Most hunters know the importance of scouting and how crucial it is to find an area laden with deer sign like tracks, droppings, rubs and scrapes, and food sources like browse and acorns. But once you zero in on a spot with lots of deer sign, how do you know where to set up within the spot to get a shot?
Picking the perfect place to bowhunt is tricky. To successfully arrow a whitetail, you must be within bow range but also hidden from your quarry. You need to be able to get into and out of the area undetected, and it helps to understand how, when and why deer travel through the area.
Consider all of these factors before you pick a tree for a stand or set up your ground blind.
A deer must be within your effective range before you can take a shot. If you only feel confident shooting out to 20 yards, you’ll want to ensure deer walk between you and the 20-yard perimeter around you. One of the best ways to do that is to set up within range of a good deer trail. Deer don’t always follow the trails, but if the path is used heavily, there’s a good chance they travel it regularly. Positioning yourself within shooting distance of such a trail is smart and strategic.
Speaking of deer trails, they’re often found between bedding and feeding areas because deer walk the same routes regularly, creating a trail. When you’re in an area with lots of sign, you must think about your surroundings and what brings deer to or through the area, like food sources or bedding habitat. Explore the surrounding area on foot or look at an aerial map to identify where deer might eat and sleep. Deer are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. They feed more heavily at night and rest more frequently during the day. Knowing that, you can generally assume that deer travel from feeding areas to bedding areas at dawn and from bedding areas to feeding areas at dusk.
Use that knowledge to set up in a favorable spot so you can catch deer moving in daylight. For example, if you’re hunting in the evening and don’t see deer until last light, you might need to move your setup closer to the bedding area to intercept them earlier along their travel route. The same approach goes for morning hunts. If deer move through at first light, you also need to move your spot closer to the bedding area, so you catch them right before they bed down for the day.
It’s difficult to position a stand in the middle of these areas to see deer traveling both ways at an ideal time. Therefore, you might have to designate some spots as morning spots, and others as evening spots. Understanding which way deer typically travel through the area — and at what time — can help you pick an ideal hunting location.
After you’ve analyzed how deer use an area, you’ll want to place your stand or blind downwind of where you expect to see them. The wind carries scent through the air, so you must always try to stay downwind — where the wind is blowing from the deer to you — of your quarry. If the wind blows from you to the deer, your human scent will likely spook them.
Forecasts tell you which way the wind is coming from, so check them before heading afield. For example, a west wind blows from the west to the east. Therefore, if a deer is walking on a north-south trail leading from a bedding area to a feeding site, you’ll want to set up on the east side of the trail. Determine the predominant wind for the area you’re hunting, and then plan your setup downwind of trails, feeding areas and bedding areas to stay undetected.
You’ll also want to consider how to get to your stand without spooking deer along the way or crossing a path they might take to get near your setup. Factor in how deer travel throughout the area and which way the wind typically blows to plan your entry and exit route. Make sure you don’t walk through any important deer trails or the feeding or bedding areas. Stay downwind of the deer and your stand as you access the spot, too.
Lastly, the spot you pick should keep you hidden without compromising too many shot opportunities. Deer and other game animals will spook and leave the area if they see something out of the ordinary. That’s why it’s important to pick a spot with good cover.
If you’re hunting from an elevated position (treestand or tree saddle), find a tree with thick, gnarly bark that’s healthy, sturdy and large enough to support you and your stand. The tree should be wide enough to hide your silhouette and have branches above and behind you to provide cover and camouflage. If you’re hunting from the ground or a ground blind, pick a place to settle in among trees, shrubs or tall grass. Situate ground blinds before the season so animals become accustomed to it. You can also conceal your stand or blind by placing small branches along the frame to break up the straight lines.
Finding an area with lots of deer sign doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a shot opportunity. You must further analyze the area to find the perfect place to set up. To summarize, you need a spot with good cover but adequate shooting lanes, as well as a favorable wind direction and options for stealthy entry and exit routes. It helps if that spot is somewhere between nearby food and bedding areas, too. Pinpoint a spot like that, and you’ll be in good shape to take home some venison.