Many hunters spend days in the field scouting and patterning buck movements to try to find just the right place to set up, but then waste all this effort by spooking the quarry on their way to the stand. They arrive late, charge in clumsily, scuffle leaves, brush against branches with noisy clothing, walk through areas deer might be in, forget to consider wind direction and ignore scent control.
Occasionally, if you're lucky, you'll get away with such a sloppy approach. Other times these mistakes can ruin a carefully chosen stand site -- perhaps just for the morning hunt, perhaps for the season if an old, wary buck is badly spooked.
You can avoid this disaster with just a bit of planning and forethought. First, don't get locked in to one site. Have a number of stand or blind options you can turn to and select one based on a last-minute analysis of weather, hunting pressure, stage of the rut, food availability and other factors.
Try to have several ways to approach each site in different wind and weather conditions. If that's not practical, avoid using a specific stand until conditions are exactly right.
If you want to enter your stand unobtrusively you must avoid alerting your quarry's senses of sight, smell and hearing. I've found being totally prepared ahead of the hunt helps you accomplish that goal. Have everything laid out so you can slip on your clothes, grab your gear and leave.
Do this and you can eliminate the most common reason for a sloppy, loud approach -- rushing because you're late. You thought you were ready, but then half a dozen little things come up. Suddenly you're behind schedule and must rush, possibly even forgetting something in your haste to reach the hunting area before first light. I once settled into my deer stand after just such a harried start and found I didn't have any extra ammo!
Eliminate such flub-ups by getting all clothing and gear ready the night before so you can down a quick breakfast and head out. Set the alarm extra early, to allow a slow, quiet approach.
Be sure to consider ahead of time the location of your camp or vehicle in relation to the stand. If you're hunting deer moving to a bedding area after night feeding, park your vehicle or locate your camp so you can walk to the stand without having to go through deer feeding areas or across major travel routes.
If you're hunting in mountains, bucks often bed high, so parking above them is best for a morning hunt. In the afternoon, approach from below, since the deer will work down towards evening feeding areas.
The ideal setup is to hike into the stand without walking through any area the deer ever use. At the very least, avoid walking through a location where they might be at the time you enter the stand. This may mean circling an extra half-mile to circumvent the area where the deer are.
It's well worth the effort. If you arrive early, you'll have time to cool down from the hike, settle in, load your gun or nock an arrow and allow the woods around you to grow quiet and your senses to key in to the hunting mode. Making a dry run ahead of time lets you see exactly how long it takes to reach your stand without rushing.
All of these steps will help you avoid being visually detected by the quarry. At times, though, deer won't be where we expect them to be and that's why a slow, cautious approach is best. Walk 20 or 30 steps, then pause, at least during the final approach. Only man walks upright and hurriedly through the woods without stopping.
Such a careful approach also allows you to circumvent a deer's second major defense mechanism -- its sense of hearing. Trim brush so you can reach the stand quietly and move dead limbs you might stumble over in the dark. Vehicle noise can also alert bucks. Park as far away as practical, close doors quietly and whisper if you must talk.
The final deer sense to circumvent is smell. Avoid scented soaps, aftershave lotion, gasoline, strong foods and other foreign odors. Bathe and shampoo with scent-free soaps or baking soda, and then use sent-eliminating sprays on clothing and boots for extra protection.
Combine these steps with not walking through where the deer are as you enter the stand and coming at the site from downwind and you should be able to totally avoid spooking the quarry. Do that and you've made the perfect approach.
Try to avoid overheating. It's almost impossible to hike a long way into a stand with heavy hunting clothes on and not become overheated and sweaty. Avoid this by carrying most of your outer clothes in or strapped to your pack. Wear synthetic underwear that wicks moisture away and allows body heat to escape and just a shirt and pants for the hike in. You should also pause often. When you get to the stand, take several minutes to cool down before putting the heavy clothes on.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.