After 50 years, it’s really not surprising that my pre- and post-season deer hunting regimen had developed hardening of the arteries. An occasional walk-through on a snowy day notwithstanding, my post-season regimen included little more than zipping from site to site around my hunting grounds, pulling stands as quickly as possible. Afterward, I tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to forget about deer hunting for a few months.
I returned to the woods in late June or early July, loaded down with stands, ladders, safety belts, saws, loppers, insect repellent and at least a gallon of water. After some experience-based, but all too often rushed, scouting, I set stands, cleared shooting lanes, marked access routes with glow pins and did whatever else might be necessary to make the site as hunter friendly as possible.
Believe me, I’m pleased to report that a confluence of factors have helped–forced–me to change the way I get ready for the upcoming deer season. I’m doing my deer hunting solo these days, and the property I’m hunting lacks terrain features that would force a deer to do much of anything it didn’t want to do. Couple that with Amber’s ever-increasing insistence that I use an alien concept she calls “common sense,” and I’m now using only about a half dozen stands–down from the 20 I once considered to be minimal.
Reducing the total number of stands obviously increases the need for the remaining stands to be as effective as possible. Oddly enough, a Christmas present served as the catalyst that opened a new chapter in my deer hunting saga that’s allowing me to do exactly that.
After doing a lot of anticipatory shopping, I converted my mother’s Christmas check into a battery-powered pole chain saw. An immediate test was obviously in order, so I decided to take it along when I went to pick up my stands. In true in-the-a-penny, in-for-a-pound fashion, I took my gas-powered conventional chain saw as well.
I took some time looking for a gear hoist I’d lost last summer somewhere around the first stand site on my route. I didn’t find the hoist, but it slowly began to dawn on me that not only was every deer trail visible, but by comparing how deep and wide the trail had been compressed into the ground duff, it was easy to tell how much each trail was being used. I was seeing detail that would have been completely invisible in June. Eureka!
The evidence showed the stand couldn’t have been in a better place. I took the stand down to give its canvas seat a few months rest from the weather but left its ladder in place.
I’d seen deer several times when hunting the next stand but had only been able to get one shot. The now readily available evidence proved that, while the stand was in the best tree, it needed to be shifted 180 degrees. Since this stand had a waterproof seat, I went ahead and moved it, whereupon I noticed that a little trimming would do a lot to improve the stand’s odds.
I scarcely started working, before the advantages of trimming shooting lanes in February rather than in July became apparent. The lack of foliage not only made it much easier to know what branches and sprouts needed to go and which ones didn’t, but also made the trimmings much lighter and easier to drag out of the way. At least as important, working in 20-degree weather was a whole lot more pleasant than working in 90-degree weather.
By the time I’d completed work on that first stand, the biggest advantage of getting stand sites ready in February and March had fully soaked in. Not even the most paranoid old buck is still going to be worried about miner changes to his habitat that occurred seven months ago. In fact, probably 90 percent of the deer in any given location will have forgotten about disturbances in a few weeks, but the other ten percent–many of which are the very deer you’d most like to have a chance at–won’t have.
One more day will finish my site preparation. All I’ll have to do next July is set the stands, which I can do without leaving more than the slightest short term evidence of my presence.
Note: site preparation tactics like the ones I’ve just described can only be done on private land with the permission of the landowner. It’s illegal to trim or remove trees on public land.