SELECTING A TREESTAND SITE FOR TROPHY WHIITETAIL DEER
In November , 2007 I harvested my tenth whitetail buck, which would meet the minimum requirements for entry in the Pope and Young Record Club. A friend who heard the story said it was luck, but often I make my own luck by considering topography, terrain, bed areas, food sources, wind, and stand accessibility, prior to hunting.
Initially, I locate the topographical advantages of the area I am hunting. Outdoor writer, Darrin Bradley, states, “I became acquainted with an individual who had lost his leg in a hunting accident. As a result of the mishap, Steve was forced to equip himself with a prosthetic limb below the knee of the right leg. Steve heroically continued to hunt whitetails despite the tragic accident. The partial loss of a leg, coupled with a blood disease, deterred him from doing extensive scouting, or traveling long distances to stand locations. Steve found himself handicapped in the whitetail world. One afternoon between hunts, I asked him how he had continued to hunt whitetail deer with such success. Steve responded by stating, “Deerhunting is a strenuous sport. It is frustrating for me to walk long distances. The loss of my leg has reduced my ability to scout by about 75%. I am forced to utilize aerial photographs, and topographical maps to choose hunting locations. I locate a topographical advantage, and then travel to that location to hunt. The discoveries I make by utilizing maps and photos deliver hot stand setups about 95% of the time. I very rarely walk into one of these locations and find below average deer sign. I look for a piece of topography that connects all of the environmental factors. Factors like water, bed areas, food sources, and travel routes.” I was never the same after our long talk that afternoon in the truck. Steve’s suggestions continue to pay off for me.
There are seven major topographical advantages to focus on. They include spiderwebs, funnels, corners, shelves, logroads, lowspots, and ridge ramps. Topographical advantages are the quickest route to harvesting mature whitetail bucks.
Whitetails often travel dense fence rows and ditches in route to food, water, and bed areas. The denser the fence row, or ditch, the more heavily traveled it will become. A spiderweb is a location where two or more dense ditches of fence rows intersect. The more ditches and fence rows that intersect, the more deer travel to intercept. The key to locating a successful spiderweb lies in the density, length, and quantity of intersecting travel routes. The arms, ditches and fence rows, of the spiderweb need to connect to timber, bed areas, or food sources, Sufficient cover must rest in the arms of the web. Whitetails receive a sense of security when traveling along dense arms as they remain hidden from predators more effectively. When hunting from stand locations positioned in spiderwebs I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 94% of my outings.
My odds for a successful hunt, viewing deer from a stand location, increase by 22% when hunting in spiderwebs.
I prefer funnels. A funnel is a natural or manmade piece of topography which pushes deer into a travel route, which decreases in size from the surrounding terrain. Various types of funnels exist. The traditional forest funnel is a piece of timber which dramatically decreases in width to resemble a bottleneck or hourglass shape. Rough terrain is present to make deer travel more difficult, thereby forcing them into a funnel . For example, a 90 degree ridge or a big body of water. A field funnel occurs when the width of a field dramatically decreases in width, and then increases again. When hunting from stand locations positioned in funnels I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 84% of my outings. My odds for a successful hunt increase by 12% when hunting in funnels.
Field edges are tough to hunt. My theory is whitetails usually enter fields from corners. Upon entrance from a corner, an animal can view the entire area quickly, at once rather than looking in all directions for danger. When hunting from stand locations positioned in field edges I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 89% of my outings. My odds for a successful hunt increase by 17% when hunting corners.
When hunting ridges, look for two types of topographical advantages, shelves and ridge ramps. Shelves occur along the sides of a ridge. Although I have minimal experience hunting shelves, some hunters insist mature animals frequently move along them to avoid the dangers presented by high and low elevation travel. When hunting from stand locations positioned in shelves I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 75% of my outings. Hunting shelves increased my odds for success by 3%.
The other topographical advantage worthy of attention, ridgeramps, occurs on ridge bends and corners. In the bends and corners of ridges, erosion usually decreases the angle of elevation, thus creating a ramp. These ramps make deer travel less difficult, therefore enhancing whitetail travel up and down steep ridges. When hunting from stand locations positioned in ridgeramps I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 82% of my outings. Hunting ridge ramps has increased my odds for success by 10%.
My experience with whitetails has convinced me they are lazy by nature. They often take the least restrictive route of travel, especially when hunting pressure is decreased. In an effort to make travel easier deer often utilize logging roads. Logging roads are also an excellent place to locate active scrapes during the rut. Log roads can pay off. Remaining undetected when traveling to and from stand locations is crucial, when in pursuit of mature bucks. These logging roads are a quiet entrance and exit from the timber. When hunting from stand locations positioned in logging roads I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 92% of my outings. My odds for a successful hunt increase by 20% when hunting on logging roads.
Lowspots are created when the terrain on a given tract of ground abruptly decreases in elevation. Whitetails feed and travel in lowspots to remain unseen by predators. On one farm, I hunt a 100 acre agricultural field. In the eastern section of this field, a portion decreases in elevation by about five feet. Deer feed in this low spot to avoid detection. Deer travel waterways and gullies because the elevation of each feature is a means by which they can remain below the surface of the surrounding terrain. Low spot hunting can be phenomenal. When hunting from stand locations positioned in lowspots I placed myself within bowrange of whitetail deer on 85% of my outings.
Hunting low spots has increased my odds for success by 13%”
States such as Pennsylvania, Maine, Kentucky, New York, and Ohio may present the hunter with the greatest challenge for locating a successful stand setup. These “big woods” states force archery hunters into the middle of huge forests, which often times can be frustrating due to their apparent lack of topographical advantages. In states which are characteristic of the Appalachian mountains and Ohio River Valleys I stick to ridgetops, saddles, and fingers. I look for sign which indicates deer travel running parallel to ridgetops along benches and shelves.
“Saddles” often provide travel route “hotspots” for trophy animals. After discovering a saddle, I tend to setup on the ridgetop overlooking the saddle to intercept whitetails as they travel from one ridge to another. I am careful not to setup a stand location in the middle of the saddle. These “middle of the saddle setups” place the hunter in plain view of approaching whitetails. Erect your ambush site 20 to 30 yards off the beaten path.
Most generally, the terrain dictates movement of the area’s whitetail herd. When you are in pursuit of trophy whitetails, focus on bed areas. The “big boys” stick close to the “bedroom” during daylight hours. Bedding areas are located in the densest, and most secluded types of terrain. Search for swamps, switch grass, and brushy young timber, which maximizes the hiding capabilities of whitetail deer. Don’t be afraid to venture far off the beaten path. Remember, 90% of all whitetails which are harvested annually are taken within 1/4 of a mile of an easily accessible roadway. 94% of these animals are does and yearlings. Bottomline is, big bucks require seclusion.
I’m not one to barge right into a bed area, and erect a stand location. Bed areas need to be handled with care. Trophy whitetails have little tolerance for bed area invasions. Once a big buck realizes your in his bedroom, he is apt to move on to another home range. If your still “dead set” on hunting in the bed area, do yourself two favors. Erect your stand location at night, after dark, when deer are at the food source. Hunt stand locations only in the morning, when deer are returning from the food source. Don’t attempt to enter a bed area and climb onto a stand while deer are bedded there. Odds are you’ll get busted.
Rather than hunting in the bed area, I hunt as close to its perimeter as possible without alerting deer to my prescence. Usually the border of the bed area, which leads to the food source will present the greatest opportunity for harvest. I also look for transition zones. A transition zone occurs when two types of terrain meet to form a distinctive natural edge
Many topics of conversation in the world of whitetail deer hunting, will remain forever controversial. Gun calibers, broadheads, moon phases, and many other topics. However, we all agree, the wind the wind plays a vital role in choosing a hunting location. Whitetail movement is significantly effected by the animals detection abilities. Low wind speeds are to the deer’s advantage. In low wind, the animal can determine more accurately which direction specific odors are originating from. Detection of sounds and movement is easy as things in the timber are not in motion. In high wind speeds the whitetail finds itself at a great disadvantage. High winds will set branches, bushes, leaves, and lose debris in motion. When the wooded environment is in motion, excessive noise exists, making it difficult for deer to detect noises which accompany the movement of predators. High wind will also handicap a whitetails sense of smell, as odors dissipate more rapidly, and sometimes keep deer from determining which direction an odor is originating from.
Outdoor writer, Darrin Bradley has compiled statistics from over hunts since 1994, in regard to wind speeds, and their effect on the movement of whitetails. In measuring the results, Bradley defines a “successful hunt” as a hunt in which he views whitetails while hunting on stand. These results are as follows:
All deer movement, inclusive of bucks, does, and yearlings:
Wind Speed Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
0-5 miles per hour 138 41 77%
6-10 miles per hour 50 17 75%
11-15 miles per hour 71 39 65%
16-20 miles per hour 21 16 57%
21-50 miles per hour 9 9 50%
Whitetail buck movement:
Wind Speed Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
0-5 miles per hour 83 101 45%
6-10 miles per hour 46 64 42%
11-15 miles per hour 31 49 38%
16-20 miles per hour 10 24 29%
21-50 miles per hour 3 17 15%
Pope and Young Buck Movement:
Wind Speed Number of Pope and Young Bucks Seen
0-5 miles per hour 29 Pope and Young Bucks
6-10 miles per hour 16 Pope and Young Bucks
11-15 miles per hour 7 Pope and Young Bucks
16-20 miles per hour 3 Pope and Young Bucks
12-50 miles per hour 1 Pope and Young Buck
These studies show deer movement is decreased as the wind increases. Personally, I begin to worry about the quality of my hunts decreasing when wind speeds exceed 15 miles per hour. As depicted by the results above, whitetail deer movement is severely reduced at wind speeds which exceed 15 miles per hour. A 15% reduction in movement to be exact. As one might have guessed, not only do high wind speeds significantly decrease all deer movement and buck movement, but they also decrease Pope and Young buck movement. All deer movement seems to be negatively effected by windspeeds exceeding 15 miles per hour, while mature buck movement is significantly reduced a wind speeds above 11 miles per hour. This data would suggest Pope and Young bucks are a little more wary than the average deer. Interestingly enough, only 7% of all Pope and Young bucks viewed by Bradley in the past five years, occurred in wind speeds higher than 15 miles per hour.
Wind direction is of paramount concern to hunters traveling to stand setups. Quite simply, don’t travel to stand locations if wind directions are carrying your scent to bedded whitetails. Save favorite “hotspots” for a day when your approach can remain undetected.
Other fatal mistakes which can end a hunt before it starts include the following:
1) Don’t travel through food sources, where deer are feeding in route to hunting morning stand setups.
2) Don’t travel through, or hunt inside, the perimeter of core bed areas.
3) Don’t overhunt a specific stand location. Each time one hunts a specific stand, he or she leaves scent behind. It doesn’t take don’t to “scent up” a stand site, and alert deer to the hunting pressure they are under.
After twenty years of whitetail hunting, things are beginning to come together for me. I am a graduate of “The School of Hard Knocks”, and have experienced many missed opportunities.. As a novice, I continued to experience failure as result of hunting specific locations too often. This strategy of “consecutive hunting” from a single stand location may be sabotaging your attempts at a mature whitetail buck harvest. My calculations suggest the hunter reduces the chances of success by a whopping 33% on the second consecutive hunt from the same location, 72% decrease in success on the third consecutive hunt from the same location, and an 80% decrease in success on the fourth consecutive hunt from the same stand setup.
In an attempt to avoid hunting the same location too often, utilize a hunting strategy called, “Musical Chairs”. Position six to ten portables in different locations which you believe will produce shot opportunities at animals you desire. After hunting from one location, then move to a different stand on your next visit to the timber. Work the stands in a rotation, much like the pitching staff of a major league baseball team. This strategy keeps hotspots from being overhunted, and allows the hunter to chose a stand for hunting with a desirable wind direction. As a general rule, if you think your overhunting an area, you probably are.