Summer is here a little early in the Midwest. The 90-degree days send me running to the air conditioning as opposed to cutting my grass. And while a day of yard work in the scorching heat isn’t real high on my priority list at the moment, getting to the woods to do some cutting and trimming certainly is. It is because I know the time spent in the woods now will lead to increased success this fall.
You see, successful whitetail hunters are not luckier than average hunters, they simply learn from their mistakes a little better and work a little harder at it all year long. Simply showing up on opening day won’t likely fill your tag.
I’m willing, and you should be too, to work a little harder in the summer to help cut back on your mistakes in the fall. Fact is, we all make mistakes in the whitetail woods. When it comes to shooting lanes I’ve cost myself opportunities at a couple of world class animals, I’ve over cleared and spooked bucks, I’ve under trimmed and nicked limbs while taking a shot. And while I can’t guarantee I wont foul up again, I now have a system to trimming shooting lanes that helps me not make the same mistakes again.
So, it is now time to grab a hunting partner to help with the task at hand and head to the woods for stand trimming season.
Start with the tree…
There is a balance between the perfect location and the right tree. The perfect location in the wrong tree you have little to no chance at success. However, if you can find the right tree with near optimal location you have the beginnings of a great stand location.
A tree with few branches can leave you exposed when deer come strolling through. Sure, it looks great now with the foliage all around, but once the leaves fall away you are left sitting in the open for all to see…trust me this is not where you want to be.
To know what to look for in a tree can vary depending on your setup. Growing up in the south I spent a great deal of time in climbers. They are quick, easy and I could make adjustments on the fly if needed. In those days I needed a tree with virtually no branches below 20 feet or so, but several branches surrounding the stand at 27 feet or so. This setup allowed me to climb a tree yet be concealed once settled in the tree.
Now I live in the Midwest hunting the fields and forests of Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa and my setups have changed to double sets of lock-on stands. This setup allows for the ultimate in flexibility to find the perfect tree.
When selecting a tree I like to survey the area around the tree to get an idea of a deer’s perspective. Can I conceal my image from several angles? If not, I continue looking. I search for as much natural cover as I can find. A tree with numerous branches below where the stand would be positioned or branches from neighboring trees that bleed into the space under the potential location is perfect.
Cut from the Tree Out…
Once my stand is securely in place I start trimming from the tree outward, beginning with a clear space to hoist my gear into the tree. We’ve all done it, pulling our gear into the tree only to catch a snag on the way up. Needless to say, this is less than ideal when you are trying to keep noise to a minimum. So I trim this space first.
The reasoning behind starting at the tree and trimming outward is with every branch you trim close in you drastically impact your vision. By trimming a branch or two closest to you first may allow you to not cut as many branches, thus minimal impact on the hunting environment. With this in mind, pole saw in hand, tethered to the tree, I carefully cut the branches deemed to be in my line of fire. Notice I said “line of fire”, not line of sight. You should really only be concerned with branches that will impact shots.
As previously mentioned, this process is a little easier as a two-person system. With one person in the stand and a second person standing in the potential shooting lanes it becomes much easier to determine what branches need to go. A tip I picked up a few years back that really helps is to use marking tape. The guy on the ground simply marks the trees as instructed by the guy in the stand before the cutting takes place.
Where and What to Cut…
As a younger hunter when I thought of “shooting lanes” I instantly dreamt of a wide-open lane the deer would walk through and so I cut them that way. I did so partly because I grew up with a rifle in my hands. It wasn’t until I began to bow hunt exclusively that I got tired of deer hanging back in cover without stepping into the lane or watching deer bolt through the opening never to present a shot that I started to look at things differently.
I now have a system to where I trim several small “shooting holes” in a 360-degree range of the stand. This allows for the deer to feel more at ease moving though cover and it provides me with the opportunity to achieve full draw without being noticed before they reach the opening. The thought process is to use as much of the natural cover as you can to your advantage. The more cover you have, the more movement you can get away with in the tree.
Once the branches are marked you can begin cutting. Keep in mind that in most cases less is more. Trim a little then reevaluate the shooting lane, you may not need as much trimming as you think. The only hard and fast rule I have is to make sure branches do not impede the shot. Yes, I would like a lot of cover but not at the expense of a clean shot.
Last But Not Least…
You are set. You have scaled the ladder into your stand evaluating your shooting lanes, feeling comfortable with your setup. You have a nice area cleared to haul your gear into the tree. There is but one item remaining. It is time to trim a path into your stand. I know this does not seem like much, but when you are slipping into the stand under the cover of darkness a clear pathway can help. The goal is to get into the stand without being detected. So take a couple minutes to evaluate how you will enter the stand and make sure your path is unimpeded.
After having made years of mistakes chasing whitetails I encourage you to take a little time this summer and truly think about the shooting lanes surrounding your stand locations. Don’t just mindlessly cut a few branches here and there so that you can see a little better while sitting in the stand. Actually plan your attack and know exactly where you plan on ambushing your trophy, then trim accordingly. Taking the time now to do things right will without question pay off for you this fall.