Why You Should Scout Out Whitetail Observation Stands Now

Why You Should Scout Out Whitetail Observation Stands Now

If you want to play whitetail chess while your competition plays checkers, then learn to use observation stands. The idea of setting up to watch is simple enough, but it goes against our nature, and that means most folks won’t do it.

When the average hunter gets the opportunity to spend a morning or evening in the deer woods, it’s not likely he’ll post up where the odds of killing are low. Most hunters filter their stand choices through the current conditions and seasonal timing, and then they hunt where they believe the odds are highest.

Observation sits can produce punched tags, but mostly won’t (at least not immediately). They are intel-gathering missions, and that means, they are largely sand-bagging sits. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable though.

Why Watch At All?

Using observation sits to hone in on current deer movement is a public land hunter’s crutch. If you spend your time each fall working with pressured deer, you know how quickly patterns can emerge and die.

This is the reality of hunting where others hunt, but observation stands aren’t solely the territory of the public land hunter. Any whitetail junkie can benefit from this strategy, but it’s important to understand why, and how.

The truth is, we all believe we kind of know what deer are going to do. They are going to eat in this field tonight or browse a certain soft edge. They are going to walk this trail in the morning, or bed in the cattails as soon as the sun breaches the eastern horizon. While any of those thoughts can prove true on any given day, they mostly won’t prove true on any given day.

This is because we fill in the blanks through trail camera recon and some in-person scouting, but there’s nothing more valuable than watching a deer do something. Observation is the holy grail of whitetail information, and if you learn to set up to gather it, you’ll leave your competition in the dust.

How to Set Up for Observation

If you’re hunting open ground, the job of finding observation options is pretty simple. You can take a page from the western hunter’s playbook and go to the high ground to watch. Most whitetail hunters aren’t chasing deer in the prairie, however.

When you’re working with cover, visibility over miles doesn’t happen. You have to get in with them, and that means making a plan based on some likely scenarios. Let’s say you have several oak trees in a wooded flat that should be dropping when you start hunting.

Some trees will produce better than others, and at different times, too. The deer will have plenty of options, and no lack of calories to root out of the leaf litter. Instead of walking through the flat to find the tree with the most sign beneath once the season has opened, find a suitable stand tree on the edge, now. One that will give you a good look of the flat so that you can observe, and then key in on the most active trees.

Simple, right? It can be. Now you’re at less risk of alerting the deer while you’re in an advantageous spot to see which trees the deer prefer, and what deer are in there. One evening sit might be all it takes to know exactly what tree you have to set up on the next night.

Or maybe you hunt a huge tract of unbroken big woods, like I did in northern Wisconsin a few years ago. The one defining feature throughout much of it is a creek bottom that serpentines its way through miles of cover. Instead of walking the creek to find the best crossing, a better bet is to set up off of the creek on one bank or the other in a situation that allows you to watch several potential crossings.

Again, you’ve stayed right out of the best stuff to see exactly where the deer like to walk. With the low deer density of the big woods, you might need to stack up a few sits in a row to dial in the best spot to kill a buck. That’s okay—that’s the point of observation stands.

Remember Phase Two

If you decide you’re going to observe a specific valley of hardwoods, or maybe an overgrownriver bottom, don’t just watch the deer. This might sound strange, but keeping your binos locked on a buck as he browses through that valley or that river bottom is half the battle.

The other half is taking note of exactly where he walks and what around him will allow you to set up and kill him, tomorrow. Does his route take him within bow range of a good stand tree? Does it force him to cross the river at a specific spot, or maybe hop a sagging barbed wire fence that is 20 yards upwind of a giant deadfall you could tuck into?

It’s not enough to scout out a few trees so you can set up and watch some deer. You have to have a plan for what to observe, and then understand what to do with that recon. Once you do, you’ll have a leg up on your competition—and the deer.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article