Best Stand Locations for Whitetail Behaviors
By Ryan Graden
Sometimes this is the most frustrating decision a hunter has to make. Where do I put my stand? If I put it there, they might go this way. However, if I put it there, they might go that way. If it’s here, the wind might be wrong. If I put it too high, my shot might be at the wrong angle. If I put it too low, they might see me. It’s a game of second guesses that you have to tackle and make a decision on. If you don’t, you’ll engage yourself in an unending trail of questions, second-guesses, and frustrations.
Your stand location is something that you need to put some thought into. You will spend quite a few hours in your stand. You don’t want to be in a spot where deer activity is non-existent or worse, that you’d have no chance to fill your tag! Making sure that your stand is going to work to your advantage in harvesting a deer is obviously, vital to your success. So please take the following thoughts into consideration as you use the summer months to prepare for the upcoming seasons. Remember, a deer’s natural behavior can give you a great advantage in making a harvest.
Thought #1 – Deer Diet
I’m not talking about a weight loss program here. I’m talking about the feeding behavior of deer. Like us, they have to eat. And how well they eat will lead to how well their bodies prepare for things like breeding seasons, growing antlers, storing calories for winter, and so much more. A deer’s diet is something to consider when it comes to stand placement.
When thinking about this topic, there are two things I want you to specifically consider. They might be obvious, but you’d be surprised what hunters don’t consider. They are food sources and water sources. Let’s begin with food sources.
Deer are often times nocturnal. They will “wake up” in the late afternoon and begin to make their way to their feeding needs. Here in Iowa, their main source of food will be the fields that have been planted by the local farmer. Soybeans and cornfields will be magnets for deer through the summer and into the fall and winter. Knowing where the nearby fields are will be a great thing to note.
Find the deer trails that are leading to these sources. Pay particular attention to the direction of the tracks on these trails. If the tracks are leading towards these food sources, that is the trail that you’d want to hang a stand to hunt from in the evening, as deer prepare to feed all night. If tracks on the trail are leading away from the food source, that would be a trail to look at for a stand to hunt the morning out of, as deer travel back to their bedding areas.
Water sources are also a very valuable item to locate. During a hot and humid Iowa summer and fall, deer need to drink and drink often. Marsh ponds, streams, rivers, lakes, and local ponds are going to be necessary to locate too. Often times, when deer leave their beds after resting through the daytime hours they will first find a water source before they do anything else.
Find the trails that the deer are using to gain access to these water sources. If possible, see what side of the water source contains the greatest number of tracks. You’ll want to set up your stand according to this discovery. Having your stand in the greatest position for a broadside shot will be best.
Thought #2 – Care for the Wind
There are a couple of things I’m pointing out here. First and foremost, the wind direction, and second, your avoidable scent. Both are equally important when hunting whitetails.
When I look at placing a stand, I have to know my hunting area well when it comes to the wind. I have made a mental note that in my hunting area, the predominant winds range from the south to the west. I would say, safely, about 80 % of the time the wind blows in that direction as it crosses the property.
Knowing that, I’m going to make sure to hang my stand along a trail making sure that the stand is downwind from the trail. If I can accomplish that, I will be able to use the stand to hunt, in theory, 80% of the time I’d like to hunt.
When it comes to the second reason to worry about the wind and your stand placement, you just have to agree to something. The truth is, we stink! As much as the hunting industry has tried to eliminate scent with new fancy products, if you are breathing while you’re hunting, you stink! Plain and simple.
Knowing that makes your stand placement all the more important. Knowing the wind direction and understanding the truth of your stink, you need to make sure that your placement will protect you from the nose of your quarry. Figure out the wind, place your stand.
A deer’s ability to smell is truly the hardest challenge you face when you hunt them. Paying attention to this thought will “steal” that ability from them. Hopefully it will give you the upper hand.
Thought #3 – Prune carefully
Once you find the travel patterns and travel trails that deer are using, it is important that you choose stand locations that are going to allow you to hide. The whole idea of even wearing camouflage when hunting is so you can BLEND IN to your surroundings. Which, obviously means you have to have surroundings to blend in to!
A mentor of mine, when placing a stand, would practically clear-cut the area around their stand. All branches, small trees, and other objects that might hinder any shot at any angle were cut down. Obviously, what was left, was a stand that was completely exposed and a hunter that was in it. If that’s what a hunter does, than what’s the point of wearing camouflage or event trying to hide. You might as well put on jeans and a hoodie and try your luck!
Once I locate an area that I think is worth hunting, I am next looking for a straight, tall standing tree that is at least 15-20 inches wide. I’m also looking for a tree that offers some cover. Something that has leaves, branches, a good bark pattern. Something that my camo will blend into. Oaks and hickory’s are great trees to look for. Being hardwoods, they keep their leaves long into the winter months. They also are sturdy standing and have great bark patterns.
Once you find a good tree, try to trim out as little as possible. Make sure that you can trim out anything that will hinder you using your weapon of choice. But leave some branches and leaves for camo cover. Choose 2-3 good shooting lanes and trim those out. DO NOT trim out the entire area! 2-3 lanes will be good enough to give you a chance to shoot at anything that might come by.
Stands will only be hidden from a deer’s view if there is cover for them to blend in to. You could argue that deer get used to structures and that they won’t mind anyway. But let me ask you this? What happens when that structure is holding a body that they aren’t used to seeing? Having the cover and proper camo to take advantage of the cover is the only way to hide effectively.
Thought #4 – Play the Height
Stands range in all different sizes and shapes. I’ve also discovered that certain hunters have certain preferences for what types of stands they like to use or feel comfortable using. Regardless of the type of stand that you are using, you still have to think about how high you are setting it.
If you are using ladder stands, you are held to the height that it was manufactured at. There’s little you can do with that. However, if you have climbing stands, or stands that you must hang on the tree, you must figure in the height at which you set it.
Deer are typically “horizon watchers”. What I mean by that statement is that deer are mostly concerned with what they will meet on the ground ahead of them. They are not concerned with what is above them too often. In a deer’s world, there are not many predators that attack from above. Their concern is what can chase them down and catch them on the ground.
So when it comes to hunting, it is not likely that a deer will come through the woods looking high into the tree tops or up along tree trunks as they walk by. The ONLY reason that they might adjust their view is if they catch some movement or scent in a certain direction. Their eyesight and sense of smell are the only things that might lead them to look up at you in a stand.
Given that information, I would suggest that you are setting your stand, if on flat terrain, at a height of at least 12 feet or more. Also keep in mind, the higher you are in your stand will put you at a steeper shot angle on your target. This could lead to shots that aren’t quite taken at an ethical angle. Remember, this would be on level ground. Being a minimum of 12 feet high should keep you out the normal visual scene of deer. If you are on angled ground (side of a ravine), your stands might need to be different.
Say, for instance, if your stand is being hung in a tree below a trail on the side of a ravine. A level of 12 feet might put you right at eye level with deer that pass by. In that case, you’ll want to take your stand higher. Get yourself above their level of view no matter what the terrain circumstance is.
Thought #5 – Paths of Least Resistance
Something else to consider in the areas that you hunt are paths, old road beds, logging roads, or any other “clearer” cut travel corridors on the property.
Deer, if given the opportunity, love to have easy travel to and from places. If there are areas that are easier to travel, they will use them.
Just the other day, my daughter and I were out in the woods and I noticed deer tracks in the tractor tire tracks that I personally left just less than 24 hours prior. The deer, rather than making their own way through the CRP, chose to follow the tractor tire tracks.
If you have some of these areas, I would key into them for hanging your stand. Again, look at the common direction of travel with those tracks. Take note of the common wind in the area. Look for the right cover that could help you hide your stand as well as hide the hunter. And hang it at the right height to keep you safe from their horizontal view as well as give you an ethical shot!
Thought #6 – Tuck Them In
As I stated briefly at the beginning of this article, deer are nocturnal animals. Most of their activity is happening during those hours that you and I are asleep. However, during hunting season, there are a few things that will allow us as hunters to encounter them.
In the morning, they will feed to the very last minute. Which, for you and me allows a few hours in the early morning to encounter them while they are up and on their feet. After a full belly of feeding, they will tend to make their way back to their bedding areas. They won’t always return to the same exact location. However, deer are creatures of habit and will be in the same general area to bed.
As a hunter, you can use this to your advantage in a few ways. First, find out what trails they are most often using to reach their bedding areas. If you can locate a trail showing signs of deer traveling away from feeding areas, you are in business! Again, paying attention to your wind, place a stand accordingly near that trail. Make sure it gives you space to be able to sneak in there without being seen or smelled. You don’t want to spook feeding deer when getting into a stand that will intercept them as they go to bed. Be wise.
A second opportunity would be to place a stand in a bedding area. Again, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific location, but you might get lucky and be in the right place one morning. Consider increasing your chances by creating some bedding areas if you can. Hinge cutting trees and even being strategic with placing brush in the timber might coax deer into bedding in specific spots. Thus, allowing you to place your stand with a higher opportunity for success.
Remember, with both of these ideas, a sunny slope is what you want to be looking for when it comes to bedding areas. Deer, through the colder months depend on that sun to keep them warm as they sleep through the day.
Now that turkey season is over, my mind has moved on to the next season that will roll around. Deer season.
Take these summer months to study your quarry, your hunting area, and the methods of hunting that you like to challenge yourself with. Place those stands appropriately and you will be happy with your results. A well-placed stand will entertain you as well as fill your freezer. I hope you have results with both! Good luck!