Hot summer days, family vacations, work, lawns to mow, and plenty of fishing on tap…all those and other things make it hard to think about deer hunting in summer. But if you don’t do a bit of pre-planning, you may be caught without a sound strategy when opening day comes around, whether that means bow season in October or muzzleloader and rifle hunting in November.
It’s time to start doing some trail camera reconnaissance and a bit of low-impact scouting. A lot of decisions about where exactly to hunt may have to be tentative at this time. But at least you can go out and get a feel for what’s going on and potentially where you’ll want to sit as that magic first day arrives.
Let’s explore a few good options for stand locations in general terms. Then you’ll have to get out in the field and use topographic maps and aerial photos to find the best specific spots of these types. As you move through the woods searching, watch for signs such as tracks, worn down trails, beds, scrapes, rubs, droppings, and the animals themselves.
Jot down important things you find in a notebook or on a hand-drawn map of the hunting area. (It’s usually too crowded to put this info on the actual topographic map.) Besides marking where you find important signs, also note possible stand sites that you’ll want to re-evaluate as the October and November seasons get closer.
Here are some proven payoff spots that might be good locations for a stand this fall. Try to have several options ready so you can choose one according to wind direction, phase of the rut, or nearby hunting pressure that particular day in the woods.
One. Trails. After feeding off and on during the night, deer head for thick, swampy, or steep bedding cover shortly after daylight. Then later in the afternoon, an hour or two before dark, they typically head back to major feed areas. Locating stands along major trails leading from feed to bed areas is an excellent all-around bet for a morning or afternoon hunt. In the morning, hunt closer to the bedding cover. In the afternoon, stay positioned closer to the evening feed area so you don’t spook the deer.
Two. Edges of crop field, meadows, clear-cuts, orchards and other areas with forbs and mast. These are particularly prime spots for bow and crossbow hunters. Deer are less wary and less nocturnal in their feeding habits before major gun seasons open. It’s not uncommon to find bucks right out in fields of clover, corn, alfalfa, and fruit orchards during the first and last hours of daylight. Clear-cut logged areas are also good because they have lots of forbs and tender twigs and leaves on the saplings sprouting up following the timber harvesting operation.
The perimeter of these major feed sites are also prime spots throughout the firearms season if you hunt on areas with fairly light pressure. As the rut approaches, does will also draw older bucks out into these more open areas. They’d like to stay back in thicker cover, but because of their rising testosterone levels they can’t resist following the females out into the open areas to see if one is in estrous.
Three. Rubs. These are areas where deer have scraped their antlers against the trunks of small trees. They do this to strengthen neck muscles, relieve tension from building testosterone levels, remove velvet, and mark their territory for does and other bucks. There are various kinds of rubs a buck may make. In general, however, a single rub on a tree with no others nearby isn’t too useful as a clue for where to set up a stand.
Rather, try to locate a line of rubs along a travel route. This will help you decipher why the deer was there and where it was likely heading toward and coming from. This may be a feed-to-bed pattern or during the rut it may be a route a mature buck uses traveling between doe bedding areas as he visits the various female deer groups, searching for the first animals to come into heat. Also, be sure to locate a rub that’s fresh, bold and almost moist looking, rather than dried out and old. Those are of little significance.
Besides looking for a series of rubs along a travel corridor, search for rubs on larger trees, rather than tiny saplings the size of your thumb. Look for rubs on trees the size of an average person’s wrist or larger and that will guarantee you’re likely dealing with at least a 2-year-old buck, and more than likely 3- or 4-years-old.
Next Week: More tried and proven stand locations to look for as deer seasons approach.