funnel
6.Airstrip Ridge 6 1 Corn Yes Funnel
7.Hadley’s Flatop 5 0 Corn Yes Logging Road
8. Inside L 5 1 Corn Yes Corner
9.Hadley Point 5 1 Corn Yes Funnel
10.Log Road 4 0 Corn Yes Funnel& Logging road

The list is based solely on deer sightings, not big-buck sightings. However, the characteristics of stands that produce big-buck sightings mirror the patterns of other successful stands. Of the stands that yielded big-buck sightings, 80 percent had cornfields as their closest food source, and 100 percent were located within 150 yards of a bedding area. Ninety percent of these were positioned in some kind of terrain funnel.


Stand Name Sighting Sighting Nearest Within 150 Classic
Success Failure Food Yards of Terrain
Bedding area Features

1. Tower 0 4 Acorns No None
2. Bird Cage 0 5 Foliage No None
3. Trapped 0 4 Acorns No None
4. Behind 1 4 Alfalfa Yes Corner
5. Down Under 1 5 Acorns No None
6. Clubhouse 1 5 None No None
7. Crossroads 1 5 None No None
8. Harbor 1 3 None No None
9. Blacktree 1 3 None No None
10. Homeplate 1 3 Acorns No None

Conversely this outlines the features of my 10 least successful stands. Although these stands yielded few deer sightings, documenting their characteristics helps shed light on what makes or breaks a stand location.
The success or failure of these stands in no coincidence. Upon analyzing my hunting log, I learned a stands tendency to produce encounters with big bucks seems to hinge on its position on a topographic feature that funnels deer, and it’s proximity to bedding areas and food sources

Bedding areas are widely regarded as prime places to intercept whitetails. However, mature bucks do not use these hotspots as do other deer. During my observations, mature bucks left food sources and headed for bedding areas earlier in the morning than other deer. Mature bucks also left their bedding areas later in the evening. In fact, my hunting diary revealed that some record-class bucks are totally nocturnal. Thirty-two of the 34 big-buck stands were within 150 yards of a bedding areas. Therefore, I hunt as close to bedding areas as I can without alarming bedded deer.

Terrain is a major component of stand-site selection. Although some topographic features have little or no effect on whitetail behavior, others concentrate deer movement, increasing the possibility of seeing deer, particularly big bucks. Pay special attention to funnels, field corners, low spots, ridges and shelves. Twenty-nine of my 34 big-buck stands-85percent- were located at such features.
Although these features are often quite different, they all basically do the same thing: funnel deer by providing cover and less-restrictive travel routes.
These hotspots are often subtle. For example, some of the most productive areas I have hunted have not been the classic funnels most hunters imagine. Instead, many have been steep ridges where the only practical travel route for deer has been along a the crest of the ridge.
According to my diary, field corners and woodland funnels are best bets. However, deer behavior can vary by area. By keeping a diary and analyzing how terrain influences deer behavior at your stands, you can better understand how to use terrain to your advantage.

For years, I have been torn between devoting time to stands positioned in the woods and stands on field edges. That’s because field edges offer increased visibility and a greater opportunity for seeing deer. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them good places to hunt.
This situation is testament to how keeping a diary helps you concentrate your hunting around the most productive locations- not just places that provide increased visibility.
For example, according to my diary, four of the 34 successful big-buck stands were positioned on fields. These stands produced 27 big-buck sightings. However, only four of the bucks, 14 percent, walked with in bow range.
On the other hand, 20 of the 34 successful big-buck stands were in the woods. These stands produced 21 big-buck sightings, and 17 of them, 80 percent, walked within bow range.
The bottom line? If you want to see bucks, hunt field edges. If you want to kill bucks, hunt woods. That fact is made clear in the pages of my hunting diary.

After carefully reviewing the characteristics of locations where I saw mature bucks, I discovered another factor of stand success. Corn was the nearest food source to 22 of the 34 big-buck stands. Seven of the stands were located closest to clover, and five were positioned nearest bean-fields.
These figures are no coincidence. Corn produces more body heat than any other grain or legume, and it helps create more fat than other agricultural crops. Standing corn also provides cover, serving as a practically unhuntable maze before harvest.
Mature bucks are drawn to standing corn, and, when pressured, they often relocate their core areas to cornfields. After the field is harvested, these deer remain in the vicinity until the rut or until they are forced out by increased hunting pressure.
Although corn is clearly important to whitetails and played an important role in the success of my stands, it might not be the No.1 food source for mature bucks in your area. Pay close attention to all food sources near your stands. There’s a chance mature bucks might be using a food source much more subtle than a cornfield. Document as much information on whitetail foods on your area, and note their distances from your stands. By doing so, you’ll gain a thorough understanding of how different foods shape a mature buck’s behavior.
Even after compiling a detailed log of stand locations and carefully analyzing deer behavior, consistently placing yourself within bow range of a mature buck can be a daunting task. You might know what food source a buck is using and what terrain feature he is using to get there, but how do you nail down the exact 30-yard window where he will walk. This might seem to be a hit-or-miss process, but further documentation of stand-site features can help tip the odds in your favor.
I learned this lesson early in my hunting experience when I was faced with hunting near a standing cornfield. I believed deer bedded in the corn, and I was helpless to do anything about it. However, thanks to documenting the characteristics of the area, I devised a strategy I refer to as “Cornfield Acorn Hunting”. I knew deer used the cornfield fringes and left the field in predictable locations based on the field’s features. Scouting information held the answer. A nearby white oak colony was producing acorns, and the area around the colony was littered with deer droppings and many large rubs. I set up two stands near the spot, hunted them on a rotation, and was pleasantly surprised by what emerged from the corn on the following hunts

All the analysis in the world can’t guarantee a stand will yield sightings of big bucks. In fact, some stands that have everything going for them invariably leave you skunked, while seemingly poor locations produce intense whitetail action every year. However, these instances are the exception, not the rule
By carefully examining a stand’s characteristics, documenting the information and studying how these features affect deer behavior, you can choose stand sites that enhance your odds of getting close to mature bucks..

Darrin Bradley

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