If you want to shoot a deer with a gun, you can pop up into just about any tree in a half decent area and have a good chance at success. If you want to shoot a deer with a bow, you’re criteria for the proper treestand setup narrows significantly, but a few basic pointers can get you on your way.
But if you want to shoot a mature buck with a bow, we’re all of a sudden talking about an entirely more specific, much more difficult to come by set of circumstances that are necessary for success. Getting a shot at a mature buck with a bow requires strategy, forward thinking, and a near obsessive attention to detail. But still, it’s possible.
With the help of these 11 easy to follow steps you can have a great chance at finding that perfect treestand setup. So read on, pay attention to the details next time you’re out working on new stand sites and do the work.
The 3 Factor Process Don Higgins first gave me this idea when he emphasized in his book “Hunting Trophy Whitetails in the Real World” that you should never be hunting somewhere unless you have multiple clear reasons why you’re in that location. I’ve adapted this concept into a 3-factor rule. Whenever you’re setting a stand, you should be able to point to at least three clear reasons why you’re there. If there are less than three solid reasons that you can think of, it’s probably not a good enough stand to sit. These reasons might include something like:
Access and Exit Points Once you’re in a stand with at least three good reasons for why a mature buck might pass by, you need to make sure it’s also a stand that you can access and exit without alerting local deer. If you can’t do that, regardless of how great a location in you’re in, you’re not likely to have success – as you’ll just be educating deer with your presence.
Wind Escape or Blocker A perfect stand site is going to placed in a location that can be hunted on some number of wind directions that will carry your scent out into a “safe” direction where you’re unlikely to get winded. This could come in the form of a wind “escape,”, such as an open field that deer are not likely to cross. Or it might be a wind “blocker” like a ditch or wide river, which physically blocks deer from moving through your scent stream.
In-tree Cover The next thing you’re going to be looking for is a tree with adequate cover to camouflage you, the bowhunter, up in the air. Certain trees, like oaks or cedars, tend to provide the most cover at the height you’ll want to be at. But ideally look for a tree with numerous limbs, leaves and forks in the tree somewhere around your stand, so that there will be plenty of structure around you to break up your outline.
Synthetic Cover If you’ve found a great treestand location but the trees lack cover, there are still options. Try creating your own cover by cutting branches or using fake christmas tree limbs to attach to or around your treestand.
Adequate Lanes As important as cover in the tree is, you also need some gaps in that cover to ensure you’ll have adequate shooting lanes. Trim out at least one, if not two lanes for each direction you expect a buck to approach from. And if there’s one limb that is just out of reach, but seems like it could pose an issue someday, don’t get lazy. Figure out a way to trim that sucker. You don’t want that to be the one little twig that deflects your arrow and ruins your next hunting season. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
Proper Height Next you’ve got to consider how high to position your treestand and this is one topic that many hunters have differing opinions on. In my opinion, I want to be 20 feet in the air, at a minimum, and if I’m in a tree with very limited cover I’m trying to get even higher. In the end though this comes down to your comfort level and where in the tree you’ll be the most camouflaged. But keep in mind that in states with heavy hunting pressure, deer (especially mature bucks) are used to looking up into trees for danger. If you’re down at 10 or 15 feet, there’s a very high chance you’ll get spotted.
Silence Once you’re in the right place, in the right tree, with adequate cover and at the proper height you can worry about your actual treestand. And the most important factor, in my opinion, is making sure that treestand is silent. Before bringing a stand in the woods make sure there are no creaky joints or moving parts. These squeaks and creaks can be the end of a close encounter. Use a non-scented lubricant to lube up those moving parts. You’ll also want to consider the potential for metal on metal contact in a treestand. If there’s the potential for anything to clank against your treestand or other accessories, consider covering those metal parts with some kind of sound dampening material.
Comfort Next to being quiet, the perfect treestand set-up must also be reasonably comfortable, since if it’s not, you probably won’t sit there very long. I’ve found the most comfortable treestands to be ones with thick cushions and placed on trees with a slight backward lean. At the very least, do everything you can to avoid a tree that leans forward, as you’ll be hunched over and sliding off your seat. In short, you’ll be miserable.
Calling Cards Once you’re in the right location, tree and stand–you can sweeten the deal even further with the presence of some kind of attractant–a “calling card.” Pat Reeves popularized this term, and it refers to any kind of attractant that can be placed to entice a deer to move into a position that would better provide a shot. This could be a mock scrape, water hole, mineral, fruit tree, decoy, micro food plot, or any other number of things.
Funneling Tools Finally, if you really want to stack the odds in your favor, go ahead and manipulate the terrain around your stand to further funnel deer in towards your stand. You might do this by cutting down trees or limbs to block a trail out of range, or by clearing a downed tree from a trail that is closer, or maybe by tying down the top wire of a barbed wire fence to encourage a fence crossing closer to your location.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.