Ground Scent and Access Routes
For many of my early archery hunting years I failed to consider several of the smaller details surrounding archery hunting success. One such detail was ground scent and stand access. A lot of times the easiest access to a stand location is the same travel path that the deer routinely use. Deer are lazy, and the secure path of least resistance is often where they travel. And so it happens to be that we hunters can tend to be lazy as well. Not coincidentally the path we often choose is the same path the deer walk. I believe that many times the reason that we fail to see deer while on the stand is that the deer which would have come through our area are alerted before they are within sight (or smell) of a hunter in a treestand by the scent that hunter leaves on the ground. That deer trail you crossed 100 yards to the west may be the tip-off a mature buck needs to head back in the direction he came from instead of continuing through your area.
I’ve started to consider my access routes to stand locations and have begun to tweak my approach in minor, subtle ways in order to avoid detection by deer. When possible, I cut access paths through the woods in the spring so that the least amount of vegetation comes in contact with my clothing. This also does a lot to reduce noise during your approach. Secondly, when I am cutting these access lanes, it try to steer clear of known deer trails. Sometimes this requires my access to the stand to be significantly longer, or a tougher walk. But the results justify the additional effort. In hill country, it can be almost impossible to avoid crossing some deer trails when you traverse a hill side to your stand location. Getting creative about your access can solve many of your problems. Perhaps you need to access your stand from the backside of the hill and drop down to your hunting position on the leeward side from the ridge top above. If you are hunting later in the afternoon, your approach may need to be from the bottom of the hill and you may position your stand below the travel corridor you are hunting to take advantage of thermal currents than will pull your scent away from aproaching deer. In these scenarios, it may be possible to never cross a deer path you expect travel to occur along.
Still, I seem to find situations where it is almost impossible to avoid crossing some deer paths on the way to my hunting location. In these circumstances, it becomes even more important to have an idea of where the deer you are hunting is likely bedding. If you have a good idea of the bedding that is being utilized on a specific wind direction, you can appropriately plan you access to both avoid bumping deer from that bedding area during your approach, and avoid having your scent entering the bedding area during your hunt. If I have to cross a deer path, I will do it on the side of my stand opposite of where I expect the deer to travel from. This way, by the time the deer are able to detect any ground scent, they will have already walked through several shooting lanes. Keep in mind that the way you approach your stand can, and should, likely change depending on whether you are hunting that location in a morning or an afternoon. Several of my stands should be accessed from the East in the morning and West in the afternoon, or vis-a-versa. Below is an example of just that:
If you are hunting on private land, another option may be to create an obstacle to deflect deer movement away from your access route. This can be beneficial for changing a movement pattern just slightly enough to avoid wind detection as well. If the trail you are hunting is below the only tree that can hold a treestand in the area, hinge cutting a line of brush to angle the trail above the tree can manipulate deer movement enough to allow you to access your treestand from the lower side and not have to cross the heavily travel path. While this option is not viable for public land hunters in many states, those controlling their own piece of property can reap the rewards of a little sweat equity.
Paying attention to intricate details like access routes and accepting that it may take a little work to optimize your hunting situation can land you in a better position to capitalize on those precious opportunities at a savvy whitetail this year.
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