One certainty you can count on during deer season is seeing your fair share of the unexpected. No matter how much you have invested in scouting and preparation, there will be days when you end up hunting in less than ideal tree stand locations. Factors such as changing deer behavior, rut stages, food availability, weather and your impact in the woods can make a hunt out of any stand vary significantly from day to day. Perfect preseason deer stand locations may dry up quickly leaving you with only one decision – to move your tree stand.
Generally, tree stand placement is related to seasonal changes during deer season. Areas are scouted and stands are hung for the early season, rut and late season. Early season tree stand locations focus around food sources like agricultural fields. As the early season wanes and the phases of the rut pick up, tree stand locations shift to hunting rut patterns. Finally, late-season stand locations shift to hunting available food sources.
But what happens if it all doesn’t go as planned? You are not seeing deer close enough for a shot or not seeing deer at all? How do you decide when it is time to move your tree stand?
Trail Cameras Can Clue You on When to Move
Following a deliberate trail camera schedule throughout the entire year is critical. Your trail cameras provide a wealth of information and that doesn’t stop just because it is hunting season.
Every tree stand placement strategy should include trail cameras. Here are two ways those in season images can help decide if it is time to change your bow stand plans.
First, camera dates, times, moon phase and temperature all factor into a decision to change your stand location. For example, a buck may be showing up out of range or not at all even though you have him consistently on camera before the season. Camera data can pinpoint exactly when he is showing up. If he shows up in range in the morning but never when you are in the stand, perhaps your stand is positioned incorrectly for the morning conditions. Think morning winds or your approach in accessing the stand in the morning. This is just one example of where a Muddy® trail camera can assist in deciding to change your tree stand location.
Second, camera data can be used to ambush a buck that keeps giving you the slip. The scenario is a buck comes out a different spot each evening. Here you can use trail cameras to pinpoint the most likely place to ambush a buck and move your stand accordingly.
Changing Tree Stand Locations Throughout the Season
A consistent theme when deciding to move deer stand locations during the season is reacting to what the deer are telling you. Combine that with the time of year and your choice to move will result in some of the best tree stand locations you will hunt from.
Early Season – The field edge is hard to beat as an early season tree stand location. Acorn concentrations and other food sources should also be part of your bow stand plans early on. Figuring out when you have to change locations in the first few weeks relies on food availability and deer activity. If the food dries up or deer activity decreases consistently, it is time to move your tree stand. Any stand changes this time of year should be done mid-day to avoid disturbing early season deer patterns.
Pre-Rut – Pre-rut signs like active scrapes and early chasing activities are signs it is time to move. Focus on fresh, well-used deer trails and active scrapes. Either take new tree stands or reposition early season stands for pre-rut hunts. The chances of bumping a buck while changing your tree stand placement are greater as more deer movement will occur throughout the day. Consider low impact ways to get in and out of areas as quick as possible.
Rut – The rut can be crazy and patterning deer is difficult. It pays to be as mobile as possible. Changing tree stand locations can potentially occur several times a day depending on what rut activity is in your area. A hang and hunt tree stand strategy allows you to focus on the freshest rut sign. Rut action will vary from day to day and location to location and stands should as well. Shift tree stands accordingly to deer funnels and pinch points that force deer, and most importantly does, to concentrate. Deer stand locations downwind of reliable bedding areas also offer a place to move during the rut. Bucks will frequently check for an estrus doe downwind of bedding areas as the peak rut starts to slow down.
Late Season – Observing the rut coming to an end means you have to move back to the food. Agricultural fields are mostly barren now and easy acorns have been gobbled up. The best tree stand locations post-rut are late season green fields. Recognizing the transition to post-rut early lets you preempt your move to surprise a buck returning to eat. Deer can be moving all day in the late season including some straggler rutting bucks and does. Moving stands has to be deliberate and fast to avoid getting busted.
New Location, New Tree Stand Option
An option worth mentioning when you decide to move hunting locations is to use a new tree stand. Muddy® hang-on stands are easy to carry and they set up quickly. Utilizing another tree stand helps to reduce the disturbance in taking down your existing stand and saves time during the season. Two important considerations when you decide on making a move in season.
Tree stand locations can change and they should change during the season. Use your trail cameras and recognize signs of when it is time to shift your tree stand placement to stay one step ahead of the deer.
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Transitioning Tree Stands for Different Phases of Deer Season
Archery season is over and by this time many hunters have sighted in their rifles for the annual firearms seasons in most states. If you have not already harvested a buck, you are likely anticipating these remaining days in the woods. Anything from bad luck in your tree stands to a nocturnal trophy on your trail cameras may have lead you to this point. Either way, late season deer hunting is a whole different ball game.
This time of year deer have been pressured by other hunters, gone through the peak rut and are dealing with the onset of winter. A trifecta of changes that whitetails deal with and change their patterns because of. Deer hunting strategies, particularly stand placement, have to evolve over the course of the season to follow mature bucks through these changing times. Your stands from archery season are, most likely, not where they should be for late season whitetail hunting.
Phases of Deer Season
Seasonal phases of whitetails should influence how you hunt and where you hang your tree stands. These phases can occur rapidly, so understanding them and knowing how to change your stand locations is important. This general background on the phases of deer season will lead us to our objective of setting up late season deer stands and discussing other tips for late season bucks.
Phase One: Early Season
During the early season, whitetails are focused on food. Tree stands should be concentrated around food plots, agricultural lands and mast producing woodlands. This is also where your trail camera setups should be placed to gather as much knowledge of the local deer herd you will be hunting.
Does and younger bucks will move towards these defined food sources in the last hour or so of daylight. Early season deer hunting stands placed downwind and at a point where you can access them with little to no disturbance are usually good bets for meat hunting. However, more mature bucks are going to be feeding in the early morning hours or after sunset. Here you want stands positioned near staging areas. These areas can be small food sources between bedding areas and the main food source or habitat features like saddles or wood rows where bucks will hang out until entering the food source.
Not long after deer season starts, deer seem to disappear. Full food plots and soybean fields quickly turn to ghost towns. The reasons for this drop in deer activity are debatable. The October lull can still be hunted but understand that deer are changing their patterns in response to food source changes and preparation for the upcoming breeding season.
Successfully hunting the October lull does not necessarily mean a change in tree stand placement but rather a change in hunting strategy. Focus on hunting cold fronts, sitting all day and finding acorn crops. Since the rut is looming, the last thing you want is to over hunt a good area and ruin it for the rest of the year, including rifle season. Avoid hunting tree stands in prime areas and save them for later in the year. Hunt, or move, stands near bedding locations and heavy mast areas for your best chance in this phase.
As October comes to an end, the October lull gives way to the onset of the rut. Pre-rut bucks are actively out producing rubs, scrapes and defining territorial boundaries. These signs are useful in how to pick a tree stand location. Setup along active scrape lines and ambush points for bucks working rub lines.
Bucks are active in this phase and daytime sightings are common. They will be clearly staying within their defined home range but out during shooting hours and harvestable with the right tree stand placement.
The time every hunter looks forward to is the rut. Does are coming into estrus, bucks are chasing and the deer movement throughout the day picks ups. This time of year, usually around the first week of November through December (varying depending on your location and a host of other factors), is when you should have tree stands up in major travel corridors. Doe movement in these areas will have bucks following. Rut hunting 101 says stay all day in your stands because the mature buck’s schedule is completely out the window. He can appear alongside a doe or be called in at any time and if you are not in stand it is an opportunity missed.
The chase is over and bucks have their pick as most does are now in estrus. Mature bucks will lay with does anywhere from 24-28 hours until breeding is complete. Thus, mature bruisers are likely vacant from an area for a few days, leaving only younger bucks still searching for a mate available to harvest.
Emphasis hunting tree stands near thick cover and other doe bedding areas while hunting the lockdown phase of deer season. Be patience as a buck will eventually come out of lockdown and move again in search of another doe.
Buck activity picks up slightly as mature whitetails seek out the last remaining does that have not been bred. Stand placement in the post rut hinges on those same areas you hunted during the peak of the rut, such as main travel areas and funnels. Travel thoroughfares are likely spots to catch a mature whitetail pursuing an unbred doe.
Food sources also come back into play when hunting post rut bucks. Deer, in general, are depleted and are looking to regain calories lost over the course of the last month or so. Cold fronts play a role here as the bulk of winter months are looming. Acorns and remaining agricultural fields are good tree stand locations generally but especially as cold fronts approach your hunting location. Additional Content: Hunting The Post Rut
These phases of deer season are not a complete, definitive guide by any stretch. Each phase is far from having a clearly drawn line or timeframe from which one can decipher the end of one phase and the start of another. However, they do put into perspective the idea of how a whitetail changes during the course of a hunting season and some basic approaches to deer stand placement strategy over the course of the season.\
Late Season Deer Hunting
With the rut behind us or perhaps just finishing up, the rest of the hunting season can be lumped into what is called the late season. Sure, some second rut activity may start up here and there but for the most part, rutting is over and bucks and does are back to turning their attention to food sources. Hunting bucks late season often marks the start of rifle hunting in most states. Late season stand placement either means transitioning your tree stands back to early season areas on low-pressure properties or focusing on pressure points near food sources for pressured deer.
With the rut concluding, bucks are back to food sources. The need to replenish reserves for the looming winter are great. The catch is, food has changed since the beginning of deer season (phase one). Somewhat unlimited forage has been cut, picked or killed off by frost by this time in the year. December and the months ahead until spring leaves mature whitetails with fewer options to fill up on. Mast producing areas and winter food plots are prime areas to target for late season deer hunting. Also, areas with remaining standing corn or cover crops like winter wheat or rye can also pull deer out.
Trail cameras are going to be very helpful to identify which food sources bucks are using. The colder temperatures synonymous with late season hunting can push bucks into food sources earlier in the day, earlier than you have seen them all year. With trail camera tips for late season deer hunting, you can effectively mark these timings and position late season deer stands accordingly.
Late Season Deer Hunting Tree Stand Placement – Food Sources
Inside corners of food plots or fields are used by mature whitetails to enter and feed in food sources. Setup down wind, preferably in a tree stand on a bottleneck just off of the field.
Habitat hubs are places where two or more ridges, wood strips or creek bottoms converge. If you can find one of these stops on a known buck’s travel cycle (think bedding to food) with your trail cameras you are in business.
Defined edges can be anything from a change in timber types (oak to pines) to a cut field edge along an oak stand. Either way, deer will travel edges, especially around mast producing areas to pop out into food sources.
Another late season deer hunting tactic during this “last phase” of deer season is going to be pressure areas. If you are hunting on public land, rifle season is going to see an increase in hunter pressure. Deer, especially bucks, are not going to wander out into open oak flats or fields to feed with hunters roaming around. The pressure will have them forced back into heavy cover areas adjacent to food sources. They will still feed but positioning tree stands will be much more important.
Late Season Deer Hunting Tree Stand Placement – Pressure Areas
Heavy cover will hold bucks that have been pressured out of their normal routines. Transition tree stands to areas that are adjacent to reliable food sources.
Off the grid is a late season deer hunting tactic to find undisturbed bucks away from any late season hunting pressure. Hang a stand deep in the backcountry or on a farm that has not been hunted, along well-used
Alternative food sources are places for stands that can relieve some late season pressure. Instead of sitting over a food plot, look for cut corn fields with some standing rows or groups of hickory or beech that will draw in deer.
Late Season Deer Hunting Tree Stand Placement – The Right Tree
Late season bucks require transitioning your archery stands to late season locations. Those who blindly hunt in stands without understanding tips for late season bucks will have a mediocre hunting season at best. Once you know where to move your stand, a good tree to put it in makes all the difference.
Tree stand setup tips should include a tree that is:
downwind of where you expect to see deer or where they will be coming from.
as far as possible off of the hunting area, food, sign, travel areas, etc. as you can comfortable shoot successfully.
multiple stemmed for concealment and positioning accessories.
Changing up your tree stands in the late season for whitetails is only part of being successful. Your strategy also has to adapt as deer are looking winter right in the eye. After you have your stands positioned for the late season, here are a few hunting tips to increase your chances on a mature late-in-the-year buck.
Hunt late. Buck activity coupled with the cold temperatures makes it more productive to spend your time hunting the afternoon and evening rather than the early morning.
Practice shooting, again. Range time is great over the summer but remember that late season deer hunting will have you shooting with heavy clothes and gloves on. If you have not already practiced shooting in these situations pre-season, then hit the range again before you sit in your stand with a rifle.
Weather watching. Whitetails will be motivated by storm fronts so keep an eye on the weather and plan hunts around approaching and departing winter storms.
Keep checking trail cameras. Vital information can be observed from late season game cameras. Keep them up and checked regularly to pinpoint where to ambush that hold over buck.
Explore new areas. Late season is a good time to grab a mobile tree stand and explore some new hunting spots. Setup when you come across good sign (trails, scat, old rubs, etc.) and use it as an opportunity to also find a new spot for next year.
In the end for those of us still in the woods with an empty tag, late season whitetail hunting is all that remains until we cap yet another hunting season. Successful or not, each hunting seasons has its ups and downs. Pressured, tired bucks require a different approach such as transitioning tree stands and thinking about late season hunting strategies. Late season deer hunting is not for the faint of heart. But, these late season tips can be your ticket to success if you still need to fill a buck tag.
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Which Tree Stands You Should Use in These Hot Spots
Hunters are always looking for that secret hidey-hole spot where they can consistently arrow a mature buck year after year. You know what we’re talking about. It’s that hidden little gem of a spot that you always keep for the perfect weather conditions and don’t tell anyone else about. It’s no easy feat to accomplish this goal, but it can be done with some good scouting, disciplined hunting, and a quality deer stand. If you’re eyeing your tree stands right now, trying to figure out where you should put them for the first early season hunt of the year, then read on.
If your goal is to kill a big whitetail (why wouldn’t it be?), then you need to be where the big whitetails are, right? During the rut, bucks could show up anywhere in their pursuit of new does. But during the early season, bucks are more predictable in their daily movement patterns and stay fairly close to “home base.” They need food, water, and cover to survive, so that’s your basic starting point. But since there’s not much human pressure for early season deer hunting, they’re not too picky about finding remote thickets to hide out in just yet. A simple spot with good cover and little human intrusion is good enough. Also, food is still plentiful in most areas this time of year, making it easy for them to bed and feed within fairly close proximity to each other.
So if that’s all that’s required, why don’t more hunters repeatedly get their target list bucks? There are obviously more variables than these in a real hunting situation (e.g., weather conditions, scent control, camouflage, hunting practices, etc.) that can complicate the matter. And as far as how to pick a tree stand location, there are better spots within the broad definitions we mentioned already. By locating yourself in one of the high percentage spots below, you’ll be in a great position for tagging out.
Three Best Places to Hang Your Tree Stands
Without further ado, let’s reveal the three best places to hunt deer. But we’ll do you one better than that. We’ll also explain the types of tree stands you should use for each area, since different spots will require a different approach and tactics.
The Farm Field Tree Stand
This one is a given for many people in farm country. If you have access to agricultural fields with corn, beans, or even alfalfa, you’ve likely sat on the edge of them at some point. And why not? It’s hard to resist these spots. You have great visibility and the deer inevitably come out to eat each night.
Why are these spots so great for early season hunts? Bucks are still on their summer feeding pattern, which means they will be chowing down on the easily available forage on the farm fields each evening. And again, as long as they don’t feel pressured, they will continue this pattern until the velvet starts to dry up. At that point, bucks will usually split ways and live solo the rest of the fall. So capitalize on this unique window of time while you can.
The best tree stands for these areas are box stands or ground blinds. They offer almost total concealment, which is important for keeping the deer unaware. There are usually many pairs of eyes on the field watching for danger, so being concealed inside will help you get away with a little more movement. It will also help contain your scent while you’re hunting. The key with this setup is to be tucked into the woods a little bit, where you can sneak out on an access trail. If you’re too exposed, it will be impossible to leave your stand at the end of the day when there are deer on the field.
The Hunting Plot Tree Stand
Similar to the larger field stand, the hunting food plot location works because it can attract hungry deer. But what’s special about this setup is that it is usually located in a secluded spot with good cover around it, which makes it especially attractive to more reclusive bucks. Even early season bucks can get shy about daytime appearances when they start shedding their velvet. But a hunting plot is surrounded by thick security cover, which makes them feel safe to enter during the day.
In order for this to work, the hunting plot should be no bigger than one quarter acre and it should be planted with a very high attraction food plot species. Good options include brassicas, cereal grains, and annual clovers. These species tend to grow fine on shaded, smaller plots. The smaller size will also draw deer in for security purposes, but they are too small to keep them browsing all night. Eventually, they will usually move along to larger fields as night approaches.
The best tree stands for these areas are climbing tree stands. You can easily sneak into one of these areas during the afternoon, climb up the tree, hunt the evening, and shimmy back down when it’s time to leave. The Woodsman climbing tree stand is constructed of lightweight aluminum, yet is comfortable and durable enough for many evening hunts to come.
The Double Whammy Tree Stand
The last spot you should consider hanging your early season tree stands is actually a combination of a good water source and heavy cover. While deer get a lot of their water needs from the vegetation they eat, hotter-than-average early season temperatures will be sure to send deer to available water sources. If you can find or make a water source near thick cover (e.g., dogwood thicket, early successional forest, etc.), you can bet that deer will be bedded nearby.
It’s always a calculated move to hunt near bedding areas. But sometimes fortune favors the brave. The best tree stands for these areas are lock on stands. Why? When the conditions are right, you can simply sneak in and climb into your lock on stand (using a safety harness, of course) without much disturbance. The nice thing about these hunting tree stands is that you can hang several of them in different promising spots and then only hunt them when the weather is right.
There you have it. Three great early season hunting spots and which tree stands you should use in each one. This season, consider whether you have access to one of these areas and strongly consider doing something about it. You might like the outcome.
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