Early Is Better
Labor Day Weekend was for many years my target for scouting and hanging stands. It seems somewhat naive now, but at the time it seemed like getting fairly recent information while giving the woods about a month break before season would yield the best of both worlds. The problems with a happy medium hunting approach is that it requires compromise, and when you begin your hunting season with compromise you are likely going have to continue to do so throughout the Fall.
Sometimes a hasty last minute decision requires a stand to be thrown up in September, but your goal should be to make this the exception rather than the rule. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with moving a stand or hanging a new set in season to adapt and conform to changing deer movement, or if you see that a slight adjustment will provide a better harvest opportunity. However, what should be avoided at all costs is invasive, pattern altering scouting and stand setting immediately before the season. The majority of your scouting efforts should be relegated to post season and your stands should go in early, and here’s why:
- Deer patterns have an historical element. The same concept that keeps too many hunters returning to the same over-hunted stands year after year is what makes post season scouting the most valuable weapon in your hunting arsenal. When the foliage is down, and regeneration has not yet begun, the woods will be laid out like a Whitetail map. Trails, rubs and scrapes are all highly evident (and from longer distances) and most importantly, post season is one of the easiest times of year to find beds. The deer sign that was laid down during the months of hunting season, (sign which you found last December-April), is highly relevant in determining what the deer will do this year. Things like natural food sources and crop rotation can certainly affect deer movement from year to year, but at worst you will be able to establish patterns over a longer period of time, knowing how deer will react given predictable changes in their environment and food availability.
- Deer patterns are seasonal. If you are reserving your scouting sessions for September, chances are you are scouting fresh Summer sign. Hanging stands based on Summer feeding patterns can lead to immense amounts of disappointment and frustration come October and November. As food sources are either harvested or depleted, deer patterns will change and adjust. A heavily used trail heading to a bean field that shows consistent buck travel in August can prove to be one of worst places to sit on October 1st. Additionally, its widely recognized that bucks will often have different Summer and Fall ranges. Why this occurs is up for debate, but what is known is that a buck living on a property in August may not be there after velvet peel. A few game camera pictures of a buck using a specific trail in the Summer is probably not enough intel to confidently hang a stand and expect a shot at that buck, unless you are able to relate the deer’s movement to bedding; which is information you would have gathered while post season scouting. Its very possible that the buck on your trail camera has moved on to a different Fall core area and the inventory and movement of the bucks on your property will have changed between September 1st and October. If you aren’t relating your stand positions to bedding areas that are historically utilized in the Fall you are going to be spending a lot of energy to place stands out of range of your target deer, and because food sources are rapidly changing in late Summer and early Fall, hanging a stand simply based on current deer movement can be a recipe for some dry sits come archery season.
- Four weeks isn’t enough time. It might seem contradictory to say that four weeks isn’t enough lead time when hanging stands after we’ve just discussed how much can change in the whitetail woods in less than four weeks. However, when you enter the woods, you are applying pressure to a property. I prefer to have my stands hung approximately 75 days prior to the opening day of hunting season. After I hang my stands I stay out of these locations until I am ready to hunt. Because I am hanging treestands based on the findings of my post season scouting, the locations I choose have little to do with Summer deer patterns. I may hang different stands for early season, the rut and late season, but they will all be related to in-season deer movement and not Summer sign. Hanging stands at least 75 days out gives the woods a chance to recover from the noisy intrusion of carrying stands, sticks and steps into the timber. It also allows me to capitalize on any range shifts that may occur after the bucks shed their velvet. A buck that has a Summer range off a property will be none the wiser when returning in late summer if the human intrusion and scent has long dissipated and the shooting lane cuts you’ve made are no longer fresh. The beauty of post season scouting is that is allows you to utilize information you gathered that is relative to the time of year you will be in the woods trying to kill a buck. For this reason, stand selection becomes a much easier task in summer as you will have already had a chance to select the tree in the winter months when the foliage and deer travel resemble the upcoming conditions. The Summer guess work becomes limited and July simply becomes a month of sweat equity instead of turning September into a month of indecisive stand selection.
Avoiding the idea of compromise when it comes to scouting and hanging stands can yield much more successful results later this Fall. Concentrating your scouting efforts in the post season, while eliminating unnecessary pressure on your hunting property immediately prior to the season is the best recipe for both a stealthy approach and positioning yourself in the most advantageous locations once hunting season rolls around. Hang your stands early and reap the rewards of preparation meeting opportunity.