Have you ever been sitting in a treestand and seen a large mature whitetail buck coming your way only to have it skirt your stand by 70 yards for no apparent reason? I have fallen victim to this scenario more than once. It is a frustrating ride of mixed emotions; one minute your heart is pounding as you are holding your bow just waiting for the deer to commit to the trail and the next moment you are standing there in disbelief as the large buck does a 90-degree turn and walks around your stand.
Most of the time this scenario isn’t by coincidence. The fact of the matter is that deer probably knew you were sitting in that tree and simply bypassed what was once his travel route because you were sitting there waiting to ambush him. Mature whitetails are one of the smartest, if not the smartest wild animals Iowa hunters face. They will pinpoint a hunter’s stand location and slip by the hunter, most of the time going completely undetected.
There are obvious reasons why a mature buck, or doe for that matter will pinpoint your location; the most common reason is because you have hunted a stand too many times. In the process the buck has noticed where you come in, where you exit, and has detected your scent while sitting in your stand. Older bucks in return will stop using their normal path that you have a stand placed on and begin staging and traveling farther back in cover downwind of your location.
Many times you don’t even know this is happening. A good indicator of mature deer becoming wise of your hunting patterns is you simply will stop seeing as many older deer as you once did in that area. You may still be seeing a lot of younger deer but for the most part the big boys have disappeared. Are these big boys gone for good? In some instances big bucks may just leave the area, but some will stay and either go nocturnal or they will go around your stand site and not risk using the trail that leads to the chance of a run in with a human.
So how do you go about pursuing deer that have grown savvy of your presence? You have two choices. 1) You can move your stand to a new spot during the middle of the season once you believe you have lost the element of surprise. This option is completely valid and I do so a lot during the season, but I always believe that I spook deer when I do this. 2) If at all possible I like to plan ahead and have several stand sites already hung in the area well before archery season opens. That is why I have adopted what I call “Fallback” stands for when deer have me pinpointed.
What is a Fallback Stand?
A fallback stand is actually a sequence of stands hung in relation to a primary stand (a stand that you hunt often and has a lot of deer sign). Fallback stands should be hung before the archery season opens to minimize human-to-deer contact during the season.
The process is pretty easy and straightforward. You should already have a primary stand hung, again any stand that you hunt regularly and often year after year. Your primary stand is usually near where deer congregate or travel frequently, for example food plots, field edges, funnels and pinch points…all the normal spots a hunter hangs a stand.
The next step is to hang your fallback stands. You will need two extra hang on or ladder stands to complete this tactic. From your primary stands location walk downwind 100 yards or so of the prevailing wind pattern on your property. Once you locate an area that has dense to moderate cover and looks like a buck might use it to give you the slip, find a tree and hang one of the stands. Then do the same process again, walk 100 yards or so downwind and locate another area with thick cover and hang your second fallback stand in the vicinity. That is all there is to the set up. There are no tricks or gimmicks involved, all you are doing is simply trying to out smart deer that have taken a notice to your presence and skirted your primary stand and have found a safer passage downwind to navigate the area.
Why it Works
Fallback stands work because you are adapting to the natural instincts of deer in your area to move away from danger. Deer will eventually notice you in your primary stand if you hunt it regularly. They will then begin to stay free of that area and hang out downwind of your primary stand to try and detect any danger via their exceptional olfactory senses along with their underrated eyes.
To one up a mature buck a hunter must face the fact that a primary stand, a stand that may have once been your go to spot and produced year after year has had the shades pulled on its location. To fight this occurrence you need to move with the deer. That is precisely what a fallback stand does. Well before the season, in order for deer to get used to them, you hung those two stands downwind of your primary stands so you can stay one step ahead of the mature deer in the area that might have your primary stand patterned.
When to use Fallback Stands
Generally speaking fallback stands are used anytime during the early part of the season up until the beginning of rut. However there is no timetable on when to use your fallback stands as it solely depends on whether or not you believe that big nasty you have been seeing the past two weeks has disappeared on you and began skirting your location. Once you believe this has happened then it is time to test out your first fallback stand.
Something to note is that I usually don’t hunt fallback stands during the rut because I am trying to target where the does will be at during this time. If you can find the does during the rut you will find the bucks.
How To Use Fallback Stands
Like I mentioned above there are no smoke and mirrors involved with fallback stands. As the season progresses and you believe you have been sniffed out it is time to hit up your first fallback stand. The hardest part of hunting fallback stands is that you probably won’t see as many deer as you did sitting over your primary location, especially if that stand is hanging over a food source. Remember though you are hunting a mature whitetail, one that is privy to you being in the area. Its not about numbers at this point, it is about encountering that monster and challenging yourself to get a close encounter with him.
As the season progresses and you have had no run-ins with a trophy-sized buck sitting in your first fallback stand it is time to move once again and hit up your third stand, or second fallback stand. With any luck, time and effort hopefully you will have outsmarted that monster that has been one step ahead of you all season by using a fallback stand.
Fallback stands are a great way to try and keep up with a mature whitetail buck. Will they work every year? Of course not, but they will give you a better chance of taking a trophy buck that knows he is being hunted. Remember that you most likely will be sacrificing the amount of deer you see per hunt, but don’t let that deter you from using a fallback stand. At this point of the game you need to tell yourself it’s about quality, not quantity. Think like a big buck and you will provide yourself with more chances at shooting a mature whitetail. That is what fallback stands can provide…a chance.