We’re still a few months out from deer season here in Michigan, but I wanted to talk about picking the right tree to hunt from. Many of you will go out at some point this summer and hang stands or preset trees for saddle hunting, and I wanted to share some tips I’ve found over the years.
There Is No Set Height
People seem to have this notion that they have to be 30 feet up in a tree to hunt successfully. A very common question asked is, “Is 20 feet high enough to hunt from?” The answer is it depends on the situation. For 95% of hunting scenarios 20 feet or under will be more than adequate, but in some rare instances, you may need to be 30 feet up. A better factor to consider is how much cover exists around and on the tree you select. If you are 40 feet in the air on a bare tree with no other trees around, the deer will spot you a mile away. Conversely, if you are 8 feet up with a lot of cover you would be good to go. There’s also the issue of falls to consider. Over a third of all hunters will experience a fall from a tree at some point. If you fall from 12 feet you’ll likely be a lot better off than a fall from 30 feet. Either way, it pays to always wear a safety harness and remain connected to the tree.
Avoid Bedding Areas
How stealth are you? Now, how stealth are you at 5:30 am with no flashlight and carrying a bow or rifle and hunting pack? Probably not stealthy enough to get into a bedding area. There is a time and place to move in and hunt close, but it’s a gamble and if you make the wrong move can see the buck you’re chasing move out of your property and onto the neighbors. Focus instead on paths. Deer will spend their time moving between bedding and food. During the rut, you add chasing does into the mix and chaos ensues. Generally though, during normal parts of the year they are very habitual. They have a route that they take each day. Usually, the route is in cover and leads them from where they sleep to where they eat. Water will generally be somewhere along this path as well. If you can find their “hallway” between their bedroom and kitchen that’s where you want to set up. In the morning you sneak into your stand while they’re out and catch them around daylight on the way back to bedding. In the evening you can catch them slipping out of bedding and heading towards food as the sun goes down.
Think About Access
The best hunting spot in the world is not a very good one if there’s no access to it. You need to be able to get into your tree quietly, and without the wind blowing your scent downwind to every deer on the property. This can be the difference between choosing a tree on one side of the property or the other. You need to understand what the wind typically does on a piece of land. This might need to include an understanding of thermal winds in many places as well. Look for trees to hunt that blow your scent away from bedding areas and onto neighboring properties. Make sure that you trim access lanes (if you have permission) in addition to shooting lanes. You need to be able to get to your stand quietly without tripping over branches and crunching sticks the whole way.
It is easy to burn out a hunting location, especially if you’re not the only hunter using a specific property. There are also environmental factors that may make a specific stand a poor choice for that day. You need a plan B, plan C, and plan D at a minimum. This is why so many hunters are now choosing to go mobile with lightweight hang-on stands or saddle equipment. Don’t be the guy who’s hunted the same tree for 20 years. Deer are smart animals and they will figure you out. As habitual as they are, if they sense a human presence they will alter their path in a heartbeat.
On this subject, having multiple properties to hunt is also a good idea. Have the main spot you hunt, but scout some locations on public land or other properties you have permission on. A successful hunter is one who is constantly adapting and changing to the conditions in the woods and the pattern of the deer.
I hope this gives you some new things to think about when planning hunting spots. Consider hunting some lower heights with great cover in prime spots, avoid bedding areas (for the most part), ensure your chosen tree has a good access path that accounts for the wind and noise, and have multiple spots ready to hunt. I promise it will get you closer to more deer.