When you finally get to release an arrow at a deer, you want everything to be perfect. Often, little details — such as trimming shooting windows — make a huge difference in your success.
Branches can easily deflect arrows in hunting situations. Any contact with a branch or sapling will surely knock your arrow off course, resulting in a clean miss or, worse, a wounded deer. Prep your stands before hunting season to ensure you have a clear shot this fall.
Summer is a good time to cut shooting lanes. Deer quickly notice changes in their domain, so trimming shooting lanes early will give them a chance to get used to them. Clearing a path for your arrow is a delicate balance. You want a clear shot, but not at the cost of losing too much concealment. It’s a good idea to keep some branches for cover between you and where you expect your quarry to appear. And don’t forget to leave branches behind you that can break up your outline. Branches also come in handy for hanging packs and holding calls or rattling antlers, so don’t go too crazy with your pruning.
One word of caution before you begin: On public land, trimming branches or saplings may be illegal. In that case, pick your stand tree carefully. It should offer a balance of concealment with good shot opportunities. You may even consider tying back pesky branches with rope, twine or paracord, which keeps them out of your way without damaging the tree.
Practice scent control even if bow season is still weeks away. There’s no sense alerting deer to your stand site. Wear rubber boots and use the same scent-control regimen you follow during hunting season. You may want to trim your lanes on a windy or rainy day to help conceal your presence.
Enlist the help of your hunting partner, if possible. While you’re sitting in your stand, you’ll clearly see which branches pose problems. When you get back on the ground to trim them, though, it’s easy to forget which ones should stay and which should go. You can direct your partner on what to cut while you’re in your stand so you get the exact lanes you want. Keep in mind that you don’t always have to take out a whole branch. Trim the problem areas and leave the rest for cover.
You probably have a pretty good idea where a buck will appear if you’re hunting over a trail crossing, a mock scrape, a water hole or a bait pile, but it’s not a bad idea to create shooting lanes in every direction. Mature bucks have a maddening habit of popping out where you least expect them.
A variety of tools can help you cut shooting lanes. Pruning shears and folding saws quickly and quietly cut nearby branches, but you may need a pole saw for distant branches. Chainsaws and power pole saws make the job easier, but you’ll sacrifice stealth. Make sure you don’t extend too far while you’re in a tree, and of course, always wear your safety harness any time you’re off the ground.
Once you’ve got branches trimmed the way you want them, practice drawing a bow (real or imaginary) from different positions to make sure you’re good to go, then make any last-minute cuts.
When hunting season rolls around, you’ll probably have several hours on stand to familiarize yourself with the alleys through which you have the best shot opportunities. As you sit, imagine deer moving in different scenarios and try to memorize the location of each branch. In low-light situations when deer are most active, small branches may be difficult to see, especially when you’re concentrating on putting a pin behind a deer’s front shoulder. Don’t forget where those branches are!