Gerald Almy: Approach deer stand with caution
Too many hunters spend days in the field scouting and deciding on the perfect place to set up, only to waste this effort by spooking the quarry on their way to the stand. They show up late, rush in clumsily, scuffle leaves, rub up against branches with noisy clothing, walk through areas deer might be in, and either forget to consider wind direction or ignore scent control.
Sometimes, if you’re real lucky, you can 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 involved.
It’s easy to avoid this disaster with just a bit of planning. For starters, don’t get locked in to hunting 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.
If possible, have several ways lined up to approach each site in different wind and weather conditions. If that’s not practical, it’s best to avoid using a specific stand until conditions are exactly right.
To enter your stand unobtrusively you must avoid alerting your quarry’s senses of sight, smell and hearing. Getting 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.
This lets you eliminate the most common reason for a sloppy, loud approach – rushing into the woods because you’re late. You thought you were ready, but then half a dozen little things popped up. Suddenly you’re behind schedule and must rush, possibly even forgetting something in your haste to reach the hunting area before first light. Set the alarm early, to allow a slow, quiet approach.
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 areas where deer might be or crossing major travel routes.
When you’re hunting in mountains, keep in mind that bucks often bed high. Parking above them is best for a morning hunt. In the afternoon, approach from below, since the deer will work down toward evening feeding areas.
The best approach of all is to hike to the stand without walking through any area the deer regularly 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.
In the long run, it’s 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. Take a dry run ahead of time to 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, and then pause. Only man walks upright and hurriedly through the woods without stopping.
Taking such a careful approach also allows you to circumvent a deer’s second major defense mechanism – its sense of hearing. Clip 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 to your hunting companion.
The last deer sense you need to circumvent is smell. Avoid scented soaps, aftershave lotion, gasoline, strong foods like garlic 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 protective 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’re one step closer to harvesting a nice buck or doe.
Good luck, and always keep safety foremost in mind.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.