If a hunter’s yardstick for success means tagging a deer, then the following tactic may improve the odds.
Ideally this new approach begins with preseason scouting to find deer trails with heavy daylight traffic as opposed to strictly night use. Then the hunter places a tree stand by the game path down from prevailing winds.
A hunter can sit in the stand any time of day, but the most productive hours for sighting deer often lasts from sunrise until an hour or so after, and again an hour or so before sunset until shooting time closes.
It makes sense to get into the stand an hour before sunrise and an hour before sunset. Deer may hear folks enter the target area, so an early morning and afternoon arrival ensures deer forget the hunter’s approach to the stand.
This quest to find a location beside a day trail requires suitable trees on both sides of the trail, because as a general rule in Maine, prevailing winds blow from the west, southwest or northwest on a fair day and from the southeast, east and northeast prior to or during storms.
Astute hunters choose multiple stand locations, so depending on the weather they can sit where the wind blows from the trail toward them, and thereby avoid pushing human scents toward approaching whitetails.
To determine whether deer use the trail at day or night, experienced hunters rely on a trail camera. Frugal hunters cut a 5-foot sapling and stick it into the ground at a low angle across the trail, so deer will knock it down. Checking the sticks at daylight and dusk determine if deer walk there before or after dark.
Deer hang around foraging areas such as oak and beech ridges for nuts and around orchards for fruit, and they leave tracks, droppings and forage leftovers such as broken acorn shells and small, scattered apple chunks. But hunters may get few shots there because deer leave all these signs after dark.
If hunters didn’t scout in the preseason, they can still-hunt widely and find day trails during the season.
Good still hunters take two cautious steps at a time, then stop and wait for one to two minutes and longer between each pair of steps. While standing, they carefully look for deer standing quietly behind cover.
However, a tree stand puts odds in the hunter’s favor, particularly for folks who haven’t learned still-hunting basics – a difficult tactic to learn.
To break the human outline, a tree stand should have foliage instead of skyline behind the hunter. Conifers work well, because these trees don’t become bare in fall. When in a tree stand, I also like foliage in front of me and just below the stand with a few tops rising in front. Frontal cover helps as long as adequate shooting lanes exist, giving shooters a clear shot.
If hunting pressure remains light, deer often move from bedding areas before dark. When hunters hit an area hard, though, deer stay hidden in bedding thickets until 30 minutes after sunset.
Deer in forests with little hunting pressure enter trails to the feeding area before dark and dawdle along these paths, leading to forage. They plan to arrive at forage spots after dark and leave them before daylight, so an oak, beech or orchard vigil may not provide shots.
Prey animals like deer know that coyotes and humans key on mast trees and apple orchards, so they feel safer feeding after dark, which gives them an edge to escape fang, claw and hunter projectiles.
While a hunter waits in a tree stand or particularly in a ground blind, it’s crucial not to fidget, move arms and snap a head in the direction of every noise. Movement must be kept minimal, and when a hunter must shift positions, it is ever so slow and deliberate.
Clothing choices help put venison on the table, too:
• Deer can hear noisy materials such as cotton duck, stiff nylon and so forth from long distances, sending them into the next township.
• All clothing should be soft and made for silence – synthetics designed for hunters, wool, fleece and flannel. With those choices, noise is minimal when arms rub against the torso, backs move against a trunk or a leg brushes a limb.
Finding a good stand location downwind to a heavily traveled day trail, sitting quietly and wearing soft clothing increase the odds of getting winter venison. It’s inexpensive protein, nutritious and delicious. What more can we ask from a sport?
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: KAllyn800@yahoo.com