10 Bad Habits to Avoid while Hunting from Treestands
By Joel Johnson
Do you struggle to harvest deer from a treestand? Do you always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Do the deer in your area seem to have a sixth, seventh, and eighth sense when you are hunting? Have you taken the walk of shame back to the pickup too many times or had one too many helpings of tag soup? Trust me, you’re not alone, and it’s never too late to reflect on what went wrong last season and make changes to be more successful this year. This exercise isn’t complete without taking a hard look at the subconscious and conscience behaviors that may be contributing to your “bad luck”.
Moving too much while you’re in the tree
Remember that big buck that was coming to your rattling on a string last season? Do you also remember cussing him when he bolted from upwind and just out of range after you hung the horns back up? There’s no way that he saw you, right!? Contrary to humans, deer don’t have fantastic visual acuity, and they may not be able to tell the difference between a person, tree, or rock. However, the placement of their oversized eyes on the sides of their heads provides a 310 degree field of view. Moreover, what they lack in visual acuity, they more than make up for in the ability to detect movement. As a rule of thumb, whether looking directly at you or not, if you can see a deer’s eye, it can see you. This season, buy a comfortable stand, and wait for that buck of a lifetime to turn its head or lean down for another bite of corn before drawing your bow or raising your gun.
Believing the hype
In 20 years of bow hunting, I’ve tried the various cover sprays, scent “killers”, and carbon suits, and none of them have ever protected me 100% from being winded by a deer. Can these products give you an advantage in certain situations? Maybe. Can they lighten your wallet by hundreds if not thousands of dollars with questionable return on investment? Certainly. Can they make you overconfident in your ability to hunt your favorite stand in less than ideal wind conditions, potentially getting you busted during the peak of the rut? ABSOLUTELY! Look, the only way to be confident that a deer won’t wind you is by keeping likely travel corridors and approaches on the upwind side of your set. Selecting a tree that is 15-20 yards downwind of heavily used trails will further increase your odds of success. Native peoples killed deer for thousands of years without activated carbon, synthesized chemicals, and ozone blockers. As my Dad always used to say, “…fishing lures have caught way more fishermen than fish.”
Leaving the safety harness at home
This one is a no-brainer, and its dang hard to shoot a deer from a hospital bed or worse. Find a harness you like and wear it. Consider it your deer hunting life jacket.
Texting and hunting
Maintaining contact with your buddies, discussing what guys are seeing, and coordinating the logistics of a hunt are all very important activities. However, mobile phones and the fear of missing out have made texting and hunting a terrible habit. Texting from your treestand creates an enormous amount of unnecessary movement (see #1 above), distracts your already inferior senses from the hunt, and causes potential safety issues (see #3 above). To consistently harvest deer from treestands it is critical that you remain focused, quiet, and still. It is vital that you see the deer before they see you, and the odds are already tipped in their favor. This season, resist the temptation to check the scores, text your buddies, and “check-in” to your treestand on Facebook. You may be surprised how many more deer you see that you’ve been missing!
Taking too many pictures
Similar to texting and hunting, taking pictures of every fuzzy bunny, curious squirrel, grinning possum, and chubby ground hog causes a ton of unnecessary movement (again see #1 above). Nature is a wondrous thing, and one of the main reasons I bow hunt is to immerse myself and watch it in real time. Heck, many times harvesting a deer is simply the icing on the cake. I’m not against taking pictures, but if you want to shoot more deer this season, leave the phone in your pocket for emergencies and save the bird watching and photography for the offseason.
Leaving the ringer turned on
If you must bring your phone to the tree with you, make sure the dang ringer is off. It’s unlikely that the Booner you’ve got on your trail cam appreciates your AC/DC ringtone.
Smoking in the tree
This is another no-brainer, but I’ve heard friends that smoke passionately argue about this one. Sure, you may avoid getting winded if you are diligent about wind direction, speed, and thermals. However, the movement associated with reaching for the smokes, lighting each one, reaching to inhale, and crushing the butt, exponentially increases the odds of being spotted by a deer. Further, in addition to the litter created by spent butts, the risk of causing a fire by tossing an unextinguished butt into the leaf litter or grass should be reason enough to leave the smokes in the truck.
Keeping food in noisy packaging
During the peak of the rut, maximizing the number of hours in the tree will increase your odds of success. Packing snacks and/or a lunch will extend your time in the stand, but make sure to remove granola bars and other treats from noisy cellophane and foil wrappers before you leave the house. Pack them in airtight, quiet, zipper bags to minimize scent and noise while you break for lunch. For another measure of caution, avoid brining bottled water with you on the hunt. Instead, swap the flimsy, noisy, disposable plastic bottles for a sturdy Nalgene or insulated stainless steel water container.
Eating Hunan beef and garlic
Everybody loves date night, and I am a sucker for spicy and seasoned food. However, ahead of an extended hunting weekend, try to avoid strong spices and foods that can persist in your system for days. For example, garlic, onions, asparagus, and curry have properties that can cause unwanted odors to be exhaled in your breath, excreted through your skin, and passed via “silent but deadly” gas. While these scents can sometimes go unnoticed by humans, it is a certainty that deer can smell them and at a great distance.
Forgetting the essentials
Having multiple levels of redundancy is a key driver to the success, safety, and reliability of air travel. The same can be said for hunting deer from a treestand. Making sure you have a spare for critical items will save you a lot of headaches and increase your odds of harvesting a deer. I always make sure to pack the following in my backpack the night before a hunt- spare bow release, 20’ of paracord, hunting knife, insulated gloves, insulated balaclava, wool socks, rattle bag, grunt tube, bow hanger, light jacket, and laser rangefinder. I have forgotten one or more of these items in the past, and in some cases it nearly ruined an entire hunt. You’ll notice I have several clothing items included, and it is important that you pack an additional layer in case the weather turns unexpectedly.
Consistently harvesting deer from treestands, especially with a bow, takes many years of experience to learn and is impossible to perfect. By avoiding these 10 bad habits, your odds of taking a mature whitetail this season will increase, and I wish everyone the best of luck in the woods this fall.