How often have you heard a deer hunter say: “So many choices, so little time?”
And, here the October bow season is, and we have got the itch to climb into a deer stand regardless of the heat, humidity, mosquitoes or snakes.
That leads us to the No. 1 question of the mind of many a hunter: Which stand do I pick for the opening day of archery season, or later on Nov. 22 on the first day of gun season.
If you’re smart, you’ve already put a little planning and thought into stand choices ahead of packing your gear for deer camp. Don’t just toss a coin, throw dice, or sling a dart to a board.
Plan for it.
Standing order review
Typical of the plight of many Mississippi hunters is that of Dr. Drew Dulaney of Byram, who hunts about an hour north of home at a camp with myriad choices of stands.
“Gosh, we have 16 food plots spread out over 600 acres of land in Holmes County right on the banks of the Big Black River,” Dulaney said. “There is some type of hunting stand on each of those plots from a home-built covered shooting house, to a 16-foot tripod stand with a swivel chair seat, and a ladder stand lashed to a tree hiding in the corner somewhere.
“Top that with other various ladders or tripods placed along a natural gas pipeline right-of-way, an electric power line crossing the property, as well as a sewer water effluent discharge drainage pipe line coming from the nearby city running to the river across our place.”
These intrusions may sound like a pain, Dulaney said, “but in reality it has opened up an otherwise overgrown farmland property that had morphed into a jungle. These crossings have actually created more spaces for wildlife food plots and open deer hunting. We have more than enough stands to select for hunting.
“Pressure is not great, because there are never more than three or four out of the five owners at any given time on the property during deer season. Most of the hunting is on weekends or during holidays anyway. There is some surrounding pressure from other hunting clubs, but not that much.”
While it sounds like an ideal situation, the abundance of choices can lead to anxiety in picking just the right spot, especially at clubs that do little or no tracking of success or failure at each stand location. It can be compounded if the clubs do a poor job of recording observation data on a man-day hunting basis.
With no history to study, hunters have little or no idea which stands are good ones, so-so, or poor. The stands remain in the same locations season after season with no variation, even if they have never produced a decent buck.
A good accounting of stand productivity sure can be helpful, and when it is available should certainly factor in the analysis of hunting spots, particularly early in the season before daily observations become important.
Here are some further tips and stand criterion to take under consideration for picking that crucial opening day stand either for bow hunting or a gun season hunt later on when other deer hunting factors change as well.
Analyze your property
Short of having harvest and observation records to study, the next best option is giving thought to your personal observation of how the deer travel and subsist on your hunting land.
If you have hunted the same property for several years or decades, you should know deer travel patterns, where they eat, where they bed up, and spots where does hang out especially during the rut.
Ask yourself how many deer have you taken on your hunting land the past few seasons, what kind, particularly bucks, and when and where specifically.
If any of the hunters make a comment like, “that old snag tree is a great place to hunt,” don’t take their word for it. Ask them why.
As previously stated, ideally you and your partners have kept some harvest data, especially where deer have been taken, when, and under what kinds of environmental or climatic hunting conditions. If not, then it is time to start collecting data, as well as sitting down and discussing the past.
Do some stands historically produce more deer or bigger bucks than others? If so, why? These are good questions to ask and then to investigate the answers. Not only will it help in stand selection, but also in trying to duplicate the habitat of the productive stands.
Set in motion some strategies to take a long, serious look and intimate examination of your property as a deer-hunting venture.
“Nearly every season we sit down with a current aerial photograph of our property to renew our visual perspective of the whole place,” Dulaney said. “On one occasion we actually had a pilot fly over the place with one of our owners to photograph the entire acreage.
“It really does add an interesting dimension to inspect your hunting land by seeing it from above. Trust me, dozens of land features will pop out, many that you may be surprised to discover they ever even existed.”
Though you may have existing stands in place, an aerial view may open up new knowledge about the landscape features around those stands. There may be an open area, or small water pond behind a set stand location. New terrain funnels and water drainages may be revealed.
Knowing these things could be valuable in picking an existing stand location for opening day, or it may open the discussion to moving or putting up a new stand.
Stand selection criteria
After analyzing your hunting property and existing stand locations, what other factors could you use to select a great opening day stand?
The obvious start is looking around each stand for active deer sign. Walk the perimeter of every food plot or open area around each stand. Nothing beats finding real sign that deer have been around.
Inspect trails or entry points to plots including terrain around the stands looking for fresh tracks and droppings. Determine how fresh they are.
Early on look for rubs, then later the scrapes to match them. Though you may never catch a buck rubbing a tree or making a scrape, they are more likely to travel through the area to scent check them.
Check around any nearby water sources for tracks as well. If there is an acorn dropping oak in the plot, be sure to look that over. Inspect other food sources within sight of the stand as well.
But, be careful and don’t put too much pressure on areas while scouting.
Other factors to help pick a stand include preferences for visibility and shooting ranges. Bow hunters should want a stand with the potential for deer to walk in close. Gun hunters want a stand with a clear visible shot within a reasonable distance depending on their shooting skills.
Some hunters will pick a stand for comfort considerations. Maybe they want a bench seat with a roof overhead and a window to prop their shooting gun on. Others may like a 360-degree swivel seat looking down several different shooting lanes. Then, some hunters like me just have a favorite they like to hunt for whatever various reasons.
Start collecting data
It is never too late to start collecting historical data on deer activity at your hunting camp. DMAP clubs do this every year. Get a simple notebook and have all hunters record their daily experiences, being sure to include the date, weather conditions, stand used and hours hunted. Obviously, they should record harvest data, but it is also important to track all deer observation.
Keep this data year after year.
For existing stand locations, photographic data collected by trail cameras can be hard to beat. Keep a photo album of the best shots and mark them by stand location and time of year. This will be helpful in picking hunting stands next year.
For hunting clubs with a lot of hunting stand options, picking a good one for opening day can be confusing. Past data is usually a good predictor but no guarantee, hence the need for fresh scouting every season or a new round of trail camera photography.