Deer Stand Strategy: Move Or Stand Pat

Seeing deer is half the battle, but getting in the right position for more shots is key. Follow these tips for a better deer season.

Roy Kellett | October 29, 2005

With firearms deer season underway, most people have already set their stands up and are ready to do some serious hunting. Every hunter knows, however, that sometimes the best-looking stand location isn’t quite right. It’s too far from that trail the deer are using, nearby foliage is blocking a shot, or the deer aren’t hitting the area like you thought they would. For whatever reason, sometimes a stand just doesn’t produce like you had hoped when you picked that tree back at the end of the summer.

Do you just give up at that point, head to the house and start getting ready for turkey season? Heck no.

Resourceful deer hunters have learned through some often humbling lessons that deer can be hard to pattern. And if deer were easy to kill, you wouldn’t ever pick up GON, because there would be no need to find out what other folks are having success with. The most successful hunters you know, the guys who take nice deer season after season, often have a few keys for picking a stand location that you might not have considered.

“You have to learn from the mistakes of other hunters,” said Sam Klement of Dothan, Ala., owner of Sptectrum Outdoors, a video production company. “You’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.”

We all look for obvious food sources, pay attention to which direction the wind will be coming from when we hunt a certain area and look for trails. Several hunters shared their tactics for narrowing down the best place to hang a stand even more.

Rifle season has only been in for a week, but some folks have been in the woods since bow season opened. If you are seeing a few deer but not getting shots, or if you are plain getting skunked, try a couple of these tactics and you might just have a chance to drop the hammer on a deer the next time you hunt your favorite spot.

Lamar Franks, of Milledgeville, hunts field edges and escape routes. His strategy has paid off over the years, enabling Lamar to put a nice collection of bucks on his living room wall. Lamar said the first time he killed a big buck, he knew he only wanted to hunt mature deer.

Have you ever read a putt? I mean stood on a golf course and tried to figure out by looking at the natural contours of a green which way the ball is going to turn as it makes its journey from the club head to the hole? What if picking a stand location could be that simple?

The next time you are looking over your hunting property, look at it in the same manner and you might be surprised what  you can find.

First, stand back and look at the lay of the land. It doesn’t matter if you are hunting in extreme northeast Georgia or down on the coast, every piece of property in this state has some topographic relief. If you can put your hands on a map that shows elevation changes on your hunting property you are ahead of the game. If not, it’s time to put in a little time on the ground, scouting.

Look at how your hunting grounds are shaped and then think about how everything moves there. When it rains, water runs downhill to drain off the land. Seeds from plants that are laying on the ground are washed with the runoff and end up collecting in the low spots. Sometimes this means low places on your property are thick with the kind of cover than makes deer feel safe and secure moving in.

Tony Morris, of Americus, killed a Pope & Young buck on opening weekend of bow season. He has been hunting his property long enough to know the property without a lot of scouting, but there are still things he looks for to put him in the right spot to see and kill deer. Tony hunts property that has two big agricultural fields separated by a thick creek bottom. Naturally he likes to hunt the field edges, especially when gun season opens. But he doesn’t just hang his stand at the first good tree he comes to.

“I look for the lowest place on the edge of the field,” Tony said. “It has been my experience that those places are going to have some major trails coming to them.”

When Tony is looking for a low place, he says he expects to see trails coming out there or very close by. He will set up on whichever side of the trail will allow him to hunt into the wind.

Tony points to these low spots as travel corridors, likely because they are often so thick with brush.

“Bucks are going to come out in a nasty spot,” Tony cautioned. “And if you shoot one, it is going right back into the nasty stuff.”

However, the tangle of privet, briars, or whatever other cover is available makes deer feel safe because it allows for concealed movement.

After you have looked for low places where deer like to travel, point your eyes skyward. What do you see? If you are like Sam, you’ll look for a “sentinel” tree.

When I asked Sam what features he would look at before placing a stand on a new piece of property, he broke it down simply in a manner that those of us who hunt on leased land can understand. Think about the times you have spent hunting on marginal land where cutover timber and small pines are far more prevalent than tall oaks and persimmon trees.

“Imagine you are standing there looking over a 2-year-old clearcut,” Sam said. “The first thing I look for is the tallest tree on the edge of the woods.”

Sam has killed his share of deer, so his knowledge can help any hunter. Looking for the tallest tree on the edge of a clearcut is something I never considered, so I bit.

Sam explained it this way:

“When you are sitting in a stand watching deer come across a clearcut, they constantly stop and look up. It could be that they are checking the wind, but if you watch where those deer are looking and where they are walking, they’ll usually head toward the tallest tree,” Sam said.

These areas can be buck magnets in some cases. Sam illustrated the point by talking about an experience he had on his club in Early County last deer season.

“Tim Knight and I hunted a sentinel tree on the edge of a clearcut and saw seven mountable bucks in one morning,” Sam said.

Sam thinks deer use sentinel trees as a way to navigate an area. Just like the low spots Tony is fond of hunting, Sam’s sentinel trees concentrate deer movement and activity.

“When I locate a sentinel tree, I’ll walk the edge of the woods looking for trails and more often than not, there will be trails within 30 or 40 yards of that spot,” Sam said.

Chuck Fincher of McDonough has been hunting deer in Georgia for 48 years, and he has seen many deer in clearcut areas.

Chuck Fincher, of McDonough, loves to hunt travel corridors that deer use to escape hunting pressure. Often these areas are drainages or thick heads that allow deer to slip around unnoticed.

“I love cutover areas,” Chuck said. “I have seen big bucks in them the first year after they are cut.”

Chuck doesn’t look necessarily for the tallest tree on the edge of a clearcut, but he does pick a tree on the highest vantage point. Chuck says sitting on top of a hill or ridge allows a hunter to see far more of a clearcut and makes it easy to determine if a stand is in the right place or whether it should be moved.

“You can sit and watch a long way and after you see where the deer are going, you can move your stand closer to that point if you need to,” Chuck said.

The sentinel tree or a tall ridge isn’t the only feature to look for at the edge of a field or clearcut. What about that place where the edge of the timber makes a little point?

If you haven’t thought about hunting that spot, there’s no better time than now to start watching it.

Sam says he likes to look for these irregular features when he is scouting an area.

“A lane cut into the woods, an old logging road, a place where hardwoods and pines converge… those are the kind of spots deer like,” Sam said.

Sam says these areas are sometimes near sentinel trees, but sometimes they are not. Walk the edge of the woods and look at an old road that goes back into the pines. Is there sign there? More than likely, deer will travel that old grown-up road, because like you and me, deer are going to take the path of least resistance whenever possible.

Tony looks for irregular features such as points that stick out into the clearcut or field. He often sets up on the end of a point or just back into the woods where he can see the end of the point, and it has helped him see more bucks.

“A lot of times, bucks will come up into those points and get near the edge of the field without actually coming out in the open,” Tony said.

Tony believes that those bucks are cruising by fields to look for does, and if they don’t notice any, they aren’t likely to stick their headgear — or their shoulder — out there where you can take a shot at it.

Lamar Franks of Milledgeville has taken many nice bucks over the years by prescribing to a simple plan of deer-hunting action. Lamar looks for escape routes and sets up to catch deer coming to or leaving a piece of property.

Think of it this way. You are the first member at your club in a treestand on most weekends. When all the others start walking through the woods to get to their favorite spot, what do the deer do? If they feel pressured, they are likely moving quickly and quietly to a place where they aren’t pressured. This might be the overgrown corner of the club nobody hunts. Instead of overlooking that spot, check to see if it has potential as a fool-proof stand location.

“I hunted a place that had a 1,400-acre farm on one side,” Lamar said. “When they combined one crop, they were coming with tractors right behind the combines to plant something else.”

The local deer were treating the place like a buffet, feeding often in fields. And while all the other members of Lamar’s club wanted to hunt one large tract of land, Lamar set up on a 20-acre corner across the road. The deer would feed in the agriculture fields, and if they felt pressured, they would escape through the little corner where Lamar was sitting.

The little swamp bottom where he hunts has been a great spot for Lamar over the years, helping him take many nice bucks, including two 140-class giants.

The same tactic has helped Chuck kill many a nice deer on public land using the same technique over the years.

“You have to find their escape routes,” Chuck said.

Chuck found one such area on Chickasawhatchee WMA several years ago.

“I would drive the road that ran along the property line between Chickasawhatchee and some paper company land, and I kept seeing deer cross the road in the same spot.

“When I found that place, it wasn’t a matter of whether you were going to kill a deer,” Chuck said. “It was a matter of how big it was going to be.”

Finding the escape funnel the deer were using to move from the WMA to the unhunted paper-company tract worked out well for Chuck, even when timber was being thinned on the WMA.

“I went to that spot and I got up in the tree, and I could see logging equipment and I stayed,” Chuck said.

Chuck saw a doe and a spike on his first trip to the stand, but he elected not to shoot. His patience was rewarded a few minutes later when a big 8-pointer came along.

Chuck related another story about finding a place on B.F. Grant WMA where there was a swamp with a ridge running part of the way around it. There was very thick cover on the swamp edges and where a drainage ran down the ridge. The spot was near a property boundary, and Chuck said he saw many deer in the area, especially a little while after first light, when other hunters moving through the woods got the deer headed for some place safe.

Chuck will hunt an escape route sometimes even if the area has been thinned or completely clearcut.

“Even if the timber is cut, a lot of times, the deer still go down the same trails,” Chuck said.

This next bit of advice might not be something you have ever considered, but it could really pay off on a super-cold morning. November is typically the time in Georgia when we finally get some good, frosty mornings and plenty of cold weather. What do you do on a frigid morning? More importantly, what does your dog do?

Watch Fido the next time it is cold out in the morning and you might discover a key for better hunting. As the sun comes up, your dog will move to where the sunlight hits first so he can thaw out from a cold night. Deer like to do the same thing.

“I can write it down,” Sam said. “If I look out the window on a cold morning, my Lab will be laying where the first sun hits and the dog will move every time the sunny spot shifts.”

I have experienced this first hand on cold mornings hunting in open pines. I have on a couple of occasions jumped deer that were laying almost out in the open, soaking up the first rays of warm sunlight to make their way to the ground.

Sam confirmed that following the sun can be an effective way to see more deer from the stand this year when the weather gets cold.

“Deer are like other animals, and they are going to look for a warm spot when the sun starts coming up,” Sam said. “Naturally, they’ll head to the first place to get some sun. That works really well on those cold mornings where the frost melting out of trees sounds like raindrops.”

Instead of pulling the covers over your head and trying to get a little extra sleep, get to the woods. That stand you haven’t hunted on the edge of a clearcut could be just what the doctor ordered for seeing and maybe even taking a deer.

If you haven’t had success in the woods so far this season, take a few minutes one afternoon and look around for some of the same type spots described here. Look to the low areas for thick cover and escape routes, check field and clearcut edges for high vantage points, watch for irregular features on the landscape, follow the sun and find the first spot to light up on a frosty morning — and get ready to fill the freezer with venison.

Every hunter offered bits of additional advice. Lamar said it  best.

“It helps to have a wife who understands and lets me hunt as much as I want to,” he laughed.

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