Springtime hikes through your favorite hunting tracts rarely disappoint, but you’ve got an especially good feeling about this one. You climb the hill, hit the bench that parallels the underside of the ridge line, and start walking along it. Suddenly, each step reveals even more promising deer sign, and then you see it—big beds and massive rubs everywhere.
No doubt, if the deer that made the sign survived last season, you’ve stumbled into an excellent hunting spot. And it was all thanks to a few clues revealed by HuntStand Pro. Several weeks previous, you tapped into the app, and found the promising area, during an e-scouting session from the comfort of your home. The next steps? You light up your HuntStand Hunt Area map by dropping some descriptive scouting pins, take the time to mark a potentially hot treestand site or two—and leave it alone until fall.
The off-season is an excellent time to scout for deer, to see how they use the landscape, and find better hunting spots. For those who hope for consistent success each year, it’s critical to scout for and find new stand sites during the off-season. Late winter through spring—the period we’re in right now—are the best times to do so. Here is what you need to know.
What Makes A Great Stand Site?
Before we can find better treestand and ground blind sites, we must first understand the characteristics of good stand locations. And a good stand location hinges on where, when, and how deer use and traverse the area.
There are five key factors that influence how deer use and move about the landscape. Bedding cover, food sources, and water source locations are the primary things. The secondary factors, which are almost as important, include the presence of rutting activity (or lack thereof), volume of deer activity, and the level of hunting pressure.
Good stand locations are positioned in places with those five things in mind. Furthermore, good stand locations are meant to put you in position to intercept this deer movement while simultaneously keeping deer from seeing, smelling, or hearing you. Here’s where things get a bit tougher. There are numerous things that influence these critical factors, and HuntStand Pro can help with all of them.
Playing The Wind
The first is prevailing wind. You have two options when hanging permanent, or semi-permanent treestand locations. No. 1, these should be positioned with the most-common wind direction for that area. Or No. 2, hang these in the best spot, regardless of the wind direction it’s suited for, and know you must patiently await the ideal wind to hunt it.
Access is another major consideration. A treestand location is only as good as its entry and exit routes. Here’s where most hunters cut corners. If you spook deer walking in, it’s a bust. The same can be true if you bump deer walking out. You must be able to arrive and depart without deer seeing or hearing you, which can require trimming brush and clearing small lanes along the routes and around the treestand. Do this “extra” work and you’ll have a quiet, boot-to-soil and fabric-rustling-free approach.
Once you’ve found a good treestand location, the specific tree must offer quality concealment. If you’re sky-lined, deer will easily pick you off. You need plenty of back cover from the tree you’re in, as well as from the surroundings beyond it. To achieve this, a tree needs to be approximately 15-20 inches in diameter. Given the tree is healthy and in good condition, this size range is generally large enough to safely hold you, isn’t generally too big to navigate when hanging treestands, and offers the back cover you need while hunting.
When possible, stands should be hung with the sun at your rear. That said, this is the last and least most important box to check. All the above factors trump this one.
Your own visibility is important as well. You can’t shoot what you can’t see. With more visibility, you can also be a more-effective caller, luring passing bucks with grunts, bleats and rattling. Find a spot that addresses this. On private land you own, or have permission to do so, perhaps consider trimming shooting lanes through areas with thick cover. Most times, it doesn’t take much trimming to make a marginal site great.
Regarding treestand height, trees with less cover, or thicker areas that are difficult to shoot down into, might require hanging the stand higher. That said, do not go higher than 24-25 feet. Safety issues become too big and kill zones on deer become too small. Of course, always use a safety harness and linemen’s belt while hanging treestands. Install a safety line for when you return to hunt. This keeps you secured from the time your feet leave the ground until you safely reach it again.
Seasonal vs “Evergreen” Stand Locations
Those who plan to find a good treestand site must know what they’re looking for. Some treestand locations are seasonal, meaning these will likely peak at a certain point in the season. Others are “evergreen,” indicating they could be great spots all season long. Regardless, it’s good to locate great spots for each of the following categories.
Early season is the first seasonal period to think about. Deer are mostly unpressured, and likely still in late-summer or early fall patterns. Certain areas tend to be more conducive to success during the first days of deer season.
Warm-season bedding areas are a great place to start. These include north-facing slopes, closer to field edges, at lower elevations, and near water, where the air temperature is cooler. In severe heat, deer might bed in mature, open timber. Otherwise, they will still likely bed in thicker security cover that falls into one of the warm-season bedding categories mentioned above.
Looking to food sources, alfalfa, green soybeans, and sorghum (milo) are excellent early ag crops for deer. The first acorns to drop have significant drawing power, too. As do soft mast trees, such as apples, pears, persimmons, and plums.
Better Pre-Rut Stand Sites
When the pre-rut rolls around, bucks are still on patterns, but testosterone is rising noticeably. Now is the time bucks begin transitioning from summer to fall ranges. At this point, they begin spending more time in typical fall bedding areas. This is generally in thicker cover, deeper in cover, and at slightly higher elevations.
Agricultural fields are still good, but the focus is more on picked corn fields. A few late-planted bean fields might still be viable, but it’ll be a few weeks before beans dry enough to really attract deer. Of course, continue to focus on both hard and soft mast. Perhaps remember secluded watering holes near bedding cover.
Prepping ‘Crazy-Time’ Rut Stands
Once the rut arrives, deer go bonkers. The bed-to-feed game plan can still work, but it isn’t the superior play during this time period. It’s time to take advantage of a buck’s testosterone levels. Intercept them while traveling through rut-centric corridors.
The downwind sides of bedding areas are likely the best of these. Hunting “backdoor” stand locations on the edges of bedding areas that you can easily reach without spooking deer are good bets, too. Other hotspots to look for include saddles that bridge the gap between two hubs of deer activity, trails that connect bedding areas, and strategically located watering holes in rut-centric locations. In addition, look for funnels and pinch points between bedding areas, or between bedding areas and food and water sources.
Seasonal treestand sites aside, some areas are good all season long. Deer commonly bed in and along leeward (downwind side) benches, cedar thickets, cutover timber, deep in big timber, ditches and drainages, marsh edges, native grasses, oxbows, points, ridge lines, standing crops, swamp islands, and more. Find these areas during your off-season scouting, and mark them to remember for fall.
HuntStand Pro Advantages
Fortunately, several different features of a HuntStand Pro subscription can help reveal where some of these areas might be located. While the “hybrid” and “satellite” app layers are great for reading the habitat, the new “monthly satellite” layer is an excellent method for seeing the freshest data. While most satellite imagery is updated every two to three years, this layer receives monthly updates. That’s huge when searching for the
most-recent information. After all, it just might reveal recent agricultural activity, flooding, fires, timber harvests, and other things you otherwise wouldn’t have known about without seeing it in person. Likewise, the “contour” and “terrain” layers are solid options for gauging the topography, but these are no match for the newer “3D Map” layer, which truly helps you visualize a property like nothing else.
Once a treestand site is deemed in the right location, expresses the necessary characteristics, and the treestand is in place, it’s important to determine if it will be a better morning or afternoon spot. Few stand locations effectively serve as both. It’s very difficult to find the perfect tree in the perfect spot, but it’s even rarer to locate one that works all day long.
Scouting Hunting Grounds, New & Old
One of the greatest challenges in all of deer hunting is hunting ground you don’t know. It’s akin to fishing new waters you haven’t been on, or haven’t been on in quite some time. Of course, effective scouting is the solution for new properties, and the answer for staying ahead of the curve on old ones.
In some ways, how you scout new and old properties is the same. When possible, it’s helpful to walk all the ground. This is more important for tracts you’ve never seen, but it’s also good to do on semi-familiar properties as well. Things can change.
There are important differences in how you tackle properties you know, and those you’ve never seen. While history with an area is very valuable, it can blind us to certain things. It can also cause us to repeat old patterns, and hunt based on history—rather than on what local deer are currently doing. Remember, how deer use a property changes over time. If you’re stuck in a rut, consider bringing a fresh set of eyes look at your land. Their input can help.
HuntStand Pro Covers All The Angles
When traversing new ground, it’s also good to focus on the areas with the most promise first, and then consider those marginal or less-appealing areas. HuntStand Pro is made for this, as it can help you avoid areas of low value, such as those with homogenous terrain, which might lack edge habitat and/or changes in topography. The app also allows you to look at an area from different angles. You can zoom around, change the directional orientation, and even see the property in 3D. While it’s important to study hunting land on a north-to-south axis, when scouting, it can limit your ability to pinpoint likely hotspots. So, look at it with a north-to-south orientation most of the time, but don’t shy away from twisting, turning, and changing perspective. It just might help reveal a “hidden” hotspot.Once in the afield, it’s important to search the right areas. We’ve covered habitat- and terrain-based features to seek out, but there are other clues hunters should watch for—deer sign. Old sign is mostly irrelevant in small doses. That said, if you find concentrations of old rubs or heavily worn trails, remember these. They can be indicative of historical travel routes that remain in use from year to year. Mark them.While old sign is good, new sign is better. This provides the most recent and relevant information. Search for rubs, scrapes, tracks, trails, and most importantly, specific beds. If you can find exactly where deer are lying down during daylight hours, it provides a huge advantage when hanging treestands, charting access routes, and determining what wind directions to hunt on.
When scouring lands new and old, it’s important to look for major trails, as well as minor trails that parallel larger ones. Oftentimes, bucks use the smaller trails that are further within cover, while does and younger bucks use the larger, more exposed ones. Trail intersections, trails that parallel fields just within cover, inside field corners, secluded food sources, staging areas, and other locations where heavy deer sign is present should be considered, too.
Pulling Your Plan Together
Those who plan to scout as effectively as possible this off-season need two approaches—e-scouting and boots on the ground. The beauty of HuntStand Pro, is that it will help you with both. In the end, it’s all about finding the “X.” When you find those treasured spots, mark them. Log notes so you’ll remember them. Then hunt them this fall when HuntStand Pro says the time is right—and don’t be surprised if it’s a season you will never forget.