How to Pick the Right Hunting Spot

How to Pick the Right Hunting Spot

There’s a scene in just about every murder-mystery show where the detective is locked in his office with pictures, note cards, and maps tacked to a wall with strings connecting one thing to the other. A pattern, a clue, a connection–the investigator is searching for anything that can help him solve the riddle at hand. This is exactly how it feels most days during the whitetail season for a deer hunter as he or she tries to figure out where to hunt next.

I’ve spent an uncountable number of hours lying in bed at night awake, debating, pondering, and stressing over this very question. With a million always-changing variables to consider, picking the right spot is without a doubt one of the hardest but most important decisions a deer hunter will make on a daily basis.

Here’s a beginner’s guide to making that call. I outline a simple process you can follow to ensure your stand selections are appropriate for the time, conditions, and circumstances you face on any given day.

Collect the Right Evidence

I want you to imagine a gigantic blaze-orange metaphorical funnel. Hold it up, spin it around, rub it on the side for good luck. This is the “tool” you’re going to use to pick the right spot to hunt. Pour a whole bucketful of potential spots into that funnel. Everything will go in at the top, and then bit by bit, the bad options will be filtered out, and only one best stand location will pop out at the end—this is our goal.

But before you can get there, you first need to acquire the necessary data and evidence to filter out the poorer choices. The first step is to get an understanding of the most important terrain and habitat features on the property you’re hunting. These types of habitat include bedding areas, food sources, water, and travel corridors or funnels. Find these and mark them on a map or in your head.

Next, you need an understanding of how deer use these features, which you can decipher in part through deer sign like tracks, rubs, and scrapes. Ideally, you’d have this kind of evidence collected from prior years and in the weeks leading up to your hunt, allowing you a general sense of where the most deer activity is in relation to habitat at different times of the year. In addition to on-the-ground sign, you can add trail cam photos to the mix, both from previous years and current, giving you further insights into deer movement.

Finally, you need to take into account hunting pressure. Where have you seen other hunters? What about new treestands? Access points and hiking trails? All of these can impact deer activity as well as when and where you hunt certain places.

Time of Year

With all of this evidence in place, the next step is to pour our options into our metaphorical funnel and filter out the ineffective spots. The first filter we need to place in our funnel is the time of year and what that means for expected deer movement.

If it’s early in the year, let’s say September through mid-October, most hunting locations should be set to take advantage of travel between buck bedding areas and food or water sources, which is the most common pattern of deer movement at this time.

As we shift into late October and November, you’ll want to focus on rut-related movements, which will still center around bedding and feeding patterns but will be more focused on where the does are in relation to the bucks. Find the does and you’ll find where the bucks want to be. You’ll also want to consider any travel corridor or funnel in between these doe zones, such as narrow strips of cover, creek crossings, or saddles, points, and benches in hilly country.

Finally, in December and beyond, you’re going to want to refocus on that simple bedding to feeding movement.

With these basic seasonal patterns in mind, you can narrow down your areas of interest to only include the habitat types that match the time of year. Once you’ve done that, you can advance down to the next level of the funnel.

Wind Direction and Weather

With a handful of focus areas appropriate for the time of the year, you next need to filter your options based on what the wind and weather conditions dictate.

First and foremost, you need to pick a spot that works with the wind direction. You need to make sure your scent is blowing in a direction that the fewest possible deer will smell you and spook. The best stand sites are those that have a “dead zone” downwind of them that deer either don’t frequent or physically cannot get to. This can come in the form of a pond, a river, an open field, a steep cliff, or simply an area that historically doesn’t see a lot of deer activity.

The next wind consideration is how deer might use the given wind direction for the day. Bucks often (but not always) choose to travel in a direction so that the wind is in their face, or quartering to them, so they can smell what's ahead of them when heading to bed or feed. This becomes even more important during the rut when bucks frequently travel downwind of doe bedding or feeding areas in search of does that are ready to breed.

When you identify the wind direction, filter your possible stand sites to include only those that allow you to blow your wind into a safe space. At the same time, that spot should also give you access to bucks that are passing through the area and utilizing the wind in their favor.

Finally, consider how the rest of the weather forecast–temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure–might impact general deer movement. Higher-than-average wind speeds and temperature can sometimes dampen deer activity. If you see this in the forecast, you might not want to hunt your very best locations. On the flip side, if you have cooler than average temps, normal wind speeds, and high barometric pressure, you’ve got conditions that tend to get more deer moving in daylight. On days like this, it might be worth being aggressive and hunting some of your better spots. Every time you hunt a given location, you risk educating the local deer, so the smart hunter plans to avoid his best locations (and avoid educating deer there) until the timing and conditions present the best opportunity for success.

Most Recent Information

Your final filter is the sign and intel you have about deer activity in your area: trail cam pictures, personal observations, deer sign, hunter presence, and other historical knowledge from past years that you’ve been diligently accumulating. Use this information to point you toward the one specific location left in your pool of options that has the most buck activity or has historically been good at this time of year.

Have daylight trail cam photos of a good buck? That’s a great reason to hunt that spot. Found a bunch of fresh rubs and scrapes while scouting? That’s a good sign to get in and hunt near that area. Spot a buck moving off in the distance past another stand location during daylight? That’s a great sign to go out there ASAP and hunt. Have you gotten pictures of a buck using a particular area at the same time year after year? That’s a great sign to get back in there this season when those dates roll around.

Bringing It All Together

Picking where to hunt on any given day can be overwhelming. Paralysis by analysis is frequently felt by whitetail hunters every fall. But if you use this simple funnel and filter process, you can rest assured that you’ll at least be in the game.

Repetition, experience, and gut feelings are the final piece to this puzzle. But that, of course, comes with time. Even with a thought-through approach like this, nine times out of ten, the final outcome of most hunts won’t be what you wanted.

That’s just hunting. If you can keep at it and keep making smart, detail-oriented decisions, good things will come.

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